No, it’s not quite Christmas yet, though it will be soon enough. The beginning of the school year is just around the corner; it won’t be long before the leaves start to turn, pumpkins are set a-grin and turkeys (or the Tofurkey) are getting dressed for the Thanksgiving table. Then you know what’s next....

Time passes so quickly. But, before we get carried away, let’s take a deep breath. As always around this time, we are ritually asking ourselves, “Where did the summer go?”

Parents and “parenters” well may welcome these weeks, as the wild kids of summer prepare to be turned back over to teaching staffs for the better part of the coming weekdays. Many young people themselves find the prospect of exploring new horizons in their life’s path not all that awful. Being with friends again and meeting new ones, recounting the adventures of the last months and, in some cases, going new places can be a time of adventure and excitement.

As the Andy Williams classic Christmas-season song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” evokes, this time can offer a mixed bag of anxiety and anticipation, as well as the joy of reconnecting and remembering.

While summer may bring out the side of us that yearns for paradise, the onset of the school season brings us back to the reality that the road to heaven is through this earth.

To get anywhere in life requires a certain vision and discipline. The two go together. If we have great purpose or goal in life and in the various stages of our lives, it seems to make getting there so much more bearable, even enjoyable. Knowing there is light at the end of the tunnel, cookies and a glass of milk (or whatever) after a long day, a graduation at the end of term, a celebration after a long period of preparation: All of these make the going-through worth going through.

In a passage from the epistle to the Hebrews well worth taking into our “lectio divina” — our prayerful contemplation — we are reminded that “for the sake of the joy that lay before him, [Jesus] endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:2-3).

In different yet converging ways, the new academic year can be a time of trial and challenge for students, teachers, parents and parishes alike. If we assume our roles not as rivals, but as members of a team, a family supporting one another — and realizing that Jesus is in our midst, sleeves rolled up, working in the vineyard with us — we can embrace the new school year as collaborating “disciples in mission.”

All of us have a part to play in the growth and development of our young people in their important formative years. Habits and disciplines acquired in this foundational stage will give them the spiritual, intellectual and character equipment needed for a fruitful lifetime that will “well up” into the eternity prepared for us, to which each one is called by God.

It can never be overstated that Catholic education is, uniquely, all about the formation of the “whole child,” the whole person, who is more than just an academic product or some potentially “useful” cog-in-a-machine to fill a post on a bureaucratic assembly line.

That is why we — parents, teachers, parish members and students alike — will want to integrate prayer, worship, study and holistic health practices into our school day and weekend routines, neglecting nothing essential.

The growing temptation in our cultural devolution of treating schools and other academic institutions as drop-off points where parents and their surrogates check their mentoring roles at the schoolhouse door must be resisted.

An apostolic, evangelizing commitment by every Christian — every parishioner, friend and family member — will guide our students, through our good example and encouragement, not only to impress us with their grades and sports prowess, but with growth in their spiritual and ecclesial life.

I have heard it said that so many “school families” resemble a good parish. Unquestionably, there is caring, professionalism, support and outstanding cooperation among educators and students’ families. That spirit must continue and pervade after school hours, culminating in and shining forth from our observance of the Lord’s Day.

All that we are as God’s family gathers and flows from our Sunday Eucharist. A Catholic-school family whose members are disconnected from the ecclesial life of a parish is like a school bus speeding downhill without a driver. The faster it accelerates, the sooner it ends up nowhere for the good of its occupants.

Join me in praying for our students, teachers, parents and parish families who are, in many ways, about the enter “the most wonderful time the year” — not without its ironies and uncertainties, but with so much hope and opportunity for “building up the body of Christ,” which is the Gospel mission of every disciple.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)