A Holy Family

As I write this morning, we are snowed in after a large amount of snow fell in our city and surrounding areas yesterday.  The temperatures are at record lows and it’s good to be in a warm house drinking coffee, reflecting on the past few days of Christmas and just life in general.  We are back to just the three of us, plus the dog, and the house seems kind of quiet without the people I affectionately call “the big kids” who have gone back to their own routines.

There’s a Holy Family woodcarving on the piano next to the couch that catches my eye.  It was a gift from a student I taught years ago at a local Catholic school and it has become a treasured beacon of hope.  Through the years, I have turned to the Holy Family in prayer, asking for guidance and strength and sometimes just in prayers of thanksgiving.  I know my own family is far from perfect and our household is often quite chaotic.  But the Holy Family woodcarving on the piano is a visual reminder of something much greater than us, and that is the love of two parents for their new child, who just happened to also be the Son of God.  Is that mind-blowing?  Of course.  But it’s also oddly comforting.  Mary and Joseph, of their own free will, made it all work.  They chose to stick together and follow God’s plan and that would unfold based on nothing more than trust…and love.

Through the years I have come to realize that being a holy family is not necessarily being a perfect family.  Just like the snowstorm altered some of our plans and we had to adjust our dreams to fit the current realities of weather and time, in families we often need to compromise.  Sometimes this works and other times conflicts arise because feelings get hurt in the process.  But if we keep love of God and others in the equation, things usually work out.  Not perfectly, but things do work out!

The Feast of the Holy Family’s Second Reading from St. Paul to the Colossians will be the words to guide me through this upcoming New Year, and I hope they might be of comfort to you today, too:

 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.

 

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Soup

I recently had the pleasure of sharing a warm bowl of soup with four or five individuals while we were taking a break from setting up for an event.  The soup had been lovingly prepared by one of the committee chairpersons and transported to the parish hall in a slow-cooker earlier that morning.  The meal consisted of soup and bread, nothing more, yet it was incredibly satisfying.  We had been working hard all morning and this little respite refueled our bodies and souls.  The conversation was light, and the mood was cheerful.  The entire meal lasted a very short time, but I knew I wanted to reflect a little more on this notion of being “filled up.”

Merriam Webster’s first definition of communion is “an act or instance of sharing.”  The third definition is “intimate fellowship or rapport.”  You may possibly be most familiar with the definition in-between, and that is the capitalized word, Communion, meaning the Sacrament we receive when we gather together at Mass.  As a bit of a word geek, I was compelled to examine the word communion in its lower-case form because those simple communions might just occur more often than we think!

Was the simple soup sharing a kind of lower-case communion?  I believe it was, and I venture to say that those little communal moments sustain us in between our Sacramental Communion moments at Mass.  During the dark days of the winter season, it’s more important than ever to share some moments of communion, whether it be over a cup of coffee with someone or chatting with the neighbors outside while shoveling the ever-falling snow.  Perhaps with the new year almost upon us, we can make more of an effort to linger a bit wherever we are, including the church gathering room after Mass.  Let’s slow things down a bit, and be mindful of these sacred, shared moments TOGETHER.

 

 

Winter Trees

Let’s talk about trees.  Not Blue Spruce or Balsam Fir.  Just good old deciduous trees.  Yes, I’m referring to those branches that look quite bare these days in our Central New York climate.  Some even say trees this time of year look ugly, but I vehemently disagree!  When all their leaves have been shed after November winds and rains, the bare branches of trees are rather beautiful.  If I were a painter, I would paint winter trees because there is something rather fascinating about the intricate design of each individual branch and the relationship of one branch to another, all connected to the center, the tree trunk.

 

The new snow on previously-bare tree branches is another wondrous sight, almost like icing on pastries, all sparkly like precious gems.  As I sit gazing out the window at the lightly falling snow, my heart is filled with both beauty and sadness.  Winter days like this provide the opportunity to sit still and contemplate all the spring, summer and autumn days that led to this winter moment.  Many of these memories are joyful, and I find myself smiling, almost chuckling as I think of loved ones near and far as well as friends here in the neighborhood, at church or in our community.  But then my thoughts go to those who we have lost or people who have moved away.  I grieve a little and ask God to continue to bless them and all those who love them, too.

 

Bare winter branches can be, at times, sacramental in that they lead me to marvel at the wonder and beauty of our God and all that God has gifted us.  The dead branches in another five months will once again produce blossoms and leaves and new growth.  Are we not a little like winter trees ourselves?  Do we not at times have to “die to self” in order to grow into whatever/whoever we have been called to be?  Don’t we also have moments in our lives where we experience the waiting that feels like winter?  We know another “springtime”, or joy, will return, and so we wait.  Almost like Advent Waiting.

 

O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!

(The O Antiphons of Advent)

 

I don’t know what’s left of my life journey, but I do know I never walk it alone. And I’m thankful to have the winter trees to remind me that everything in life involves some waiting, some growing, some dying, more waiting and eventually, rebirth.