Who knew that pandemics could be so troublesome, even to families who never got sick? In my pastoral duties in the parish, I have encountered several families who are having a tough time with the pandemic and all the fear and worry that come along with it. None of the families I spoke with had actually contracted the disease but they had felt the ill effects of isolation, the dampening of spirits from lack of social activities, and the sense that these four walls are not big enough to hold so many different personalities with so many opinions and differing ideas. Can there be too much face-to-face contact?
I am going to share from my father’s heart through the lens of my deacon’s heart about how we can not only tolerate all the pressures and anxiety of this pandemic time but actually come out of it the better for it. In March, when everything shut down, our family kept going on as normal. Since we already were homeschooling, we just kept on with our lessons and books but all our outside activities were canceled. So, we managed to finish the school year earlier than usual and began our summer break a few weeks earlier than normal.
The first lesson, different than normal, does not have to be bad. Since we had a longer summer break, we decided to do things we had not done before. We planted several trees, we started the garden early and planned to garden throughout the summer. We heard about some nights with meteor showers; we put it on the schedule. We even went to the yard of a deacon friend to get the extra dark skies. We had more time together; so we explored the local walking trails and even found a couple of fishing spots to make a note for fishing fun another day. My two older boys each caught their first ever large-mouth bass this summer.
Since we didn’t have any outside activities for our five kids, we ended up watching more TV and movies and streaming videos; more tablet use, more YouTube instructional videos, more video games, more online chats, more virtual meetings. Second lesson: more screen time is not better. Because of our active schedule of evening and weekend activities, we previously spent less time in front of a screen. Without outside commitments, our lives began to be ruled by screens – the kids’ time, the family time, the together time. We recognized symptoms of what we later learned Dr. Victoria Dunckley called Electronic Screen Syndrome. We had gotten out of balance; it was time to cut back on the screens and plan to be outside in nature more. The old adage “go out and play outside” really rang a bell in our heads after reading Dr. Dunckley’s book, Reset Your Child’s Brain.
Mass on TV is just not the same as in person. We were being extra careful with exposure to anyone outside our home because my elderly father lives with us and he has several underlying factors that would make contracting the disease especially dangerous for him. After a couple of months, it was my elderly parents who broke the quarantine. As daily Mass goers, my parents couldn’t take another TV Mass and when the churches were opened with 25 percent capacity they jumped at the chance of receiving Our Lord, body, blood, soul and divinity. Third lesson: nothing compares to receiving the Bread of Angels and the Lamb of God. The general dispensation from attending Sunday Mass has expired and most people, except those with underlying conditions and others with a grave reason, will be expected to attend the Sunday Eucharist. Details are found here: shorturl.at/tz579.
The final lesson is that parents lead, and the kids follow. The changes that we made came from a response to the unique circumstances of the pandemic. As always, my wife and I had to discuss what we wanted to do for the benefit of our family and then implement the changes as a team. But I think the best way that we have led as we reinvent our families in this unique environment is that my wife and I made an intentional and deliberate recommitment to our faith. Darkness is not a time to succumb to the shadows but a time to light a lamp. We embraced the family rosary wholeheartedly, we pulled out the kid bibles from the basement shelves, we read about the lives of the saints, we watched some movies about the saints, we enjoyed God’s creation, we visited the grave of our little son in heaven, we celebrated feast days and memorials at home, asking for the intercession of the saint of the day. We embraced Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most glorious St. Joseph and the whole Communion of Saints even more tightly than before. We had already made a family enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary; this summer we made a family consecration to St. Joseph. Now our family is consecrated to the entire Holy Family. This connection to the Holy Family and the Communion of Saints has proven to be the most important aspect of our new pandemic life because alone anyone can succumb to the fear and the panic, but with Christ and the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph and our Patron Saints by our side, we are not so easily disturbed or overcome.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he 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.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)