(The following is Archbishop Wilton Gregory's “What I Have Seen and Heard” column for April 2 for the Catholic Standard newspaper and website of the Archdiocese of Washington.)
Home-school families have been prepared for this particular moment for decades! I fortunately have known a number of home-schooling families in the three dioceses where I have served as bishop, and they all seem to share a common skill – they know how to balance and to form their kids’ activities and education while at home. Now that many local school systems have closed – some for the rest of the academic year – those talents of our home-schoolers are lessons from which many others can learn.
There are various other lessons to be captured during this moment of extended family time together. The domestic Church is a phrase that we may have heard before, but in today’s environment, we are challenged to discover that reality in a very personal way. Our families must be re-introduced to praying together. Not just a few brief words at special meals, but sustained time for speaking to God together – young and old, parents and children who now presume to speak to the Father of us all with a common voice – as an expression of the church within the home.
The astronaut Captain Scott Kelly in a recent New York Times article described his experience of being sequestered in space for an entire year. While we all pray that our quarantine won’t stretch that long, he has some insightful suggestions that include establishing a schedule, taking time for relaxation, and reaching out to loved ones – we have many technologies available to facilitate that activity. Being the domestic church in your home can profit from Captain Kelly’s advice.
While the current situation can be strenuous, there have been some charming broadcast experiences of how this time has already changed family life. One included a recent segment with Jimmy Fallon, the late evening personality, who was conducting an online interview with a subject when one of his little daughters came up from behind and just rested on his neck in front of the internet camera as it was recording. It gave us a clear indication that even famous personalities have little restraint over their children when everyone is together at home.
Over the years, I have repeatedly heard the complaint on the part of many parents who lament the inadequate time that they can spend with their youngsters because of the press of outside interests and obligations that usurp family time. The moment we are now living through can be a relief for that situation. In spite of the inconveniences that our situation imposes upon all of us, there are graces to be discovered even therein.
Families have the opportunity to engage one another at levels that might have been unthinkable when we began Lent only a few weeks ago. There are still many possible distractions because of the omnipresent electronic gadgets upon which we too often have come to depend – adults and children alike. Meal times in sequestered family life might be the first opportunity for real conversation – so put down the smart-phones. Shared chores and common projects might also be opportunities to rediscover the value to be found in each other. Hopefully, with prayer and a hefty amount of laughter, we will all survive this moment and learn to love God and one another more at its exit!