When summer vacation begins in March
For Legate Kevin Kelly, Ohio’s recent coronavirus stay-at-home orders were less of an imposition and more of a joy.
Two of his eight children came home from college, joining two of their younger siblings, and overall, Kelly said, everyone liked having extra “hang-out” time. They watched movies, prayed the rosary together and on Sundays, gathered in one spot for a live-streamed Mass, something Kelly seized as an opportunity to talk about the Mass and its meaning in their lives.
Although state-enforced sheltering-in orders have been stressful for many households, for families whose lives are informed by the Catholic faith, increased togetherness has often been more blessing than blight.
Some enjoy, others not so much. “It feels a little awkward saying it, but we’ve actually enjoyed it,” said Dr. Christopher Stroud, a Legate whose household includes his mother and mother-in-law plus five children between 11 and 22. “It’s been like an extended spring break or extended Christmas vacation.” During the shutdown, they selected movies for everyone to view, played board games, and had long discussions, discovering a greater sense of closeness, interdependency, and solidarity.
Still, not everyone shares that experience. Higher rates of some kinds of domestic violence, child abuse, and suicide were reported amid the sheltering-in restrictions, according to Dr. Susan Hatters Friedman, a professor of forensic psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University, writing in the New York Daily News. In addition, a FoxBusiness report said attorneys were seeing an increase in divorce inquiries with one lawyer predicting the quarantines could hasten divorces for marriages on the brink.
Greg Schlueter, who leads a family-focused ministry known as Mass Impact, said even among Catholic parents, social media postings indicated that not all took delight in having more time with their children. For him, that revealed a crisis at the heart of the crisis. “Too many of us ‘good Catholic parents’ have delegated our unsurpassed, irreplaceable appointing and anointing. Too many of us are languishing without knowing and embracing God’s vision for our marriages, families, and homes.”
Reorienting responsibility. Schlueter, a father of six, has tried looking upon the coronavirus restrictions as an occasion for families to more fully recognize and rely upon Christ, and for parents to reclaim responsibilty often consigned to churches and schools. “It’s almost as if God reached into our activity-addicted, spaz-fest culture of delegated parenthood and said, ‘Stop!’ Or rather, with regard to rediscovering and living in our God-designed nature: ‘Start!’”
Through its “I Love My Family” program, Schlueter’s ministry encourages families to dedicate weekly time to meaningful conversation and prayer, making their homes places of ever-deepening encounter with Christ.
The ministry provides a “Live IT Gathering Guide,” available free online, and can be used to discuss and pray over the Sunday Mass readings. The guide includes an outline with prayers and questions for strengthening family relationships. It is coordinated with a “Family Road Trip” radio broadcast on which several families discuss their own experiences with weekly “Live IT” meetings. “I Love My Family” also offers in-person meetings for groups of couples and families, but with those suspended during the coronavirus restrictions, some groups have met on Zoom and the ministry has aired an interactive Parental Pow-Wow on Facebook and YouTube.
Schlueter said many families who start “Live IT” gatherings in their homes previously had some practice of formal family prayer, such as the rosary, but not a way to engage in meaningful, relational encounters with each other. When they overcome the initial awkwardness, he said families often experience transformation.
Kelly noted that although his family has not incorporated “Live IT” into their prayer times, he has seen its fruit in other families and in one of his own sons, who went through a period of not relating to his faith. Through participation in a “Live IT” youth gathering, “He became really alive in his faith and learned it.”
Boosting communication. Steve Findley, whose family used “Live IT” for about six years, said their communication improved to such a degree that he can’t imagine what sheltering-in with six children from 6 to 20 would have been like without it.
His wife, Lorna, noticed very few challenges during the stay-at-home restrictions. “I think our ability to handle this and be happy in it is largely due to the amount of communication we have in our prayer life and faith. Having that focus makes all the difference.”
Their family has learned to open up and discuss their struggles through the weekly “Live IT” gatherings, which provide opportunities to affirm, seek forgiveness, and to pray with and ask for prayer from each other. Sharing and discussing a problem with the family, she said, lightens the burden for those who are struggling. “Being a bigger family, it’s always a noisy challenge because everyone wants to talk at the same time, but it’s great to be able to communicate and respect each other.” Because of the gatherings, Lorna said, “Without a doubt, our faith, our marriage, and everything across the board has grown.”
Even though she initially was uncertain about the effect that sheltering-in would have, she found the result has been something of an answer to prayer. “The way God can do good through hard things is so evident . . . Really, very quickly, the good fruit of it was abundantly obvious from the get-go.”
Schlueter said “Live IT” participants like the Findleys have embraced the coronavirus circumstances as a way to spend meaningful time together, recalibrate who they are, and go deeper into their souls, marriages, and families.
Purifying priorities. Liz Erickson, whose family is part of the “Live IT” ministry, said sheltering-in has given her and her husband, Walt, more quality time. They have been praying together more as a couple, and with their six children. This has extended to her parents, siblings, and their families, who have begun praying the rosary together on Zoom every Sunday. “That was not happening before,” she said.
Stroud, an obstetrician/gynecologist, said he has heard many stories like his own of families who are seeing the benefit of slowing down and being at home during the coronavirus restrictions. At his Legatus men’s forum recently, he said one of the questions the members considered was “what will you do differently post-pandemic?” “A lot said they were going to try to be less busy and savor going to Mass more. It was kind of a universal response and I would certainly echo that. Why did we need an international pandemic to tell people to slow down and be less scheduled?”
He sees the stay-at-home orders as a good time to learn to love people for what makes them unique. “Sometimes the things that make a family member unique can get under your skin. It’s a good time to thank God for their uniqueness, and a good time to reflect on how we have to love each other, and that it’s not always rainbows and daffodils.”
JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer