Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Family is truly the Gift that Keeps on Giving

Christmas blessings to you and your family. I hope that you’ve been able to by this point enjoy some time together with loved ones, and hopefully relax a bit after the busyness in the days that led up to Christmas.

Christmas in the Church is not just a one day event, but a season, albeit one of the shorter liturgical seasons we have. The 12 Days of Christmas runs until Epiphany, and then the season ends shortly thereafter with the Baptism of the Lord.

This weekend, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. We know very little about the unrecorded years of Jesus life, but the Holy Family has caught the attention of artists throughout the ages.

The Church puts a great deal of emphasis on the family, calling it the “domestic Church.” But sometimes we can take the family for granted. From an early age we fight with our siblings; as the years go by we lose touch, or we get so busy with our lives that we barely have time for one another. You may have spent more time with loved ones this holiday season, but as we head into a new year, remember that the people you are related to are so important. And while the gifts may have been opened (perhaps even returned) by this point, like it or not there is no returning the gift of our family. So how do we deepen relationships with them?

For one, we give the gift of time, as I wrote about a couple of weeks back. We are so busy these days, I wonder how many families have time for a family meal as opposed to finding out what is going on the lives of others through Facebook. Whether it’s having a family game night, talking to one another, or making time for extended family, time is a precious commodity – so why not share it with the ones we love?

Second, we can give the gift of patience. I once mentioned to my spiritual director that I was impatient with things, and he talked to me about Jesus growing up. He said, just think about how long he waited. Week after week, year after year, listening to teachers, to rabbis, to Mary and Joseph, even though He had such knowledge. He waited to begin His mission and was patient. As kids, we can be impatient with siblings; we can be impatient with parents for being “unfair.” But even if we are older, we can be impatient with others in the family, whether waiting for a child to mature or waiting for our adult siblings to mature. On our part, we can pray for one another, try to be non-judgmental, and present in the lives of others, and we may be surprised at the changes that occur as time goes by.

Third, stop making excuses about why you can’t see someone, or why you can’t forgive. We sometimes have a long memory, or get busy so we never make time for others. It is true a relationship changes over a lifetime; sometimes two siblings live far apart, get married, and maybe can’t see one another. But time is ticking for all of us. Work on trying to reconcile the past if there are hurts, and if you never see someone, try to reach out to them beyond just a yearly Christmas card.

Fourth, remember you are part of God’s family. Your own family is special, but we are all part of God’s family. And as such, parents have a duty to pass on the faith to their children. Some kids get the message that top priority is a 4.0 GPA or being on enough sports teams to make a college application look good. We’ve got our priorities messed up as a society, and as we become more secular, God can be seen like the “break glass in case of emergency” fire extinguisher. God is always journeying with us, so it’s important as a family to pray together, to come to Mass, to receive the sacraments, and to grow in our understanding of this God who loves us so much. Part of this also means remembering we are unified to one another and all loved the same by God, no matter what our background is. It’s important to remember we are connected. Living the faith out is so important! Remember, if you don’t take the faith seriously as adults, what kind of message does that send to children?

Fifth, forgive and ask for forgiveness. Remind yourself, you are a sinner. You are not perfect at being a brother, sister, husband, wife, mom or dad. If you do something you shouldn’t, apologize to your loved ones and own up to it. If someone seeks reconciliation with you, try to open your heart to making that happen. It teaches a valuable lesson especially to children about our need for humility and forgiveness.

Sixth, rejoice in the “little moments.” If you look at the artwork or stained glass windows of the Holy Family, it’s often a relatively simple scene of life on an ordinary day in the home of Mary and Joseph. I’ve yet to have someone come in to plan a funeral and recall what they got for Christmas in a box one year. Rather, people share stories of growing up with their parents that are so impactful. It’s the simple things all strung together that leave a lasting impact, not the “perfect gift.” Cherish the time you spend together by making the most of it.

Lastly, remember that when we die, life is changed, not ended. We all have family we wish were with us at Christmas Mass or dinner who have gone to eternal life. Remember though that Christmas is God coming into the world to redeem us, which culminated with Easter. Because of Jesus, death’s power is gone. Our loved ones live on forever, but we should also pray for them as they pray for us, think of them, and of how they led their lives. As we do this, we find that we too will be changed for the better as we emulate their good qualities and live out the meaning of Jesus’ words, “love one another as I have loved you.”

I cherish visiting my family whenever I can, and am blessed they live locally so that’s often once a week. My family has been so supportive of me in my vocation, and it’s so nice to go home where I can relax and be truly myself. Our families are so very important, so let’s make sure we never take them for granted, and stay connected with them not just at Christmastime, but throughout the year.

God bless,

Fr. Paul