Today is the feast of the Holy Family. The day we celebrate and honor Jesus’ family. I have been thinking a lot about family lately. About my own family, and our extended family and how while some relationships within our family are wonderful, loving, and close, others are strained, awkward, and full of tension. The homily at Mass this morning was all about family and was so good I wished I could tape record it to listen to over and over. The priest spoke about how we all come from a family and even our Lord Jesus came from a family. How our families are so important and how they should be a source of faith, love, and peace. He also admitted that families are not always what they should be, and sometimes are not so faith-filled, loving, and peaceful. It seemed every word out of his mouth this morning mirrored the thoughts that have been swirling around in my mind for the last week or so.
Christmas is such a beautiful time for families and my own childhood Christmas memories are filled with scenes of family all around. We would always make the trip to visit our extended family though they were far away. We would celebrate Jesus’ birth with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. My grandparents' house would be filled with laughter, talking, and gifts spilling out from under the tree, stacked high waiting to be given in love. We would gather around the table and share a Christmas feast with all those to whom we were bound in love surrounding us. My big, extended family growing up was not perfect, of course. The adults often had differences of opinions. The children, cousins and siblings alike, had disagreements and feelings were hurt. But, we were family and though things were not perfect there was always love enough for everyone and, always, that connection to each other. We may have argued but we also forgave. We may have disagreed but we cared enough to get past it. Maybe because I grew up with a strong connection to my extended family, family has always been very important to me. I knew, growing up, that I was a part of something bigger than my own immediate family. I knew that, though they lived far away and we did not see them as much as we would have liked, I had a whole, big family who loved and cared for me.
It is so important for children to grow up in a family. Important enough that even our Lord was born into a family. Even Jesus grew up with the love of his grandparents (Sts. Joachim and Anne), cousins, and (obviously) aunts and uncles. He grew up with the love and support of extended family because, as our perfect example, He knew that we all need a connection to our family to know who we are, who we belong to, and where we have come from.
My own children do not have as many opportunities to be surrounded by extended family as I wish they did. In some instances, it is only because of physical distance. In others, it is because of emotional distance and tension between the adults involved. I wish that it could be different. I wish my children could see the cousins they love and adore more often. I wish they could see their loving aunts and uncles more. I wish they knew the love of all their extended family and could see, with everyone all together, that they, too, are part of a whole, big family.
But, as the wise and holy priest at church this morning said, families are not always just as they should be. Ours is not always what it should be or what I would like it to be but even with our imperfections, my children know they are loved. Though our extended family is not perfect, I am grateful, for what my children do have. They know the love of their grandparents. The aunts and uncles they do get to see are always kind, caring, and generous to them. They love their cousins and keep in touch with most of them through the internet (the kids love Skype) and occasional phone calls and, when we can work it out, wonderful, fun filled, memory-making visits. They have even had the chance to meet many of their great aunts and uncles and to build a close, loving relationship with their great grandmother. And, of course, they always have me and Tim, and each other, to shower them and surround them with love and affection. We do not get to choose our family. Ours is certainly not perfect in every way but I pray the strained relationships will one day be close and loving. And in the meantime, I am grateful that my children are growing up connected to so many of the people who love them completely and unconditionally.