Magazine article U.S. Catholic

A Holy Mess: Holiness Comes Not from Perfection but Being Together-Flaws and All

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

A Holy Mess: Holiness Comes Not from Perfection but Being Together-Flaws and All

Article excerpt

my father hates Christmas. We have a picture of him lying on my parents' couch, wrapped up in a blanket, wearing both a Santa hat and a look of utter mournfulness.

For most of my childhood and young adulthood, this was something to tease him about. How could you hate Christmas? What part of gift giving and receiving, good food, and family is not to like? How could anyone not like the music, the celebration, the candles, and the hushed holiness of the Midnight Mass?

Last year, though, I started to understand where my dad was coming from.

I'm not sure what the tipping point was. Perhaps it was how the dog that my husband and I had just adopted the week before took an instant dislike to my father and tried to nip at his toes whenever she got the chance. Or perhaps it was how Amazon cancelled--without notification--the order containing the vast majority of my parents' Christmas gifts to us kids. Or maybe it was that a couple days later at our celebration with my mom's extended family, we spent two days in a house with four dogs and more than 30 people (including 10 kids), which resulted in the assorted hurt feelings and spats that can only happen among a group of people who love each other and know exactly what buttons to push to hurt each other. Or maybe it was just the exhaustion of celebrating five different Christmases with five different family configurations within 10 days.

I'm reassured when I remember that this chaos is nothing unique to my own family. My husband and I may bemoan the thought of a 12-hour car ride with two animals, but then I think of Mary, nine months pregnant and forced to travel for hours for census registration, the equivalent of renewing your license at the DMV. Or later when she and Joseph fled to Egypt, a journey not much different in length from my yearly pilgrimage from Chicago to New York, but via foot and with a newborn baby.

When Joseph announced the news of Mary's pregnancy to his parents, I suspect they weren't exactly thrilled that he was going to marry her anyway. "But an angel told me it's OK!" was perhaps not the most reassuring thing to hear your son say in that situation.

When Jesus stayed behind in the temple at Jerusalem and his parents didn't realize he was missing for an entire day, I bet there were some raised voices and harsh words exchanged, no matter how impressed his parents were "at his understanding and his answers" (Luke 2:47).

And when John, Jesus' cousin, announced his intention to go out into the wilderness and eat locusts and wild honey while proclaiming the coming of the Lord, I think it probably took his parents a little time to wrap their head around his decision. After all, he was their pride and joy, the child they had after they thought there was no hope.

If Jesus' family relationships could be full of tension at times, this must be true for the rest of us. From our family we get our attitudes and behaviors. We receive traditions that have been passed down to us. We learn how to relate to others. Philip Culbertson writes in Caring for God's People: Counseling and Christian Wholeness (Fortress Press), "A family is a system that has an integrity all its own and that operates in a consistent and only slowly changing, sometimes inefficient manner. The manner in which the system operates is determined by a set of unspoken rules and roles that specify how individual parts of the stem contribute to the functioning of the whole. …

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