April 2021: After the Easter Lilies Have Died

Michael A. Marinelli, Ed.D. '76
Dear Members of the Archmere Community, 

It has been nearly a month since Easter Sunday. While we are still in the Easter Season, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, has the excitement and joy of Easter Sunday waned for you? Even if we did virtually or in-person celebrate the meaningful and rich liturgies of the Holy Triduum preceded by Palm Sunday and the forty days of Lent leading up to this special week of the church year, have the pressures and responsibilities of everyday living pushed aside thoughts of the promise of resurrection, of redemption and of “otherworldly things?” If we find ourselves in that place (and I have at times), perhaps we have to consider how to make religious rituals a part of our everyday routines.

Every January, we are bombarded with commercials about fitness centers, diets, and workout equipment. So many individuals make New Year’s resolutions of eating healthier, becoming more trim and adopting good habits for better living. Similarly, we need to renew our commitment to practicing our faith every so often, as we can become complacent and take for granted the gifts we have been given. One way to help us maintain our “spiritual resolutions” is to celebrate the rituals of our faith. In the Catholic Church, that most often means attending Mass on Sundays. During the pandemic, the requirement of Sunday Mass attendance by Catholics has been lifted by the Catholic Bishops; however, many people take advantage of attending Mass live-streamed or pre-recorded over the internet. This regular ritual of pausing for less than one hour each week as a family to pray together strengthens us spiritually, just as routine workouts strengthen our bodies.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University reports that 23.2 percent of Catholics in 2015 attended Sunday Mass regularly. This compares with 82.5 percent of Catholics who say they pray at least once a week. There is speculation that there will be even fewer Catholics who return to the pews each Sunday after the pandemic is over. Only one-third of Catholics say that their religious affiliation is “strong.” The data from 2020 are not available due to the pandemic. Still, looking at the trends in the numbers from 1970, there continues to be a gradual decline in community-based Catholic rituals and celebrations. “Catholic” has become a label for many that are commenting on the faith in which they were raised, but are not necessarily practicing using the traditional rituals of the Church. They may say that they are praying and are spiritual people, but that could be very different from engaging in the rites of the Catholic Church.

When Saint Norbert pursued reform in the Church in the early 12th century, he came upon a model of men and women, ordained religious and lay, living, working, and praying together. His model of a community of faith included sharing all things in common, showing mercy and being empathic toward one another, welcoming the stranger, celebrating the Eucharist, and devotion to Mary - generosity, empathy, hospitality, and common prayer. The community’s well-being depended upon each member’s full participation in all aspects, including common prayer. In those moments of communal prayer, a reservoir of strength and energy is replenished, maintained, and made available during more challenging times. 

When all of the excitement of a special day or event in our lives have passed, we need to sustain those feelings through our faith. It helps to do so with each other and not alone. A February 17, 2021 article in The Harvard Gazette stated that teens and young adults are the hardest hit with feelings of loneliness and isolation during the pandemic, based on an October 2020 survey conducted by researchers at Making Caring Common, a project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Richard Weissbourd, psychologist and senior lecturer at the Graduate School of Education, “. . . and his team argues that eliminating loneliness requires a robust social infrastructure. Schools can be important points of intervention . . .” (The Harvard Gazette

I would also contend that religious-based schools, like Archmere Academy, offer more opportunities for students and staff to convene and support one another in prayer as a community. These important rituals, to which all are invited, regardless of personal religious traditions and to the degree they are comfortable, are, I believe, essential to the health and wellbeing of well-rounded young people as they experience this world-wide centenary event. 

Brett Robinson, Director of Communications and Catholic Media Studies at the University of Notre Dame McGrath Institute for Church Life, in an April 26, 2021 article for theDialog.org wrote, “It is often wryly said that if it didn’t happen online, it didn’t happen. Hence the compulsive photography of parents capturing special moments with children or people cataloguing their travels and experiences, no matter how mundane. The implicit message is that this practice of documenting and sharing nearly everything is part of what it means to be somebody in the digital age, to be visible Online.” He is expressing the concern that young people are taking their identity in this period of isolation from online experiences. In some ways it is a default to the one-to-one human interaction that has been absent or significantly abbreviated in their lives in these pandemic days. He concludes by suggesting that, “Tonight, before you throw another photo or opinion into the online trough, look backward. Go to the beginning of your camera roll or the very bottom of your Facebook posts and look for the story that connects it all. Turn it into a conversation with God. Fill it with all the gratitude, joy and regret that your memory and conscience will allow. What you might find in the end is you.” (theDialog.org)

Approaching the fourteenth month of the pandemic in the U.S., there is “pandemic fatigue” and a desire to live life “unmasked” once again. With the proliferation of the vaccines, we hold on to the hope for an end in sight. At the same time, we are told to be vigilant and continue to take precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus or its variants to people whose health and physical predispositions are more vulnerable and compromised. That can be challenging for any of us, especially teenagers, to do on a beautiful spring day when everything is blooming, the sun is shining, and the temperature is just right. It can seem like a sacrifice when we have been waiting to have a celebration with family or friends that has been postponed for months or even more than a year. 

That is exactly what happened to our son and daughter-in-law who planned their “perfect wedding” for 200+ guests for April 18, 2020. Instead, the wedding ceremony took place with just ten of us in our parish Church on April 26, 2020 (because they could not even get their marriage license until after their wedding date because of the pandemic). The reception was rescheduled for April 10, 2021, since we were all pretty confident that we would be well beyond the impact of the pandemic by then. But that was a miscalculation! In any event, we did have a beautiful wedding reception with a renewal of vows ceremony preceding the party for 60 guests, unfortunately not the 200+ originally planned. Not even imagining how the bride and groom or the bride’s parents processed the significant change of plans, I am proud of our son and daughter-in-law who worked through the disappointments and setbacks. We have had faculty members whose wedding plans were significantly altered within the last year, as well. I am sure there are a million stories about how the pandemic has disrupted our plans. Most tragic are the stories of loved ones whose lives were lost to the virus, and lives have been forever changed through that loss and other financial and economic hardships. In that context, we have to be grateful for each day.

That brings me to the initial thought about Easter, even as the beautiful and fragrant Easter lilies are dying. What is it that gives us the resilience, the energy, the perseverance to overcome adversity - those times that aren’t delightfully “beautiful” or “fragrant”? For me, it is my faith that is strengthened by practice - daily prayer, attending Mass at least weekly and taking advantage of the rituals and seasons of the Church year that have been thoughtfully conceived over the centuries. A final comment about the institutional Church: it is human and therefore is imperfect. However, its rituals are meaningfully based in Scripture, and it is in a continual state of evolution, though it seems to be static. I genuinely believe that we are “church,” and all that we contribute through universal prayer and the gifts that we have been given, including our intellect, contribute to the shaping and evolutionary learnings and teachings of our Church. We are a Church - built on a rock - Saint Peter - who denied Christ three times. If Jesus was willing to entrust Peter - imperfect in his denials - is it not an invitation to all that we are welcome to the table of the Lord? We simply need to be willing to have a conversation with our God through prayer, and I believe that we will receive an invitation to not only admire the lilies of Easter but help to plant and grow them.

Happy Easter Season! Happy Spring!

Michael A. Marinelli, Ed.D. ‘76
Archmere Academy is a private, Catholic, college preparatory co-educational academy,
grades 9-12 founded in 1932 by the Norbertine Fathers.