Jesus taught us to pray. Jesus gave us prayers that we still use in his own words. The Mass is the greatest prayer we have, and he gave us the words. And he gave us the Lord’s Prayer as a model for all prayer, and to help prepare us for the coming of God’s Kingdom.
As we come out of the pandemic, it is becoming more and more obvious to me that the greatest damage of the pandemic and quarantine did not come from the virus.
Something even worse has been happening, here on earth. The way we responded to the pandemic has greatly wounded our humanity and our faith. Adults and children are struggling and suffering in ways that were not seen before the pandemic.
This weekend we have a retreat here at the parish for young adults, age 18 to 30. On the one hand, it is wonderful, as the first such retreat for this group here at our parish in three years. But there is a spiritual distraction and lethargy among them that is painful to watch. Thank God they came!
In loneliness many became depressed, seeking help in drugs, alcohol, and pornography. Suicides and attempted suicides have greatly increased among our youth across the nation, along with thousands of drug overdoses. Meanwhile the young have been bombarded since the beginning of the pandemic with confusing secular messages and cause them to be very skeptical of the Church and family. One young boy came to his first Confession saying, “Father, I do not know if I am a boy or a girl”.
The young are confused and spiritually hungry, but they have been isolated and hardened by the world during the shutdowns and secular messaging. Schools were closed. Churches were closed. That was not healthy.
As we progressed through the sacramental season in April, May, and June, we discovered the impact of over two years of poor socialization and formation. Children have greatly reduced abilities to focus and interact due to their isolation. In confessions we find too many kids who have difficulty interacting; many do not know even the Our Father or the Hail Mary. That is a terrible spiritual poverty. And completely avoidable.
Fourth and Fifth graders were in First or Second Grade when the pandemic began. Many now cannot read or are reading at a very deficient level. Their classroom has been their bedroom with a screen, without the company of other children around them. Children learn better in the company of other children, together with their teachers, where they see one another’s unmasked faces and smiles. Many school children have fallen far behind in their education as has been reported by school districts in Austin and across the nation. Social behavior has suffered. Increased behavioral problems and poor relationships are the reported. In Austin and across the nation we hear that thousands of experienced teachers are leaving their jobs. We are losing our schools.
Meanwhile, children and adults have had too much “screen time”. They haven’t been getting enough “We” time or “Our” time. Pornography is corrupting adults, marriages, and relationships. Pornography is social poison, now affecting even young children. Pornography thrives in isolation.
The pandemic has created a generation of dangerous social and family problems creating even more problems as we are discovering every day.
Is it hopeless?
No. There is a lot of hope. I recently learned of a group of Christian men who are volunteering to go to the schools to read to children, even sitting out in the hallways reading to those who had fallen behind. Parents, read to your children, and pray with them.
Catholic schools offer hope. Our Catholic schools never cancelled classes and Catholic school students and families are not suffering like public school children and their families.
I’m hearing of a family practice that I greatly encourage. Families have begun putting “cell phone baskets” by the front door. When children and adults come home, they all put their cell phones into the basket. They can leave their phones on and use them, when necessary, but not take them to the table or the living room or bedroom. That way they can talk to one another and avoid temptation. They can pray with each other.
There is hope in prayer. When the disciples saw Jesus praying often, they became curious.
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished,
one of his disciples said to him,
“Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come…”
Jews prayed. Prophets and teachers like John the Baptist taught their style of prayer, but not like this. This was new! “Say Father”.
Jesus was praying to his Father. This was not how Jews prayed. Jesus was introducing them to their Father. We have a Father, and his name is Holy. And the Father wants to share his Kingdom with us. This Kingdom is not of this world.
Parents, introduce your children to their Father in Heaven, and teach them, like Jesus teaches us to persevere in prayer.
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
We have all heard or experienced the comment: “I’ve been praying but He doesn’t hear me.” Or “I don’t know if He even exists”
Is the problem that God is not listening? Or could it be that we are not listening? The more I learn about God, the more I realize that God is constantly revealing Himself to us, all the time. But we often listen more to the world than we do to Him. Like with screens and telephones and social media. Those messages distract us and cause us to be deaf to God. He wants to give us gifts, but all too often we only want the gifts of this world and the false promises of this world.
We must make space and time in our lives for God, just like we need to make space and time in our lives for our spouses and children.
We must persevere in prayer, and we should persevere in making silence in our lives so we can hear Him. Put down the screens. Pray for our children and families. And listen quietly, “Father” is calling us home.