“Peace in the Storm: A Letter to Families facing the COVID-19 Crisis”
By Joel de Loera, Director of Family Life & Spirituality
“For I wrote you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” (2 Corinthians 2:4)
As I write this letter with the help of my wife and children, I can’t help but to think of St. Paul’s “letter of tears” to the Corinthians. The great preacher and missionary of the primitive church was saddened to see the many challenges the people of Corinth were facing. Many of these challenges were associated with their faith. He was nevertheless there to encourage them. Though the circumstances are very different, millions of Christian families are currently experiencing various trials thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our faith is being tested. As parents, we try to do our best to guide our children through this new lifestyle so that they may feel secure, safe, and remain hopeful. We do this “with many tears” because of “the abundant love” that we have for our children, even as we face our own fears and worries.
St. Paul’s words resonates with us very much right now. As a family, we have been leading retreats, workshops, and prayer services for other families. We do this, not because we have everything figured out, but because we believe God is calling the domestic church to get out there and preach the Good News of Jesus in word and deed. But today, unable to get out there and spread the Gospel, we join the rest of the families in our Diocese, the Bay Area and other parts of the world who are in some form of quarantine, in their anguish and uncertainty, as we all do our best to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading. Please know that as we write this article to encourage other families, we ourselves are new to this unprecedented experience. We write this “with many tears” but with the hope “that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
We are living in a surreal situation. Schools have closed. Masses have been suspended. Millions of people have been ordered to stay home for at least the next few weeks. Parents have flocked to grocery stores to ensure they have what they need during the shutdown. Some children are excited about staying home, while others are anxious; and many families are wondering how they will get through during this difficult time.
As parents of six children, four of them school-aged, my wife and I totally get it. We, too, are trying to figure things out. In this time of uncertainty and anxiety, I’d like to share some tips and reminders that help us find peace in the storm while also doing good for ourselves and for others:
It’s okay to feel stressed. Believe me, we get stressed out all the time! One kid starts yelling, another one is whining, the baby takes off her diaper and starts running around the house, then another one falls and begins to cry. The bottom line is this: give yourself permission to feel stressed.
Let your trials lead to virtue. You are not a bad parent for losing patience with your children from time to time. When we do this, we obviously feel bad. It’s normal. A small dose of “healthy guilt” helps us to work on those areas in our character that need to improve. There’s always room for improvement, right? Scripture invites us to purify our character and genuineness of faith through the different trials we experience, just as gold is refined by fire “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (Peter 1:7). Let us ask God to mold us into the person He wants us to be. After all, “we are the clay, and He is our potter; we are all the work of His hand” (Isaiah 64:8).
Be disciplined. Our children are used to routines and tight schedules. They have different opportunities to practice discipline at school. Remember: your kids are not on vacation! If married, sit down with your spouse and come up with a daily schedule. Try to stick to it as much as you can. If you couldn’t keep your schedule today, try again tomorrow. Don’t give up!
Be patient with yourself and with your children. Though being disciplined is necessary to grow in virtue, cut yourself some slack! You may ask: “Isn’t this contradictory?” Well, yes and no. It’s the paradox of parenting. Yes, we must do our best, but remember: we are not “superhumans” living in a perfect world. Things will come up that will completely obliterate our perfectly planned day. It’s okay. Just take a deep breath (or ten of them), ask God to help you, and move on with the rest of your day. Also, it’s not our children’s fault that any of this is happening. Some children are scared. Others aren’t sure what’s going on. Let’s be patient with them. If you lose your patience with them, be patient with yourself. Tomorrow will be better.
Be prepared and get creative with your child’s school work. Believe me, all we want to do most of the time is just get it over with! Ironically, the less effort we put into our children’s activity or homework, the more tiring it will be. The more creative we get, the faster time goes, and our time together becomes more enjoyable. At least that’s our experience. Find some time to plan, prepare, and look for creative ways to help your child complete their school work.
Less screen time; more prayer, reading, and exercise. I humbly implore parents to significantly limit their child’s screen time during this shutdown. Most children today need their iPads or laptops to complete their class assignments. But why don’t we try to limit the amount of time they watch TV, play games, or spend time on their social media platforms? Other than doing school work on a device, our children only get to play video games during long school breaks. They may get to play during this time, we’re still debating that. The reason why we don’t want them to immerse in the world of electronics is because many studies have revealed that spending too much time in front of a screen is unhealthy. If you would like to learn more about this during quarantine, go here, here, and here. This time of quarantine can be a time for families to come together for prayer and meaningful reading. Get together two or three times a day to pray and choose a good book to read (the Bible, lives of saints, etc.), either individually or together as a family.
We are the primary catechists of our children. Remember that we, as parents, are the primary educators of our children’s faith. This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states about this fundamental task:
“Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.” Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them” (CCC 2223).
“Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church.34 A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one’s life” (CCC 2225).
“Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God” (CCC 2226).
Families that eat together are stronger and more intimate. The Coronavirus pandemic is putting millions of people in quarantine. This can be a terrifying time for many families. However, we also have a great opportunity to connect more with our loved ones. One of the best places to do this is in the dining room. We have always been firm believers that families learn a lot from each other and grow in their love for God when they have meals together. Do we know our child’s favorite movie, color, meal, dessert, song? For some of us, it’s been a while since we had these simple, yet profound conversations with our loved ones. This is a perfect time to have amazing and deep conversations with our children! The more we come together as a family at meal time, the stronger and more intimate our bonds will be.
If married, be intentional about having dates. We get it. Many couples aren’t really thinking about having a date right now; they’re trying to figure out how they will survive these next few weeks! By the time the kids go to bed, parents are usually exhausted and ready to go to bed. However, maintaining our marriage should be one of our top priorities during this time of difficulty because the healthier the relationship, the more the couple will be happy to work together as a team. We are sending our kids to sleep at 8:00 p.m. at the latest to have some time to talk about how our day went. If we have the energy, we do something fun or entertaining that will clear our minds and prepare us for tomorrow’s hustle.
Holiness is our goal, not perfection. We can’t stress this enough: be patient with yourself, your spouse and your children. God is patient with us; we should do the same. We all mess up. It’s normal. Perfection is the thought that we can somehow learn to do and say the right thing every time. But, because of our broken nature, eventually we will make mistakes. Holiness, on the other hand, can be achieved with God’s grace. If we ask for it, we shall receive it. Holiness is initiated in Baptism and grows in us as we become more rooted in Christ through prayer, the sacraments, and good works. The foundation of holiness is love, and love is found at home with our families.
“A saint is a sinner who keeps trying” (St. Josemaria Escriva).
Practice forgiveness: When we spend so much time inside with one other, we are likely to get frustrated or upset. Our home should be a school of mercy, love, and forgiveness (see Mt. 18:21-22). To experience true love, we must accept the gift of God’s salvation in the person of His Beloved Son Jesus, who died for us on the cross. As Jesus forgave and died for us, we must also forgive each other and die to our selfish ways. We can practice this every single day, and as a rule, we must never go to bed before reconciling with one another (see Eph. 4:26).
“Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus *said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22).
“Each and everyone should be generous and tireless in forgiving one another for offenses, quarrels, injustices, and neglect. Mutual affection suggests this. The charity of Christ demands it” (CCC 2227).
Stay connected to your parish. There are different way to stay connected to your parish and community. Here are a few:
- Like and follow the social media platforms of your parish and diocese.
- Share vital information and prayer resources on your social media.
- Find out if your parish currently has an email list, a WhatsApp group, Flock Notes, or any other communication platform where you can receive updates, share resources, and most importantly, pray for each other’s needs.
Continue to give to your parish and diocese. Though non-essential employees are being sent home and parishes and Chancery offices are being closed, there is much work needed to be done by Church staff members and bills that need to be paid. The only way your parish will survive this crisis is with our spiritual and financial support. If you were laid off or will not be paid during this time and you simply cannot support your parish financially, don’t worry! Your pastor completely understands. But if you can continue giving, please do so. If you receive envelopes, continue mailing your checks. If you give online, continue to do so. Call your parish and ask what their financial needs are right now.
Many of our parishes are on the frontlines helping the elderly and the sick with their medication, providing food and clothing for the homeless and assisting families with low-income in different ways. Also, don’t forget to give to your Annual Diocesan Appeal (ADA). Many families depend on it. Be a hero to your diocese and parish: don’t let the Church’s presence be diminished due to a lack of financial resources. We need the Church’s presence more than ever! Our parishes need us since we are the Church. Remember that Our Lord Jesus said that there is more joy in giving than in receiving (cf. Acts 20:35).
Check on your priests and other Church ministers. While we stay home for safety reasons, many of our priests are out there risking their lives. They celebrate the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass for all their parishioners daily and are praying for all of us. Every priest will cope with this crisis differently. Some of them might be experiencing depression or anxiety. Let us remember to pray for Pope Francis, Bishop Oscar Cantu (or your diocesan bishop), and our priests. They need our prayers now more than ever!
Here is a tentative weekday schedule our family came up with. This schedule is not set in stone but will serve as a guide for our daily schedule. Please feel free to use it as a guide for your family as well.
6:05 – 6:30 am – Prepare coffee, tea, chocolate milk for the kids or another pick me up drink/snack
6:30 – 6:50 am – Lauds (Morning Prayer)
6:50 – 7:00 am – Saint of the Day
7:00 – 7:30 am – Breakfast / Daily Mass Readings and meditation
8:00 – 10:00 am – Homeschool
10:00 – 10:30 am – Recess / Snack time
12:05 – 1:00pm – Lunch
1:00 – 3:00 pm – P.E. Go for a walk or exercise at home for at least 1 hour / The Holy Rosarycan be prayed here
3:30 – 5:00 pm – Free time / Dinner / Homework / Nap
5:00 – 6:00 pm – Music class, art or other recreational activities
6:05 – 6:20 pm – Vespers (Evening Prayer)
6:20 – 7:45 pm – Snack time / Free time
7:45 – 8:00 pm – Compline (Night Prayer)
8:00 pm – Bedtime
“But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
(2 Corinthians 4:7-11)
Joel de Loera is the Director of Family Life & Spirituality for the Diocese of San Jose. He is also an Associate Director for the Office of Faith Formation. He is happily married to Nora. They have been blessed with six children (so far). Joel has a Bachelor of Arts in Theological Studies and a Master of Arts in Pastoral Theology, both from St. Joseph’s College in Maine. Joel has more than ten years of experience working for the Church and has served in different capacities: as Catholic Charities Family Hope Case Manager and Youth Minister for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and as Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Fort Worth. He has traveled across the U.S. and to other countries sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and leading spiritual retreats. He enjoys writing about his faith and family experiences. He is fluent in both English and Spanish. Joel is here to support and serve as a resource for pastors and parishes. He also hopes to encourage and strengthen marriage and family life within the domestic church through his diocesan ministry.