By David Cooley.
No one could have guessed at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year how things would end abruptly before the month of April. It is fair to say that many people are grieving in some way, and rightly so. Instead of the usual end-of-the-year excitement and celebrations, there has been isolation and distance among friends. For us Catholics, the most difficult thing has been being away from our Lord in the sacraments and being away from our parish communities. For many youth who were enjoying a significant year in school, things came to a rather anti-climactic end. Of course, none of this is to even mention those that have suffered through illness or have lost loved ones who were very dear to them. Yet on the other hand, I think it is also fair to say that 2020 will not fade away from our memories anytime soon. At the very least it has been unique, caused us to pause, and perhaps forced us to look at things in a different way.
But now summer has crept in, virtually unnoticed, and we are faced with a new set of dilemmas. For the most part public Masses have opened up again — a true blessing — but “to go, or not to go; that is the question.” There is, after all, still a dispensation in place from our bishop through the end of the season. “But, Lord, how can we stay away from you, and where should we go?” And, for the most part, everything else that involves large gatherings but deemed “unnecessary” has been canceled altogether. In other words, this means that, for those with children of any age in the house, there are no summer camps, and, more importantly, no Vacation/Vocation Bible School! Summer cannot be a time for youth to take a vacation from their Catholic faith. In this day and age the stakes are just too high. There are too many entities out there, mostly dark, battling for their hearts and attention.
Again, this is an opportunity for us to pause, and truly reflect on the important truth that our homes are meant to be a domestic church. No matter what is going on outside our doors, we are an Easter people and our time on this earth should be filled with joy because we know the good news of Jesus Christ. We know that everything is in God’s hands. As Catholics, we are called to be a light in the darkness, a sign of God’s love for all people. It all starts in the home and, if we happen to be parents, we must set an example for our children.
So what are some concrete things families can do?
First, find ways to stay connected to the Church. Make sure your family experiences the Mass at least once each week, even if you decide to live stream it or watch a recording. Additionally, try to organize parish activities that utilize safe distance procedures; for example, a Monday night rosary group that prays together via video conferencing. At the very least families should pray together daily, take turns writing prayers or leading reflections on the mysteries of the rosary. Make sure your child has an age-appropriate style Bible. That is so crucial, and these days there is virtually a limitless selection.
Pay close attention to feast days, learn about the saints together — celebrate St. Thomas More with a virtual tour of the Tower of London. There are many ways to make history come alive. Read daily devotionals together. Make chalk drawings of your favorite Bible stories or stained-glass windows. When July rolls around, sew a “God Bless America” quilt or table runner. Bake home-made “Eucharist” (flat) bread and talk about the Passover in Exodus, the Last Supper and the Blessed Sacrament. Find other meals, foods and drinks to try from biblical times. Discover new Catholic arts and craft ideas via the internet.
It is necessary to be creative and keep young people engaged the best we can during these challenging times. Never miss an opportunity to address important issues and demonstrate how God is at work in the world today. Read a small section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church every day and discuss it as a family. All these thoughts just scratch the surface of the possibilities.
One final idea, and I wish I could tell you that I came up with this because I love it so much. There are websites, such as animoto.com and freemake.com (and I’m sure there are others), where users can import animation, photos, movie clips and audio files to create videos/slideshows, etc. Early in the week, look at the Scripture readings for the following Sunday, then, as a family, make a video that tells the entire Gospel story. The great thing about this project is that you can then share the video your family makes each week on social media and evangelize to others without leaving your house. And, of course, you are well prepared for Sunday’s Mass.
In preparing to write this article one of my favorite passages from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” kept popping into my head. In dealing with challenging times and a cross to bear, Frodo the Hobbit says to Gandalf the Wizard: “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” To which Gandalf replies: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
How true! Seasons come and go. Typically in the summer we have a little bit more time on our hands; that might be particularly true this year. So what will you decide to do with the time that is given to you?
David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization in the Diocese of Covington.