Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Feast Of The Holy Family

 From the December 26,2010 Angelus:

“Dear friends - he concluded - the Holy Family is certainly unique and unrepeatable, but at the same time it is the “model” for every family, because Jesus, true man, chose to be born to in a human family, and in so doing has blessed and consecrated it. Therefore, we entrust to the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph all families, so they are not 
discouraged by trials and difficulties, but always cultivate conjugal love and confidently devote themselves to the service of life and education."

I certainly believe in the sanctity of family and the sacred example of the Holy Family. But when I tried to write an entry on family life on their feast day it fell into an all out anarchy of expression, hence, why I am late with this entry. The details that surface when I bring up the meaning of family in my mind’s eye are ones of who is not speaking to whom in a long line of pouts and stubborn hold outs, at times, lasting years. I see divorces and mixed families and abuses and the trail of pain it leaves. I see those without families, those abandoned and lonely.  I see blow ups at holiday gatherings that would be akin to the wild west shoot outs, only words instead of bullets firing around, knocking things off the walls or hurling through the air; or the secret agent darts that zing out of nowhere, silently and deadly.  I remember one particular Christmas night my eldest brother, eight years my senior, and I began arguing about when the Wise Men showed up with their gifts for the Christ child.  The wise men mind you! The argument escalated into character assassinations of a sniper quality until I wound up throwing my brother out into the cold. “Mom, it’s Christmas night!” my son said after the door had slammed shut.  "Oh, I know but why does it have to be Christmas? Now I have to call him back and apologize."  Argggh.  So, I immediately called his cell phone and said I was sorry and to please come back, that we were blustering fools about the wise men! Luckily, we had enough sense of humor about it and the laying down our arsenals went smoothly. 

Then there are the glass toasts my sister and I used to have before we quit talking to one another regularly. We would break glass on the hearth every Christmas eve to commemorate the occasional dish throwing our mother did during my parents’ big blow out on the eve of our Savior’s birth throughout our childhood.  We would have to be picked up for the Christmas program we were to perform in by a kind church member. Out the back door, across the garage floor--crunching over the dishes we had eaten on the day before, now, a glass mosaic sparkling like my patent leather shoes--we would go to sing in our Christmas pageant before the nativity of the Holy Family and the congregation.  When we returned there would be a lovely Christmas meal spread out on the table in all the holiday finery, served on paper plates we pretended not to notice.

But when I bring up, in my heart’s eye, the image of family there comes, into focus, more pleasant memories and the sacrifices of love that exist as well.  The family members who are there to help if you need it or even if you don’t. The ones in the family who try to restore peace and smooth a balm over wounds. The ones showing up with food during births and deaths and illness; showing up through the difficult and painful, but also a long line of celebrations:  weddings, baptisms, first communions, graduations, birthday parties, confirmations, Easter, Memorial day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The members of family whom you can talk to at any hour or for no reason at all, to converse for long passages on life and our botched up living it. There is the deep beauty of having journeyed together in some capacity along the changing landscapes of time and battlefields and forgiveness.  No matter the ugly, there is also the quirky-beautiful and the endurance of family too.

When I think of my own family I feel the depth of peace and the turbulent waves that blow up like a gale out of nowhere.  The too many times my husband and I fought or argued over the insignificant and the significant: over bagels or religion, cooking or finances, missing tooth paste caps or domestic duties, loving enough or being too tired.  All the while being demoted to preschool by our daughter gauging our arguments’ emotional maturity on a pre-K through 12th grade scale. How many times we went from fifth to kindergarten in one fell swoop I cannot tell you. There are also the many times of uprising over who did what to whom, or who broke what, or who took what between our children and their parents come to think of it. These blustery rebellions are put down, eventually, as we hunker in our trenches in the somewhat calm cadences of truces. 

Oh joy. Family life is an enigma shrouded in mystery and just when I think I’ll pass, I realize it doesn’t have to be smooth or pressed it just has to be a genuine attempt at loving the other as other; at laying a bit of ourselves down in the moment; to allow our vulnerability:  a leaning in closely to His nativity birthing in the center of our lives. That God doesn’t ask for our perfection but our selves, our whole, messy, crazed, flawed and broken selves.  We come together before God as His Body and family with a patched up love; an unraveling love that keeps the looping stitches of family attached in a threadbare quilt. We need this quilt to keep warm beneath the dark and cold passages through this life and also the spreading out to lie back on the joyous lawns.  This cloth of many patches we hold near us and drape before the Holy family because it is sanctified by God and is love given, even though it may be gritty and hurt and please and craze, to forge us more into the likeness of Christ who endured more than annoyances or domestic hostility for the family of Man. So, on this feast day I am once again reminded of the ways our Lord comes to us and teaches us what we most need to learn and one sphere of what we hold sacred--family--in scraps of many colors; of the many seen and disguised faces of love, of our Lord.

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