The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – C: Dec. 31, 2006

Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
1 John 3:1-2, 21-24
Luke 2:41-52

Dear Jesus,

This is my first time to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family as an orphan. My mother and father have both gone to be with you in your Father’s House. There is a poignancy that I feel as I write to you in these after days of Christmas. Everything changes when you no longer have parents living in this world. The feast gives me reason to pause, to remember, and to give thanks.

Is it strange that when I think of my parents I do not recall their last days of failing health as they prepared to breathe their last? The final vigils are blurs that recede to be replaced by memories of times when they were the care-givers, when they taught the basic lessons of life and our responsibility for each other that extended beyond our immediate family. We prayed at table so we could thank God for the gifts we were about to eat. It was humble fare, I realize in retrospect, even as I realize that we were poor. Mother’s ingenuity made wonders out of tuna fish and noodles and macaroni and cheese. And I remember the wonder the word steak held for me since I had no idea what that reality was. All these gifts were signs of God’s love for us, so there was no reason to be afraid. And that was why there was always room for one more at the table. All were welcome there, any of our school friends who happened in, a neighbor might come needing comfort.

Responsibility went beyond our duty to care for each other. We learned about people in China and Africa and in our own town who would be hungry that night. So we couldn’t waste even as we learned to care for these extended members of our family. Hell had no fury to equal my father’s if we dared use a racial slur or find humor in another’s disability. You don’t treat members of the family that way – God’s family.

Money and the things it could buy held a fascination for me. I don’t know why I was so aware of what others had, but I was. That persisted to adulthood. I would pine for things I could not have to which my father reminded me that if I wanted to be wealthy I should have chosen a different profession. Besides, wealth doesn’t bring happiness. Love, loving relationships and service bring fulfillment and peace. I believe that. How often growing up did I hear: “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of the soul?”

Neither of my parents was educated beyond high school. I don’t know when I became ashamed of that and found myself changing the subject with others if ever the topic came up. My generation was the first in our extended family to go to college or university. My parents in their turn had to go to work upon completing high school to support their younger siblings and keep their families together. I learned early on what the Great Depression meant. Many of those who lived through its severity never got over it or their anxiety that there would be enough to have some kind of financial security. The possibility of another Crash always lurked in the wings.

We went to church on Sunday mornings. There wasn’t a question about it. And only serious illness held sway as an excuse for not going. That’s how we were raised. That’s just the way it was. Those great milestone days are etched in my memory – my baptism (yes, I remember it), my first Holy Communion and my anxiety prior to it over the possibility of swallowing a bit of water and thus break my fast and not be able to receive. In those days we fasted from everything, even water, from midnight the night before. I felt my parents’ pride as they brought me for these significant events. They reminded me that each of the sacraments was a sign of God’s love that we experienced now. These were important steps on our journey in life because someday we would be going to be with God in heaven. And of course every Saturday afternoon we went to Confession. Yes, that’s just the way it was.

Those are distant memories now. Decades separate us from those simpler times. But I think it takes decades to learn the lessons taught more by example than any other way. Perhaps we don’t completely learn any of them, their importance, significance, and meaning, until we stand in that Light that is to come. In spite of contrary signs and negative experiences, we cling to those imbibed truths. I give thanks for these two who ran the race to its conclusion, who kept their eyes fixed on the goal, and who prodded me when I flagged that I might pick myself up and continue on.

I stood by their graves not long ago on the adjacent plot that will one day be my own. I paused and prayed and thanked them for awakening me to the wonder that is this family of God to which we belong. I thanked them for teaching me the wonder of Eucharist even as I was challenged to do it and to be it with the people among whom I moved. Life in this family is about being blessed, broken, and distributed. And it will always be that way until you come again.



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