Sunday, December 29, 2013

On the Feast of the Holy Family: Reality Check

This is the Feast of the Holy Family, a celebration I never liked growing up because I felt the annual homily by the pastor at my hometown parish idealized Jesus and his parents and left me feeling my profoundly imperfect family could never measure up.

Now that I am quite a bit older and a bit wiser, I understand that families come in every shape and size. All of them are imperfect, and all of them can be the place where, for the rest of our lives, we learn to grow in mercy, compassion and patience. Today, an almost-forgotten voice from my childhood that helped me understand that.

This is what family looked like this weekend: My husband and I and our two teenagers visited with my parents at their home in Bedford, New York. My parents, who raised four children together, have been married more than 55 years and my mother largely now serves as my father's caregiver. Next door live one of my sisters and her two teenaged-daughters, whom she adopted as babies. This weekend my sister was in New Jersey visiting her fiance, a man who, like my sister, has never been married and who, like my sister, feels his heart has finally found a home.

Because my sister was out of town, my mother stayed overnight with my nieces. My father woke up early, said a few words of greeting to me and headed back to bed. My mother stopped by to make me coffee and to chat with my husband before my family packed, headed to Mass and then home.

Greg and I arrived at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church for the 10:30 a.m. Mass with our 14 year old.  As we were walking into the church, my 82-year-old mother pulled into the parking lot with our 17 year old son. I blew her a kiss goodbye. Our older son headed to the van to drop off his suitcase and joined us a few minutes later in the pew.

The homilist, the pastor, was a blast from my past. George Thompson had been the youngest priest
of three in my hometown church - years ago and miles away. Today he is an old man with white hair and the title of Monseigneur.  Today, he didn't talk about how perfect Jesus and his parents were. He talked about how God loves each and everyone of us with an intensely personal love. God has never loved any other human  in the particular ways He loves us and He never will, Msgr. Thompson said. We are, like God's love for us, uncommon and unrepeatable.

It felt as if  he were calling out to me from my childhood, and correcting my misimpression. Families are messy and imperfect. We are holy when we strive as best we can to cherish one another and to overlook each other's shortcomings.

Brothers and sisters:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another, 
if one has a grievance against another; 
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love, 
that is, the bond of perfection.


  1. What a grace-filled visit! O the healing touch of God!

    1. Yes! Thanks for stopping by, Anna, and commenting.