Almost two years ago, six months after my son, Joseph, was born, I took a…
‘Hey Alexa! Pray with Mom and Dad’: How one family is dealing with the coronavirus
“The family that prays together stays together.”
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That memorable catchphrase, first coined by Venerable Patrick Peyton, has always been a mainstay in my family. Raised by two cradle Catholics as the eldest of five children, I knew that every family vacation would start with a family Rosary. I knew to cross myself when we passed a church or cemetery and to pray a Hail Mary when I heard an ambulance.
The seeds of those faith lessons Mom and Dad planted in my heart have blossomed over the years. So it was a huge relief to me in January when we moved my parents into their new home, a Catholic assisted living facility in Chicago, that they would be able to attend Mass and pray the Rosary in their community daily. Since then, I’ve had the blessing of extended visits with them. I was overjoyed to immediately be welcomed into their new faith family.
We couldn’t have predicted what has unfolded around us the past several days as the effects of the novel coronavirus spread worldwide. It was a major blow to all of us this past weekend when Mom and Dad’s administrators and health care team determined that out of an abundance of caution, their facility would immediately suspend family visits. My sister, who lives only 15 minutes from Mom and Dad, has been a daily visitor. My parents’ sense of fear when I talked with them on Monday was palpable.
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Unfortunately, the next precaution to be taken was the suspension of daily Mass and Rosary and all resident activities. Residents have been asked to remain in their rooms as much as possible to assure their safety and well-being. I immediately knew that this would be a loss for my parents, who have come to see their daily visits to the chapel as no less a part of their well-being than their daily meals and prescriptions. Here in Los Angeles, so many miles away, I felt their anxiety mounting. I do not fear for their physical health. The facility’s health care team is truly top-notch. But I knew immediately that now, more than ever, my parents needed the sustenance of their faith around them as much as they needed my tangible presence.
I immediately thought about the “Alexa” device I’d purchased for them last Christmas. Until recently, Alexa’s most important duties were to report the time or weather on demand, to provide sports scores and to play their favorite songs. Since my parents do not have smartphones or tablets, we’d already used the smart assistant’s “drop-in” feature to virtually visit Mom and Dad. My parents are blessed to have access to EWTN in their room, but I began to ponder how we might use Alexa to pray together.
This week, we’ve begun to develop a lovely prayer routine that incorporates some of my personal prayer practices and their own. As I rise in the morning and head to the kitchen to brew coffee, I ask my own Alexa, which sits on our counter near our sink, to “drop in on Mom and Dad.” Their unit sits immediately next to their recliner chairs, and the screen affords me an ample view of both of them and of most of their living room. A chime announces my presence and they immediately light up. It’s almost as if I’ve physically entered the room. Since health precautions prohibit my physical presence, this is the very best I can do.
Our first visit of the day unfolds over 30 minutes. Together, we pray the morning offering, a series of favorite morning prayers and the beautiful Litany of Trust from the Sisters for Life. Next, I read aloud to them the daily Liturgy of the Word. After each of the readings, in a modified virtual moment of lectio divina, we reflect upon the Scripture passages and how a particular verse might serve as our “marching orders” for that day. I then share with them the daily Gospel reflection from CatholicMom.com. Together, we ponder the reflection questions and converse about the Gospel. We close our virtual morning prayer “liturgy” by reciting the Act of Spiritual Communion. Until Mom and Dad can again physically receive the Eucharist, we will embrace Jesus this way spiritually each day.
My coffee now finished, I blow kisses to my parents across the miles and excuse myself to take a shower as their nurse enters to monitor their temperatures and blood pressures for the first of three daily vital checks. An hour later, I again “drop-in” via Alexa to pray a family Rosary with Mom and Dad. This week, we have been praying with the beautiful devotional “Father Peyton’s Rosary Prayer Book.” We ask for our Blessed Mother’s intercession for my parents, their fellow residents and all those worldwide who face health challenges. We beg her protection for all caregivers, including their devoted nursing staff and my husband, an emergency medicine physician. We contemplate the gift of Mary’s “yes,” even as we ask for the strength and the courage to give our own fiat.
I’m sure Venerable Patrick Peyton could never have imagined the technology that now enables us, although separated physically by thousands of miles, to be “the family that prays together.” But I trust that Father Peyton would absolutely agree that in moments like these, even our newfangled means of family prayer offers us a way of coping with our fears and counting our blessings.
Lisa Hendey writes from California.