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Be the Gift

Solemnity of the Holy Family

Luke 2:22-40

After spending 4 weeks in quarantine after back-to-back exposures, I was so eager to reunite with my family members in person on Christmas Eve. Though my cat makes a great companion, especially in this season, she will never compete with the loving embrace of my human family. Sliding into the pew with my parents and siblings to worship Our Lord on His birthday was a heartwarming delight. I was not only receiving human contact in general, but was surrounded by my favorite humans who share my name, blood, and narrative.

I’m grateful for the committed faith that my parents have modeled through their 35 years of marriage and their presence at Mass each and every week. Mom and Dad, like Mary and Joseph in today’s Gospel, seem to “fulfill all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord.” They are more like Joseph than Mary in their imperfection, but have played such an essential role in pointing me to the love and joy of Our Lord in all that I do.

My longing to see family was bittersweet as I knew one of my sisters was working across the country as a travel nurse and would miss her first Christmas. I missed her greatly especially since my plans to visit her a few weeks before were canceled due to quarantine. Our family was planning to include her in a video chat and play a virtual game together on Christmas afternoon in order to connect and remind her and her husband that they would not be forgotten.

As my family gathered in my parents’ kitchen after Mass to enjoy dinner and drinks, we talked about how this would be a weird Christmas without Claire and Jay. We knew they were just planning on traveling for a year and would be back before we knew it. In the middle of a conversation with my brother’s fiancé, she disappeared. Minutes later, my sister and brother-in-law walked in the door!!!! Apparently, my sister-in-law-to-be was the only one who knew about the surprise and the rest of my family members were truly astonished by what our eyes saw!

We were coming to terms with the fact that we wouldn’t be together at the same time this year. It was understandable, but not ideal. With a brother who’s a firefighter and a sister who’s a nurse, holiday schedules can be tricky, but at least we can surprise them at work or see them for part of the day. This time, we knew she was states away and would not make it at all. To see her walk in the door was the greatest gift we could have asked for. We were all together!!!

This experience really made me think about what Simeon must have felt like as Mary, Joseph, and Jesus entered the temple area. He was devout and aware that the Lord was coming. He knew he was looking for something, for someone. He recognized the light of Christ as He carried Jesus in His arms proclaiming that He could now die in peace after this encounter.

On this Feast of the Holy Family, I can connect with Simeon more than ever. A ministry I have been a part of, Catholify, has encouraged people to “BE the gift” during this crazy year rather than focus on material gifts. As I wonder what Simeon must have been thinking when the Holy Family walked into his presence, I think about my heart on Christmas Eve just a couple of evenings ago. Though a small part of me knew that anything was possible, I had no expectation that a surprise like this would kick off this joyous Christmas season. Simeon was seeking the coming of the Lord and awaited Him with hope. Yet, when this day came, I can guarantee you that he was gobsmacked (thanks Deacon Ryan for this great word) like my family was to welcome my sister home to make my family complete. Though I appreciate any material gift I received this year, all I can recall about this Christmas is that the joy and peace that surpassed all understanding when I got to hug each one of my siblings on Christmas Day.

At every hour, the Liturgy of the Hours is being prayed somewhere around the world. Simeon’s words from this Gospel are repeated during each Night Prayer, the last prayers to be prayed before falling asleep. Our days can look very different. Some days are filled with joy, some with sorrow, and some with a little of both. No matter what the day brings, the Church gives us these words:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

No matter what your day, family, or life looks like, we are invited to find God in all of it. In Les Miserables, there is a lyric that says, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” It is the family that forms us and teaches us to love unconditionally. Though we do not choose one another at birth, our bonds connect us in ways that seem impossible to completely comprehend.

While many will look back on 2020 with pain, loss, and disappointment, I believe that this year taught us a lot about family, God, and ourselves. As a single person living alone this year, I have been challenged to lean into prayer and get creative to connect with others. As I spent Advent away from family, my anticipation was great to reunite with them to celebrate the holiday when our God chose to be born into a family Himself. Jesus could have entered the world any way He would have liked; He’s God. As my favorite professor at Notre Dame says, “God chose to become man so He could have a mom.” What a mystery for us to ponder in this octave of Christmas. Family is the cell of society, the school of love, the place where we are loved no matter what. Sadly, not all people experience that in their biological families. As a family therapist, I’m quite aware of the woundedness all of us experience in and out of our homes in some form or another.

Throughout quarantine though, we have been less able to run and distract ourselves from our families. We either are living under the same roof as them and are seeing one another more than we ever have with working and schooling at home; or, we are not living under the same roof and the risks of visits make our longing ever more real.

There is so much hardship, brokenness, and evil that surrounds us in the world. News story after news story send up red flags that we indeed need a Savior! St. Teresa of Calcutta says, “If you want to save the world, go home and love your families.” Christmas is about the Savior of the world becoming the Word Incarnate! He was born into a family and His parents brought Him into the temple to be presented. “Present” can mean to be formally introduced. On this beautiful day in the temple, Mary and Joseph formally introduce their son to us. It’s like sending an announcement in the mail and Simeon is just hanging it on the fridge for all to see.

When we talk about going back to “normal” after the pandemic, what does that mean? Taking quality time for granted? Living our lives without being aware of the impact we have on others? Not being reminded of our mortality on a daily basis? After the pandemic, I pray that our families have a greater appreciation for one another and can be more present face-to-face. I pray that we respect the families around us and recognize their needs and how we can be our brothers’ keeper. I pray that we are not afraid of death, but instead strive to die a holy death.

After all, we pray this prayer of Simeon every night. We have likely interacted with our family throughout the day in some way. When the day comes to a close, we pray, “my eyes have seen your salvation… a light for revelation.” After this prayer, we may teach our children to pray, “I pray the Lord my soul to keep; If I shall die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

Fr. Mike Schmitz (did you really think I was going to write a reflection without mentioning him) has a wonderful video about bedtime. He talks about how going to bed is an act of faith and an act of surrender. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we do know that God gives us the gift of rest. (Psalm 127) When we are more rested, we are better versions of ourselves. When we get sleep, we are more able to live out the 2nd reading this week (Col 3: )

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. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

God gave us families to challenge us, to love us, to comfort us, and to sanctify us. Though families often bring us joy, the relationships are not meant to make us happy. Rather, the purpose of familial relationships is to make us holy. Our families help us to become saints.

Do you have a holy and healthy family? Great, follow their example in faithfulness, joy, and gratitude. If you have a more challenging, detached, and possibly even toxic family? God can work through them. There were many saints who came from such families as they leaned on the merciful grace of God. Some even prayed for the conversion of family members and their prayers were answered! What is more sanctifying than praying for those who drive you nuts?

The Holy Family does not invite us to be them but to rather love like them. Each and every person and each and every family are unique. If you’re a wife or mother, you’re not called to be Mary. There’s already a Mary. Be you!! If you’re a husband or father, you’re not called to be Joseph. There’s already a Joseph. Be you!! If you’re a son or daughter (all of us!!!), you’re not called to be Jesus. There’s already a Jesus. Be you!!

Be the Saint that is just you! When you are that person, you will be the light of Christ. Loved ones will ponder their encounter with you as they pray the Canticle of Simeon at the end of the day. What a priceless gift!

Thank you to my own family for being my family. Thank you for loving me just as I am. Thank you for challenging me each and every day to remember that you are who you are, not who I want you to be. And thanks be to God for that! Quads, I’ve learned so much about love as your big sister and it just wasn’t going to be the same without all four of you celebrating Christmas with me this year. Claire and Jay, when you walked in the door, I saw Christ. I saw the joy, love, wonder, and awe in all of our faces as we received your seemingly miraculous appearance. Keep shining brightly for all to see, fam! I love you more than words can say! My heart has been bursting since this weekend :)

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for us!

Dear Lord, Bless our family. Be so kind as to give us the unity, peace, and mutual love that You found in Your own family in the little town of Nazareth.

Saint Joseph, pray for the head of our family. Obtain for him the strength, the wisdom, and the prudence he needs to support and direct those under his care.

Mother Mary, pray for the mother of our family. Help her to be pure and kind, gentle and self-sacrificing. For the more she resembles you, the better will our family be.

Lord Jesus, bless the children of our family. Help them to be obedient and devoted to their parents. Make them more and more like You. Let them grow, as You did, in wisdom and strength and grace before God and man.

Holy Family of Nazareth, by your intercession, love, and holy example, make our family and home more and more like Yours, until we are all one family, happy and at peace in our true home with You.

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