This continues to be one of the most extraordinary Easter seasons of my entire life. You see, I’m a Jesuit in formation, but I’ve spent the past two months at my parents’ house. Instead of going through the stay-at-home trials and tribulations with my Jesuit community in the Bronx, I’ve experienced the highs and lows of the global pandemic with my family. To say the least, I did not anticipate all this when I came to visit my family on March 12th at the start of Fordham University’s spring break.
But spending the quarantine, and Easter, with my folks has caused me to reflect on the gift, and challenges, of family life. But more than that, it’s deepened my own sense of the importance of family on a cosmological dimension.
Jesus’ Resurrection brings the human family back together. It frees the dead from separation from God and one another. Jesus is also re-united in a new way with His mother and His disciples. At Pentecost they, and we, receive the Holy Spirit and the party is complete. Easter holds the same love, joy, and excitement as when you see your family again after a time away.
Though strange for a Jesuit, the fact that I’m with my family during the stay-at-home measures is in many ways not unique. Many people who are not labeled as “essential” have had to stay home with their family during this time. Parents not going into work, kids not going to school, college students returning to their parents’ homes early, are all in similar “extraordinary” circumstances such as I find myself.
My parents live in a residential neighborhood in Wichita, Kansas, where I have been crashing in their guest room for two months. One luxury I’ve had here is the ability to walk freely around the neighborhood without risk of breaking social distancing protocol. That’s not guaranteed in the busy streets of the Bronx. I’ve utilized that luxury and put in quite a few laps around the neighborhood. It’s a short trip around the block and I’ve come to recognize neighbors, and they recognize me.
I’ve noticed how my neighbors are spending their time — taking walks together, playing ball, sitting in their screened-in porches. I’ve noticed the father who has spent much of his daylight hours at home training his son in basketball on the driveway hoop. I’ve seen siblings spending hours outside create sidewalk chalk art. On several occasions I saw those same siblings recreating TikTok dance challenge videos. At the small pond in my parents’ neighborhood I’ve seen several groups of families fishing together in the middle of the day.
These families are no different than my own. I’ve been doing many of these things with my folks (not the TikTok dances, but I have created my own sidewalk chalk art, thanks to my niece’s encouragement). The pandemic, for all the terrible suffering it continues to cause, has carved out a space for many families to spend more time together.
And that’s how I spent my Easter: with my family, watching a live-streamed Mass like many other Catholics. It is bizarre, but it has also shaped my spiritual experience of the Easter season.
St. Ignatius, as almost all saints, maintained a fervent devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. So much so that, in the Spiritual Exercises, the first meditation of the Resurrection is Jesus appearing to his mother.1 This meeting is not in any of the gospels, but Ignatius had the keen insight that, of course, Jesus would make sure his mother is the first to know that He is risen. It’s a profound meditation, and I can still see, hear, and feel this encounter when I prayed with it during my long retreat four years ago. Easter was a family reunion for Jesus, but not just because he (probably) visited his mother first.
The Resurrection itself was the affirmation of the relationship of Jesus as Son of the Father. And as Paul wrote to the Colossians, “For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross.”2.
We, too, have been drawn into that familial relationship with the Father, through the Son, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, we are reunited with the Father in love. The fullness of the relationship we are invited into is revealed by the life, death, and resurrection of the only begotten Son. Jesus Christ is our Savior, yes, but he is also our brother. In Baptism, we become members of a divine family, and Easter is a time when we especially celebrate this identity.
Our God is a God of familial relationship, and this means that our families can represent the sort of love that exists in the Trinity. But, if your family is like mine, then we often fall short of this love both individually and collectively. I’m so thankful for the extended time I’ve spent with my folks, but I have also struggled. I’ve started petty arguments which descended into fights. I’ve assumed the worst of others’ intentions. I’ve taken so many things for granted. But the one thing that has resolved all these is love. If an apology was necessary for starting a petty argument or assuming ill intentions, I tried to offer one before the end of the day. 3 Most days, I practice the Examen and I name the things for which I’m grateful for that day—family is always a part of that.
Now, you may be missing your family at this time, or you may not have a good relationship with your parents or siblings, but this does not mean that Easter isn’t a family reunion for you. Who are the people you share your life with? How can you express your love for them this day? For what relationships, family or friends, can you give thanks to God this day? Above all, spend time in prayer celebrating the relationship with God that Jesus has made possible for us in the Resurrection. It is the greatest gift of all.
Photo by Jude Beck