The Holy Spirit is on a roll! An out-of-state friend of mine — a tuition-paying parent whose three children attend Catholic schools — texted me that his young daughter is “having a meeting with her classmates in our living room.” This sentence struck me because it’s packed.

Think of this ... The meeting is virtual — online — yet it’s still a meeting. Distance learning, as it is often termed, it is. But it’s still learning. And with appropriate social distancing — not social isolation — it’s actually more intimate than any classroom. It occurs in the family nest, where it is possible to be “in our living room,” yet also, in a real way, a (let’s say) digitally enhanced schoolhouse.

Now I’m not going to sugarcoat the havoc or attempt to simplify the complexities caused by this disease. By disease I don’t only mean THE virus of the century (so far) that we’ve named COVID-19 (though no one can quite figure it out), but also the panic epidemic, the economic sinkholes and the feral political whirlpools. Just “making do” at home to distract ourselves from the terrifying diseases around us, just working from home, playing more board games and whipping ourselves into a cooking frenzy is no substitute for the human relationships we need and crave by nature. But learning with your family is not just doing supervised homework. It is a way to become deeply involved with family, to engage and enjoy one another.

Nor do I want to pretend that being confined to home, for many more days than one might want to imagine, may not be for some as terrifying as a prison sentence. Reports of depression and its ally, drug-abuse and other addictions, rising domestic violence and other abusive behaviors are on the rise. Not everyone can accept their own human dignity and that of everyone around them as God-willed, or even a loving God who is constantly hitting us with grace bombs.

My friend goes on to unpack the richness of this new experience for himself and his family. He sees that a bright side to this temporary confinement (and I quote with permission) “is that education might be moved from government institutions back into the home.” Suddenly, my friends are home-schooling, but seeing more in it than a chore or project, more than home “work.”

“The mother is the world’s most important teacher,” my friend reflects. “There is no one more patient. There is no one that knows the needs and wants of a child and what is most likely to make them succeed like mom.” My friend, the man of the house, is obviously seeing his wife, as well as his daughter and friends in a new light and feeling a stronger bond. It’s not just about “doing” more things to kill time during life under lockdown or to make the best of a bad situation, but about BEING more — more of who each family member is.

Isn’t that really what church is supposed to mean? Not just a place, but a way of being more completely human, becoming holier? To worship together is an expression of human nature. For Catholics, Eucharistic prayer is an essential component of personal and ecclesial identity. If somehow in this loving and learning together we can be lifted up to God in prayer, we have an excellent model of what the domestic church — home-church, if you will — can look like. And a building block for the communion of the faithful that the church on earth is called to be.

Toward this end, I could not resist the impulse to sermonize my friend — what else is a priest to do? — catechizing him on the traditional father-role, steeped in our Jewish roots, wherein the father as family priest, is the one who instructs his children on religious tradition, how to pray and in opening up the Scriptures — lifting his whole family up in prayer. It’s a real leadership role and prepares the family for what they do, united with other families of faith, in communion of worship.

I think that now at least some families, discovering what learning — and praying — together can be like, may find a greater awareness that who they are together is much more than what they get or where they go, and that often takes them away from their communion. I don’t worry that the current restrictions on gatherings called social distancing need lead to social isolation, as my friend’s family experience illustrates. Nor do I think that the desire to celebrate and rally around an esteemed person — like the real Eucharistic presence of our Lord — will lose its luster. If anything, when the veil of fear of even leaving the house is lifted, who would want to sit home in front of a screen. Except after this, with families more in tune, they might actually enjoy praising and thanking God together. That is, after all, an Easter story.

Death and fear of death at first scattered the disciples of Christ, not to be found near the Cross when its shadow fell over their expectations, shattering their hopes in a trusted pattern that was suddenly disrupted. They thought it was all over when, in a flash, the Lord was gloriously present in their midst. Men who were huddling in fear a day before were suddenly running around in joy at the Good News that Christ is risen. Out of ashes, light quickens a dead world. The tomb is empty. There is no return to mere normal. Life not only wins. It is transformed!

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