Recently, I was listening to one of our Deacons give a talk about Mass & Church. He mentioned that you know, it’s funny how people complain about Mass being boring. Catholics go all out. There’s smoke and lights, there’s singing and choreography–it’s quite the production. What more could people be looking for? I laughed but also thought about one of my favorite Jim Gaffigan lines, “Never been to Catholic Mass? It’s still going on….”
However, even with my relatively brief experience as a Catholic –it’s not lost on me that we are incredibly blessed as a parish to have priests and deacons who deliver lovely, thoughtful, and usually well timed homilies. I have spent the last year taking notes, something I always did growing up (Baptist) but had not really continued, mostly due to having children to try and quiet and not getting much . So this year, as I take up writing here, I hope go a step forward to share with you my reflections on the readings and homily each week and today’s did not disappoint. Father Sean just always speaks right into my heart, and this Advent and Christmas been no different.
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – December 31, 2017
It’s appropriate that as we begin the year honoring Mary, we end with honoring the Holy Family. I always think of their early days around Christmas. I recall how miserable I was Christmas a few years ago–feeling like I was one hundred weeks pregnant with my son yet hosting for 25 people. I whined and napped all day the next day. Mary rode on a donkey and gave birth in barn. Joseph stood faithfully by her side, what faith and trust in the Lord they both had! They never complained. They were perfect, full of grace. We are a mess, yet also given grace upon grace.
“All of us come from families that do not measure up. All have some sense of regret, some shame. Some part of our story that doesn’t get talked about in public. Even family members we don’t love, or like…”
(Here, Taylor asks me “Why do some people not love each other?”…oh sweet child, because we are a fallen people, but let’s talk about that some other day.)
More and more, as the Holy Family, especially Mary, takes a more prominent role in my life and in our home, I’m reminded how my dad would say Catholics put too much emphasis on Mary making her an idol. But today we were reminded that they are to be an icon. An icon meant to be read, not just looked at, but something we read to gain a deeper understanding of God. Pope Francis, in his Amoris Laetitia, a message “On Love in the Family” writes “Every family should look to the icon of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Its daily life had its share of burdens and even nightmares, as when they met with Herod’s implacable violence. This last was an experience that, sad to say, continues to afflict the many refugee families who in our day feel rejected and helpless…Like Mary, they are asked to face their family’s challenges with courage and serenity, in good times and bad, and to keep in their hear the great things which God as done (cf. Lk 2:19, 51). The treasury of Mary’s heart also contains the experiences of every family, which she cherishes. For this reason, she can help us understand the mean of these experiences and to hear the message God wishes to communicate through the life of our families.”
So Father Sean posed the question, “What might our families read? Most, a story that is at best boring? At worst, utterly terrifying?” Ours is nothing remarkable, as special as we like to think we may be.
All this is good to consider, especially this time of year. But this, this is the section Father Sean read from that got me. This, this is one thing I want to keep my eyes on in 2018. “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love. This is a never-ending vocation born of the full communion of the Trinity, the profound unity between Christ and his Church, the loving community which is the Holy Family of Nazareth, and the pure fraternity existing among the saints of heaven. Our contemplation of the fulfillment which we have yet to attain also allows us to see in proper perspective the historical journey which we make as families, and in this way to stop demanding of our interpersonal relationships a perfection, a purity of intentions and a consistency which we will only encounter in the Kingdom to come. It also keeps us from judging harshly those who live in situations of frailty. All of us are called to keep striving towards something greater than ourselves and our families, and every family must feel this constant impulse. Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together. What we have been promised is greater than we can imagine. May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us.”
Father Sean added, “give your family a break“. I believe if he were speaking to me he’d say “and give yourself a break too!“. There is a difference between expecting perfection and striving towards something greater. This year, I will be intentional with doing more of the latter and less of the rest. Maybe a good time to start the Present not Perfect book that came in my Faithbox subscription last month. Work on being the best version of yourself, better than before. I know several of my clients are setting out for the year with the hope of this as well, being more present. Giving ourselves some grace. So with that in mind, I’ll add one more excerpt from Pope Francis’ Joy of Love.
“It is a profound spiritual experience to contemplate our loved ones with the eyes of God and to see Christ in them. This demands a freedom and openness which enable us to appreciate their dignity. We can be fully present to others only by giving fully of ourselves and forgetting all else. Our loved ones merit our complete attention. Jesus is our model in this, for whenever people approached to speak with him, he would meet their gaze, directly and lovingly (cf. Mk 10:21). No one felt overlooked in his presence, since his words and gestures conveyed the question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:51). This is what we experience in the daily life of the family. We are constantly reminded that each of those who live with us merits complete attention, since he or she possesses infinite dignity as an object of the Father’s immense love. This gives rise to a tenderness which can “stir in the other the joy of being loved. Tenderness is expressed in a particular way by exercising loving care in treating the limitations of the other, especially when they are evident”.”
This year, go home and love your people hard. Love yourself, so that you may be available to give fully of yourself to your family.