18. Nestling, Fly Out Into the World
The astronomers call the second star in the handle of the big dipper, Misar. Next to it, we find a star of the fifth magnitude, named Alcor. Both belong together and form a so-called, double star. These two stars are two revolving suns, now close, now widely separated from each other. There are innumerable such double stars in the heavens. According to Heuseling, the astronomer, the conjunction of the two stars gradually slackens until it stops, and then the double star breaks asunder, and these parts form new stars.
The Bridges Are Burned
These happy, carefree years of childhood have flown away like a bird. That wonderful saint, Little Therese of the Child Jesus, sadly said: "Alas, sunny days of my childhood, you have flown away upon wounded wings." The land of fairies, happy days of childhood, the island of peace, all are gone. Every bridge has been burned down. That land of happiness without boundaries, without time, is a thing of the past. The hard paths and roads lie before it with a set or forced goal. The child now becomes a pupil. Life begins to rest on its shoulders as a daily duty. Time hurries on, and cares not that the creaking of the wheels is the cause of such pain. The hand, the foot suffer when they happen to come under the wheel. But the wheel of time is accustomed to run over even bleeding hearts; as the steps of the child grow longer, so also does his shadow lengthen. Time has started to do its work. Sadness creeps into the hearts of those who have planted, cultivated and watered the rose. . . . The home may soon be compared to a nest from which the birds have flown.
On The Way To School
Before I started school, I often heard the words spoken in the home: "When you are big enough to go to school." Their meaning was evident. "Then life becomes serious, then you belong to the grown-ups." School is serious, deadly serious. Above the portals of every school these words could well be inscribed: Virtuti et scientiae: dedicated to virtue and knowledge. The cradle of the modern school was the Church. Culture entered our country only after Christianity. The Church is the mother; the school, her child. The school is the foundation of the future, but the past two thousand years and the spiritual history of the Church still pulsate and beat within it. The school is the second cradle of the family, the village, the city, of the entire people. It compares with the sown field that begins to germinate in the spring. Woe to that field if an unskilled person takes it over, or if the enemy sows cockle among the good seed. For then not only the seed sowed by man, but that sowed by God, is destroyed. Schools are like protected fortresses, where the battle goes on from within and from without, to get possession of the children's souls. The various political and worldly views, as well as the different parties, have tried to win the school for themselves and make the children the Janizaries of their movement . . . and this against the positive protest of the parents. Tomaseo is correct in his assertion: "If the school is not a house of God, it will turn out to be a den of robbers." Our Holy Father has condemned those schools which exclude all religious education of the child. He also condemned co-education of boys and girls.
The greatest blessing next to good parents is a good school. Alcuin, the celebrated scholar at the court of Charlemagne, explained the idea of a school by the sound of the letters in the alphabet. We have vowels and consonants, he said. The vowel has a sound all its own, and is therefore a symbol of the soul, which acts and operates of itself. The consonant, however, depends on outside help, and is a symbol of the body, which depends upon the soul. Hence the formation of the soul or spirit is the more important of the two. The school takes the small child from the hands of its mother in its formative period, and after some years turns him out as "educated." But does the school always have the correct idea; is it always able to form the child with an understanding hand for its work in the world? The world with its extensive aims and tasks lies before the pupils. The teacher stands at the crossroads, he puts them on their way, either upward to heaven or downward to perdition. Alcuin remarks that the greatest reward of the teacher is the progress of the pupils. The pupil may journey the world over, thousands and thousands of pictures may have been impressed upon his soul, but during his quiet hours of thought he will always have before his mind's eye, next to the image of his mother, the image of his "alma mater," the school that awakened his mental faculties and begot him to a second life. The higher schools are usually called "alma mater," but in reality this title may be given to the earlier, even the earliest school. Frequently, it is owing to a simple village schoolteacher that a hidden talent has been awakened. Access to the sources of learning has been made easy for our present generation. It is related that Charlemagne decided to learn arithmetic and writing in his later years. He kept a slate hidden under his pillow, to practice writing the alphabet, but his heavy hand would not lend itself to the task. He was accustomed to handle a heavy sword, which he could handle more easily than a pencil. "These letters must not be made light of, as if they were small, worthless things; without these little elements, great buildings cannot be erected." The child entering the first grade, considers the letters of the alphabet as something wonderful. The saintly Abbot Dorotheus (560) had so great an aversion to books in his youth, that he is reported to have said: "I would rather handle a snake than a book." But after he learned to appreciate their hidden treasure, he knew that they were the fountains of real life. It is necessary to understand that children sometimes have an aversion for school. The child is taking its first step over the threshold of the home. This is as important and decisive as was the crossing of the Rubicon by Caesar. We must put ourselves in the place of the child. When it enters the grade school life becomes serious; for the first time, it is in a strange environment. Here the child must assert itself. Now the teacher is a stranger, even though later he seems to have an almost supernatural, infallible authority. Then, too, the child meets so many strange children. In this new family, new demands are made on the child, new tasks and new duties. From now on it has the duty of punctuality and order. The very first day of school closes the door on the enchanted children's paradise, and no human key can open it again. The child begins its long journey through life. It returns everyday a guest to its own home.
This first journey to school is of great importance in the life of a child, so that we are not surprised to learn that St. Andrew Fournet (1834), when a boy, ran home from school to mother. The story of the great painter, Verescsagin (1842-1904), who was to be sent to an educational institution, is quite touching. "My God, how I clung to my mother's dress, yes, I clutched it desperately. I did not want to let go. I cried and howled. They could hardly pry me loose from her. Terrible! To separate a child from its mother, that is positively a sin."
These first days at school are not only of decisive import to the child, but among many other things, they are never to be forgotten days in the life of the mother. She now fully comprehends the words of the genial Chesterton: "The mother loses the child after she has given birth to it." Life now places its hand upon the child and demands its rights. This hurts as though a great treasure were being stolen.
The Young Wanderer
The child grows away from mother, as it goes to school, until finally the young wanderer completely disappears in the nebulous future. The child's path leads him through the bright halls of science into unknown darkness. The one thing certain is that conflict and sacrifice are waiting there. The heart of the mother feels that the school will aid her child in finding and achieving happiness in life. In her dreams she has mapped out a glorious future. But she trembles at the thought that the school does not always teach happiness, but on the contrary, how to renounce happiness.
The child still has the mark of innocence. Its soul still possesses an innocence untouched. The fears of the mother surround the soul of her child. "O were it only possible that my child would not have to cross the threshold of home and go out into a strange world full of forebodings!" There conflicts, storms await him. There companions wait for him, over whom the mother no longer has a choice, whether they be good or evil. There are the streets, which are not always a continuation of the sanctuary of the home. There the child hears cursing, sees dangerous posters, meets bad children who try to arouse his passions-all, all are waiting to lure him, to fasten their claws upon him, to pull him down into the mire. Thackeray justly poses this question: "Mother, do you still recognize your child when it returns from school?" The little St. Conrad had the habit of reciting the rosary on the way to school.
When the child has finished grade school what will be the atmosphere of the high school? The history course consists mainly in the study of wars and various battles. Not a word is said about God's ruling and guiding power. And still He is the Lord of history. The beauty and form of Greek and Latin classics are highly extolled, but nothing is taught about the meeting between antiquity and Christianity. Usually the Church is shown in a distorted light. High School students learn nothing about the second blossoming of ancient literature, about the Greek and Latin Fathers of the Church, about the great St. Augustine, about the magnificent hymns of the Church. They do not receive a Christian explanation of the old myths. There is little opportunity to turn these young people into educated, adult Christians, who are proud to be Christians and who are able at all times to give a good account of their faith, as St. Peter demands. They are called to be castles of knowledge and faith, gateways to God. The schools, however, are actually godless, gigantic Babylonian towers, which to the sorrow of the believing mother, impregnate the young with the germ of skepticism and despondency.
To The Altar Of God
The religious events in the family were always the occasion of a great celebration. First Holy Communion was one of these days when the boys were permitted to serve at the altar. Sebastian Brunner seemed to think that a great deal of vanity was back of the desire of the boys to serve at these functions. When they are vested in cassock and surplice they feel like creatures from another world. They know that people are observing them, that their companions are a bit jealous. But these negative feelings can be guided into good channels by a wise pastor and an understanding mother. For every state has its dangers and its possible occasions of sin. It is merely necessary to impress upon their minds what a great honor it is to stand before God and take the place of the angels. The eyes of the boys brighten. The dangers are overcome. Why not rouse the good in their souls? This will strengthen them. The mother will also find strength, when she leads her child according to the words of Holy Writ: "Instruct thy son, and he will refresh thee."
It makes a mother very happy, when children pay a visit to the home after they have grown up. During the period of adolescence children are inclined to withdraw from their mother. They are like a bird trying out its wings. The time will come when the child has grown up. What happiness for a mother if he has turned out as she expected, if he is respected, esteemed and loved by people. Then she can rejoice and say: "This person whom you honor and love, who means so much to you is my child. My life has not been in vain." In the perfect development of her child, the mother feels that her life is also complete.
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