In so many ways, the whole lockdown, or quarantine, or stay-at-home order (whichever you prefer to call this strange situation that is life in America these days) under which we've all been living has given families the opportunity for a kind of togetherness that they were never able to enjoy before. Many parents are tele-working from home rather than leaving in the morning to drive or commute to their offices, and while this can create challenges as far as work productivity, I'm sure, it also means a lot more time spent at home with their offspring. And children whose schools have been closed--possibly, in many states, even for the rest of the academic year--are being homeschooled by their parents or are participating in some sort of distance learning on their computers, or a combination of the two; I'll bet there are many parents who used to declare "I am not the type who can homeschool!" who have learned that in an emergency, they can, and they are better at it than they thought they were.
With everyone stuck at home--goodbye movie theaters, sporting events, concerts, and even play dates at the local park!--thank goodness there are all sorts of video streaming services available to us in our high-tech age to help fight off the homebound boredom! There's always Netflix or Disney Plus to keep the troops entertained...but one cannot live by screen alone, and I've heard that giant jigsaw puzzles and good old-fashioned board games are being employed by families more than ever before in the past month or so, as the weeks stretch on and there doesn't appear to be a definite end in sight (although, God willing, there will be soon).
So there is some good to be found in these times. There is always some good, however small, if you really look for it.
But there's also much bad. No one wants to be forced to homeschool; that should be a choice parents make after much research and discernment. No senior should have to miss out on prom, graduation, and a host of other social activities that are part and parcel of every high school kid's regular life in these United States (or at least were). Working from home isn't always easy, and for some (maybe most), it isn't even an option. Many Americans are currently jobless, and countless businesses will probably not survive the shutdown.
And the right to assemble, so long taken for granted by us all, has been stripped away because of an invisible enemy with the power to take life--but about which even the scientific experts cannot come to a unanimous agreement. While they decide the best way to fight it, we stay locked in our houses...
Yes, there is also much bad. And you don't even have to look that hard for it.
But I was going to talk about Easter, before I went off on that tangent. Easter 2020, the best and the worst of it.
The worst, of course, was not being able to attend Mass or to receive Our Lord's precious Body and Blood. And that was a uniquely painful experience for those of us Catholics who have never been denied the freedom to practice our Faith openly and regularly, without a care in the world. Yes, it was painful. But it was also an opportunity to embrace Christ's Cross in an intimate way during the season of Lent, and to grow closer to Him through prayer. It seems we are always closest to God during the times in our life when we suffer most.
A dear friend from high school emailed me after my last post (when she found herself unable to leave a comment here at the blog). Her mother was one of the most beautiful souls I have ever met, a devout Catholic woman whom I always considered to be a living saint. It's obvious that when it comes to her daughter, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. My friend wrote the most touching letter, first remarking that when she read that post, she sensed "a feeling of sadness and maybe some powerlessness" on my part, regarding the closure of our VA churches. (I misspoke in that post, by the way; our bishop did actually tell the churches in the diocese to stop having public Masses before the governor's mandated closures of all "nonessential" businesses and meeting places were announced. So I'm sorry for giving a false impression there.) She then proceeded to tell me about some of the positive things that had happened in her faith life, in spite of the disappointments caused by all the closures and cancellations. "For the veneration of the cross on Good Friday," she wrote, "I chose to use a small comfort cross that belonged to my late mother. Instead of kneeling before it as I would have in church and probably should have done here at home, I held it to my heart with both hands and felt closer to the crucified Christ than I ever have before." She also related how she'd begun new daily prayer devotions, even though "sitting quietly and clearing the thoughts racing through my brain" is not her strength. "I'm sure I'll struggle with that again, but, at least for now, I will work hard to continue this practice in my home church." Her home church.
I can absolutely relate to this friend's experience. Never before have I felt as deeply and surely that the home my husband and I have created is truly a "domestic church." And as sad and strange as this time of quarantine has been, in some ways it has made me grow in my Faith in ways I never could have imagined. Because of the fact that I have to try so much harder to be intentional about living sacramentally these days, when the Sacraments are not available to me, I sometimes feel closer to Our Lord than ever.
Has this happened to you? If so, leave me a comment below. I would love to know if you also feel that when this whole scary episode is behind us, you believe you will love the Lord, and the Mass, with a renewed zeal--a zeal so intense that it feels as if your heart will burst.
I did post a picture on Instagram on Easter Sunday, with my husband and me all decked out in our Sunday Best attire for our at-home Mass (live-streamed from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, which has been the "home parish" where we've chosen to "attend" 10:00 a.m. Sunday Masses during most of the lockdown).
As I shared over on the 'gram, my husband's Sunday Best included one of his iconic ties with pictures of his grandchildren on them. For me, it included a fascinator hat that I purchased about seven years ago on a shopping trip with one girl who I knew would soon be my daughter-in-law (and another who ended up being one of them, too--although none of us could have predicted that at the time!). I have chickened out of wearing this fancy little headpiece for four different sons' weddings in the intervening years...but I finally found a congregation small enough (just the two of us!) that I could wear it to "church" without feeling self-conscious. I figured that since this was about the most unusual Easter Sunday I'd ever experienced in my lifetime, sporting a special Easter bonnet was in order.
In our family room, we've set up an "altar" on the mantle, with my first-class relics of St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Catherine Laboure (both precious heirlooms inherited from my maternal grandmother), a small pair of crucifixes, a small reproduction of the Pieta, two lit pillar candles, and some saint prayer cards on display. Even when all the Catholic church doors are opened wide once again, I don't know if I'm going to be able to dismantle that mantle.
It was a very different sort of Easter for the faithful this year, no doubt about it. But as the Notre Dame priest reminded us in his homily that day, the Cross and the Resurrection are unbreakably intertwined; without one, there would not be the other. So we just need to keep bearing the weight of this suffering that we didn't choose but have been forced to carry as best we can, knowing that there will one day be a glorious reward unlike anything we can imagine. So in spite of all the reasons to be sad, given the current situation, I felt a real joy in my heart on Easter morning. I felt keenly and humbly aware of my many blessings. And I wanted my Easter finery to show on the outside all that I was feeling on the inside--thus the famous long-hidden-away fascinator!
At 2:00 p.m., our local VA parish had a drive-through blessing, so we headed over to join the line-up of cars in the church parking lot. One by one we drove by our wonderful pastor, an extremely holy priest who must be missing ministering to his flock in person terribly, and he sprinkled us with holy water through our open windows as we drove past him. He shouted the most enthusiastic Easter blessings, with a beaming smile on his face. He tends to be a relatively shy priest, whose usual demeanor might be called "serious"; so his utterly joy-filled expression as he greeted his parishioners was both touching and inspiring and made me think, "Yes, that's right! We ARE an Easter people, and alleluia IS our song!" There is really no room for sadness, is there? No matter what may come in the wake of this pandemic. Jesus died for our sins, and now He is risen; and if we put our trust in Him, all will be well in the end.
Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Faith! Thank you for a husband who has been the perfect partner for me and the best father for our boys! Thank you for all my undeserved blessings, too many to count! Thank you for my life, dear Lord, and thank you for giving yours for me, a poor sinner, so that I have the hope of spending eternal life with you in Heaven!
Easter 2020: it was the worst of times. But as always, it was also the best.