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Are You Craving Spiritual Growth? 3 Tips for Busy Families

In today’s world, the hustle and bustle of our daily lives can feel overwhelming—so much so that we can lose sight of the things that matter most to us, including our faith. When we and our family’s schedules become too full to incorporate the daily spiritual practices of prayer, reflection, and meditation—elements of our faith that are so central to our lives as Catholics—we begin to weaken our relationship with God.

So, how do we overcome this challenge and make time for God? The secret lies in advanced thinking and planning, and, of course, having the will and determination to succeed in growing spiritually.

Below are three tips for busy families to facilitate spiritual growth and strengthen a relationship with God in busy times of constant movement and responsibility.

View Prayer as an Obligation, Not an Option

As with all other elements of your schedule, your commitment to God is a responsibility, so you should put every effort forth to prioritize your spiritual growth every day. Of course, this is easier said than done. When you begin to slip into the habit of viewing your spiritual growth as an option, you run into the danger of putting your faith on the back burner, causing your relationship with God to weaken. One of the most effective ways at prioritizing your relationship with God and your faith is to start actively viewing prayer and reflection as an obligation—to Christ, your family, and also yourself.

Incorporate Prayer into Everyday Family Practices and Traditions

Our children and partners are beacons of hope and determination, and they can do wonders for reviving a sense of urgency within us toward our faith and spiritual growth. To further strengthen your relationship with God, as well as that of your family, strive to incorporate prayer into everyday family practices. Depending on home life and traditions, this can mean something different to each family, but some traditional examples include praying around the dinner table and before bedtime.

Ask for Forgiveness

Perhaps one of the simplest—and most powerful—tips we can offer is to ask forgiveness from God with every prayer. God understands the reality of today’s world and loves us more for it, and it’s so important to demonstrate our gratitude. When we ask for forgiveness in a profound act of vulnerability, we acknowledge not only our limitations, but also our desire to become better in all aspects of our lives, and especially with regard to our relationship to God.

Go forth with the determination to grow within your faith, and you will open yourself and your family up further to accept all that God’s love has to offer us as His followers.

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Catholic School Week Family Letter from the Superintendent

Dear Families,

For the Diocese of Brooklyn, Catholic Schools Week begins February 8th. This is a joyous celebration in Catholic education, when we take time out of the busy day-to-day schedules, to pause and think about the blessings our Catholic Academies and Parish Schools provide to our families. The celebration this year centers on the theme of “Faith. Excellence. Service.” These are the very tenets our Catholic Academies and Parish Schools are built upon. Our celebration this year will certainly be different, but we still seek to share the qualities that set Catholic education apart. While this year has been exceedingly challenging, it has also highlighted the strength of our Catholic Academies and Parish Schools. Their response to the trials of the past year has set us apart from public, charter, and even other private schools. This year especially, we have so much to be grateful for in our schools, and to the families that form our Catholic Academy and Parish School communities.

It is fitting that faith is the first focus in the theme of Catholic Schools Week, as this is the first focus in the mission of Catholic education, with all areas stemming from the belief in and love of Christ. Families are the first teachers in the faith; not only in their religious practices, but in raising their children with love, respect, and a strong sense of morals. We are fortunate to have classrooms filled with students who have already been shown how to walk-in Jesus’ footsteps. It is through these beginnings that teachers can continue to help students grow in their faith. The strong foundation you have provided for your child will carry them into their adult lives. Students in Catholic schools are more likely to be faithful adults, practicing Catholics, and display strong moral fiber, through involvement and volunteerism. A Catholic school foundation is one that allows the faith to carry into future generations.

Excellence is demonstrated in our schools in ways that extend beyond the traditional scope of academics. Academic excellence shines in our Catholic Academies and Parish Schools, but this is only a piece of the puzzle. Catholic education supports the education of the whole child, with the understanding that academics are strong with music, art, athletics, technology, and STEM initiatives.
Through our incredible teachers, Catholic Academies and Parish Schools can offer a variety of programs, which allow students to have unique learning experiences.

We are immeasurably thankful for the teachers, who have demonstrated their excellence over this past year, through their flexibility in their delivery of instruction. We have been through remote, hybrid, and in-person learning and with each change, our faculty and staff have responded to meet the needs of students and families. The very opening of Catholic Academies and Parish Schools to in-person learning, during this school year speaks volumes to the excellence of our schools and the commitment to providing quality education to all students. I would be remiss not to thank our families for the excellence they have shown in their support of teachers and our schools. Parents and guardians have been tasked with many additional jobs this year, in supporting their child’s education. Without this partnership, academic excellence would be impossible. Our students grow not only through the academic excellence provided by teachers, but also through the support which comes from their homes and families.

It is a unique privilege to serve students and families through Catholic education. Service within Catholic Academies and Parish Schools can be viewed in many ways. It is the service of our teachers to the school community, the service of our families in providing for their children, and it is the way students learn to serve others. Acts 20:35 shares with us …remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive… This spirit of giving is alive in our Catholic Academy and Parish School communities, as students learn, not only to give through material items, during events such as food drives, they also learn the importance of the love they give to others. This is once again a reflection of the foundation provided by their families; for a student to understand that the love they give can change the world. Students who are a part of Catholic education are more likely to demonstrate service through volunteering and community engagement and are also more likely to show their love of others, with an increased openness to differences and embracing of others.

Our schools are blessed with families within their communities who make the sacrifice to send their children to Catholic Academies and Parish Schools. This is not always an easy decision, especially during this school year. The gift of sending a child to a Catholic Academy or Parish School is providing them with a foundation for life through faith, excellence, and service; qualities we see reflected not only in our schools but in the families that comprise our school communities.

Thank you for your continued faith in the mission of Catholic education and for entrusting the most precious gift into our school communities, your children.

Yours in Faith,

Thomas Chadzutko

Thomas Chadzutko, Ed.D.
Superintendent ~ Catholic School Support Services

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Bible Study Tips to Teach Your Young Child

Reading and studying the Bible with your child can be one of the most fulfilling and inspiring ways to strengthen and grow within your faith together, as a family. Not only are you encouraging critical thinking and reading schools, but also helping your child understand the Word of God through the lens of love you offer as a parent.

Be your child’s partner as you embark on the journey that is Bible study—by the end of the road, your child will be better equipped to take on more serious religious study in school. He or she will also get to experience God’s love with each passage you work through together.

Below are a few simple Bible study tips to teach your child that will be the foundation of his or her religious study in the years to come.

Be Consistent with Your Study

For any course of study and practice, it’s vital to the success of your child to be consistent. Without causing too much stress on your schedules, stick to a study regimen that works for you. Whether you carve out time each night or once a week, keep to your study schedule and do your best not to deviate from it.

Don’t Place Excessive or Unnecessary Pressure on Yourself or Your Child

Remember: Bible study should be a positive experience for your child—and you, too! Before you embark on the journey of Bible study, evaluate your expectations and adjust them as necessary. What are you hoping to achieve through your study? What are your hopes for your relationship with your child, and for their relationship with God? Be hyperaware of your child’s mindset going into the exercise, and remember that children may not grasp the Bible’s complex ideas and concepts right away… and that’s OK.

Make Bible Study FUN

One of the most effective ways for teaching children is to make your exercises, and there’s no reason Bible study should be any different. In fact, making your Bible study sessions more engaging in this way will encourage your child to view the practice in a more positive way—something to look forward to with their family!

To make Bible study more fun for your child, encourage him or her to draw representations of their thoughts and feelings regarding a particular story. You can also incorporate crafts and activities into your study, like designing bookmarks. In general, keep your questions light and encourage your child to read and respond on their own.

No Matter What, Stay Positive about Your Study

As you work through the tips below, remember this verse for inspiration and guidance:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:17)

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3 Impactful Catholic Books to Read in the New Year

One of the most powerful ways we connect with God and strengthen our faith is through prayer. It brings us closer to understanding who we are as people, how we fit into the greater fabric of the world, and the central role that our relationship to God and faith play in our everyday lives.

In addition to prayer, though, reading has the ability to take our faith beyond our current understandings. Through the stories and perspectives of those who have walked paths toward salvation before us, we are able to learn more and, ultimately, grow in our love of Christ so that we may better share our faith with those closest to us.

In a time when so much tragedy has struck the nation, the practice of actively strengthening our faith is so important, now more than ever. For so many reasons, your child may be experiencing some feelings that are overwhelming and scary. To help your older child navigate those emotions, below are three impactful Catholic books you can encourage him or her to read in the New Year.

The Bible

Encouraging your child to read the Bible may seem obvious, but stop and consider how turning to the Word of God in times of crisis will affect a young person for the rest of his or her lifetime. When darkness threatens to overwhelm us, our faith is often the one thing that will help shine the light back into our lives. If your child has never done a complete reading of the Bible, the New Year may be the perfect opportunity to embark on this important spiritual journey. When life becomes too dark to bear, the Bible will reveal the path toward happiness once more.

The Emotions God Gave You by Art and Laraine Bennett

This book is a wonderful starting place for understanding difficult feelings and emotions in times of darkness. Often, these emotions arise when we least expect or desire them to, and it can be difficult to move past them. But, as with all things, God gives us the strength and wisdom to overcome them, and that is the premise that the Bennetts aim to highlight through the exploration of life’s toughest questions: Why do we feel the way we do, and how can we achieve spiritual and emotional equilibrium despite those feelings?

Letters to a Young Catholic by George Weigel

Targeting the younger generation, this book serves as a thorough exploration of what it means to be a Catholic. By incorporating humanistic elements such as history, literature, theology, and music, Weigel offers a fantastic overview of Catholic beliefs and teachings throughout time – from the faith’s ancient beginnings to the modern-day.

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Setting up 2021 Family Faith Goals

In a time when family has become even more central to our lives amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic, setting up family faith goals will help your household grow even stronger together through prayer.

Before the New Year, contemplate on the elements of your faith that make you feel most connected to your family members – then, aim to nurture those connections through the goals you set as a family. Doing so will bring you closer to God and will make your family a stronger unit to face any obstacle that sits before you in the New Year. Below are a few examples of goals you might set for your family to strengthen your relationship to your faith.

Group Prayer and Meditative Reading

One of the most effective ways to come together as a family, especially around the holidays, is to read scripture together. Set aside time each week for reading together, and aim to discuss a certain aspect of the scripture related to something you’re experiencing currently in your lives, including issues at school, work, and home. Doing so will help you work through potential anxieties and also gives you a chance to celebrate joys and successes. Set aside a quiet space that’s roomy enough for the whole family, but also free from distractions.

Attend Virtual Mass

The pandemic has changed the way we all live, including the way we celebrate the Eucharist. If you live in an area heavily affected by the COVID-19 virus, it’s important to stay home and socially distanced, and so in-person mass may be out of the question. A wonderful alternative, however, is virtual mass. Check with your parish to see if they offer online services that you can attend through a streaming service. If not, consider spearheading the effort with your parish administration. Take charge of your faith in the New Year!

Prayer Before Meals

Eating is a symbolic activity – we gain and give sustenance, and we share it with the people that mean most to us. Before each meal you share with your family, aim to pray together. Thank the Lord for the food you’re about to share with the people you love, and give thanks for all the blessings you’ve received in your life, including the bounty set before you.

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Celebrating Christmas 2020 to the Fullest

An uncertain and frightening year has brought with it an opportunity to celebrate the holidays in a new light. The pandemic has affected each person differently, leaving the world with much to grieve, but also much for which to be thankful.

This Christmas, it will be important for us all to recall memories from previous years and to revel in the joy and nostalgia. It’s a time to come together, through faith and love, to celebrate the birth of Christ and what it means for each Catholic and his or her unique and precious relationship with God.

This year, the coming-together aspect of the holidays may be look different, but through faith and prayer, we all can celebrate Christmas 2020 and our savior safely. Below are a few creative ideas to celebrate the holidays fully despite each obstacle placed before us by this unprecedented year.

Christmas Zoom Toast

One of the best ways to stay connected with the people you love outside of your social distancing bubble is to communicate videoconferencing software such as Zoom. Up to 100 participants can join the call, allowing you to see the smiling faces of your entire family or friend group. Play Christmas music in the background and reminisce about the year and those past.

Go Overboard on the Decorating

Now more than ever, we need the cheer and joy of the holidays, and what better way to spread the Christmas spirit than through an above-and-beyond Christmas display? If you and your family normally just pull the Christmas tree out of storage and throw up a few string lights in front yard, consider spicing the season up with extra garland or lights in creative spots around your home, such as the staircase, bedrooms, or kitchen. Whether it’s a opting for a fresh-cut Christmas tree or trying out a new recipe this Christmas dinner, make this year special for all the right reasons.

Make a Commemorative Ornament with Your Children

For better or for worse, this year’s holiday season will be one to remember. In the years to come, your children will look back on how 2020 has impacted them and the world around them. On the back of the decorated ornament, have your children write out in paint or marker the things they are most thankful for, or things they hope for the year to come.

While Christmas this year will be unlike any other, there are so many ways and reasons to chase the spirit of the holidays and the absolute joy it can bring us all.

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December Meditations to Feel Centered and Less Stressed in the New Year

Meditation is a wonderful and effective way to reconnect with your faith. In the quiet, relaxed state of meditation, your body and mind both have the opportunity to feel a centeredness that will encourage you to start each day with a positive attitude and determination.

The Effects of Stress on the Human Body

The effects of stress on the body are numerous, effecting both the body and the mind in different but significant ways. Physically, stress can cause headaches and migraines, insomnia or excessive sleep, high blood pressure, and digestive problems. Emotionally, stress can cause restlessness and moodiness, anxiety and lack of motivation, and sadness or depression.

On the effects of stress on the human body, experts say that “forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress,” and “the lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50 percent, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.”

Meditation and Wellness

Luckily, though, meditation is a simple yet powerful technique for alleviating stress and its negative effects on the body. When practiced for as little as 10 minutes each day, meditation should reduce symptoms associated with stress by decreasing anxiety, lowering blood pressure, and encouraging relaxation.

To meditate, sit in a comfortable spot and position, such as on a yoga mat or area rug with your legs crossed and your hands resting on your knees. With your back straight, close your eyes and mind your breathing, taking long, slow breathes as you meditate. As you begin to relax and feel your heartbeat slowing, reflect on the meditations listed in the next section of this blog.

Meditations to Comfort and Inspire for 2021

• Your favorite bible verse (See the passages in the list below for inspiration.)
o Psalm 46:1-3
o Isaiah 41:10
o Isaiah 43:1-3
o Philippians 4: 12-13
o Romans 10:9
• Pray the Rosary or one of its prayers, such as the “Our Father” or “Holy Mary”
• A goal you’d like to accomplish for 2021 – think personally and professionally, as well in terms of your relationship with God and your faith

Regardless of how you choose to meditate, seek to strengthen your relationship with God by putting your faith at the center of the exercise.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Dear Families,

We have been blessed throughout previous academic years with families who understand the importance of our mission for Catholic Education and who are committed to working alongside us to accomplish these goals. This year, while unbelievably challenging, has demonstrated the level of commitment our families have to support the Catholic Academies and Parish Schools within the Diocese of Brooklyn. It is incredible to witness. I find it inadequate to simply say thank you, as those words don’t even begin to cover my gratitude for your unending support but nonetheless, I will try.

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Finding the Strength to Be Thankful in 2020

With just two months left of 2020, we reflect today on the months passed and are reminded of the many changes that we and our families, friends, and colleagues have undergone. In these unprecedented and frightening times, it may be difficult to find things to be grateful for this holiday season.

An uncertain year and uncertain times have had the potential to turn our perception of this time of year around, but through faith, we are reminded of the many possibilities for blessing that have touched us. As you read on, reflect on the moments of happiness that have shined through the bad and the chaotic.

The Joy of Family and Friends in Times of Darkness

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the ways in which we view the time we spend with our families. We learn to cherish the moments we get with them, whether face-to-face or virtually. In times of darkness, we learn to hold on to our loved ones for comfort and stability, and it’s through our family and our friends that we find the strength to continue on when we feel discouraged or alone.

Sharing experiences and offering words of advice or understanding bring us close together. Enjoying the presence and existence of our loved ones will help guide us toward happiness. Let us be thankful for them.

Health in Uncertainty

With over nine million reported cases of COVID-19 in the United States, our health should be precious to us. Every day that we wake up in good health is a blessing, and we must take care to never take our well-being for granted.

Health serves as the foundation for the most powerful human joys and sorrows in life, and without it, we are truly unable to live our infinitely important lives to the absolute fullest, as God wants for us. Each day, remember how important your health is – to yourself and for the people around you. Let us be thankful for good health and the front-liners that put their own lives on the line to ensure it for the nation.

Let Gratitude Shine When Things Feel Dark

In darkness, one of the most effective ways to cope with pain, loss, and sadness is to let gratitude shine through with every interaction you have. This is difficult, and you may find yourself unable or unwilling to show thankfulness in moments when life seems anything but fair. A wonderful first step is to begin with the people you love. Let them know how thankful you are to have them in your life, and love and joy will come from your togetherness.

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How to Strengthen Your Faith Through Prayer in Times of Uncertainty

In today’s world of living and teaching, our children are faced with a unique and unprecedented set of challenges as they navigate the early years of their lives at home and at school. With challenges comes uncertainty, and your child may be feeling a number of ways about the changes that have been thrusted upon his or her life in the last several months.

To help your child grow and explore successfully without the weight of uncertainty weighing heavy on his or her shoulders, it’s important to foster environments with a foundation of faith. Through faith, your child will continue the journey through life with the strength to think about and take on the challenges that lie ahead, but also the courage to enjoy childhood as much as a child can, regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

A Verse for Comfort and Guidance

For generations, one of the most comforting verses in the Bible reminds us of God’s unconditional love for us – that he will lead us forward in times of uncertainty, guiding us through the darkness in our lives to the light of His grace and forgiveness. Through His words, we feel empowered.

Read the Bible with your child to encourage study of God’s word, and find verses that you both find comforting, inspirational, or uplifting. Psalm 23 (NAB) is a fantastic place to start and reminds us of God’s love that will guide us along the right path:

The Lord is my shepherd
there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.

You set a table before me
in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Indeed, goodness and mercy[e] will pursue me
all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the Lord
for endless days.

Through the gospel, we can find words of encouragement and strength aplenty – we need only seek them out.