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Rediscovering what really matters

First slide

This is a time “to choose what matters and what passes away,” we heard Pope Francis say March 27 as we gathered around a laptop in our kitchen. St. Peter’s Square was emblematic of our lives — usually so packed but now eerily quiet. 

About that time — two weeks into the new COVID-19 reality — we called a family meeting. Manners were unraveling, screen time was soaring, and so was the pile of dirty dishes. We hammered out a new daily schedule to prioritize our family’s morning prayer, meals, chores, schoolwork and evening rosary. Our five children rolled their eyes as we printed up nearly a dozen copies and taped them to the walls all over the house. 

That same week, we all went to confession. It was our youngest child’s first confession — “A rookie” the priest exclaimed — and we all shared some of the newness and wonder of the sacrament. At virtual Masses in our living room, we knelt together as a family, gazing at the Eucharist with new longing. We began our first family walks of the spring, discovering previously unknown paths in the nearby forest. 

Privately, we feared our new family schedule would go by the wayside like so many other plans, shelved as the next baseball season or stressful work period hit us. But by God’s grace, it has largely stuck. 

We knew the schedule had promise when, two days into it, one of us parents — who shall remain nameless — was 10 minutes late for lunch and received a good-natured verbal lashing from the entire family. The “I was on a work call” excuse did not fly.  

Though we have often noted that our default setting is to prioritize work, while unwittingly shortchanging the Lord, each other and the kids, this realization has finally had time to sink in. The crisis has forced us to truly see not only the disorder of that way of life, but also the quiet joy that comes from setting limits to work and then giving ourselves fully to the gift of one another and our children. Would the full weight of this realization — which we have managed to discount for the better part of 20 years of marriage — have really hit home without COVID-19?  

The cynic will say that the pandemic has merely amplified pre-existing agendas. Ross Douthat, author of the newly released “The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success,” points out that pandemics in the waning centuries of the Roman Empire “pushed the Empire further along its decadent trajectory.”

Netflix stock is up over 20 percent, and the average American is streaming eight hours of content a day. Porn use is up. Domestic abuse is up. And when the economy comes back, the cynic might posit, families will return to business — and their overwhelming busyness — as usual.  

And yet, 80 percent of families in a recent British study report that they are closer than before the lockdown. Six in 10 respondents say they’re happier with their spouse than before the pandemic. Five percent of respondents in another recent study say that the lockdown has caused them to start praying for the first time in their lives. After we hosted a recent livestream “Heaven In Your Home” workshop, a mother of six wrote, “This was just what my husband and I needed to get us back on track and to see how the distractions are leading us away from heaven in our home.”  

“The future of humanity passes by way of the family,” St. John Paul II wrote. And if more families forgo the slide into decadence and instead seize this unrepeatable moment to strengthen their home — their domestic church or “Trinity house” in which they dwell with the Lord: Father, Son and Holy Spirit — then the future of humanity holds promise. 

No family is perfect, but we can all be better. Every family today has the same opportunity: “to choose,” as Pope Francis said, “what matters and what passes away … to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.” 

That’s an opportunity of a lifetime. And for a lifetime. Before the St. Peter’s Square of our lives gets packed again with busy schedules and plans, may we all find a quiet place to kneel down in our domestic church — and beg for the grace to choose what matters. 

Soren and Ever Johnson are co-founders of Trinity House Community (trinityhousecommunity.org).

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020