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Keeping Love into the New Year

December 29, 2014

This year, our family was traveling on the Feast of the Holy Family (for Catholics, this occurs on the Sunday after Christmas), and for the first time in many years, I was not in church that day. I was sad to miss this special mass because it’s always one of my favorites. The timing is almost perfect, usually coming just a few days after Christmas, when the excitement is over, the house is a mess, and we’ve had LOTS of time with those we love. Time with all of our loved ones is precious, especially as parents get older, teenagers go off to college, and young adults move away for their first jobs. But sometimes, this time of year, it doesn’t feel that way – we’ve had all the family we can stand. Usually, we’ve had to spend time with at least one relative whose view of the world is dramatically opposed to our own, or whose habits drive us crazy. That’s why remembering the value of family now is more important than ever.

In a recent New York Times column, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz noted that there is a drop in Google searches for “divorce” during the days leading up to Christmas and a significant rise in the 10 days after Christmas. He states, “What explains the post-Christmas surge of interest in divorce? Google searches for other terms help make that clear. First, Christmas allows for some reflection about family life. Searches for “dysfunctional family” reach their highest point every year around Christmas. Searches that include the word “hate” and a family member — “mom,” “dad,” “husband” or “wife,” for example — also rise on and around Christmas.”

How sad! With old wounds reopened, and new ones inflicted, how easy it is to fill your heart with bitterness and anger! That’s why the special readings from the Feast of the Holy Family always comfort and encourage me. From St. Paul, we hear, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you.” And from Sirach (an Apocryphal book of the Bible recognized by Catholics), “My child, help your father in his old age, and do not grieve him as long as he lives; even if his mind fails, be patient with him; because you have all your faculties do not despise him.”

As a parent, I have been surprised to learn that many of my children’s memories of their childhood are quite different from my own. Another mom recently told me how her own children remembered things she had said or done to hurt them that she doesn’t remember at all, or that she felt were taken out of context. We all hurt each other, and as we get older, we long for others to offer forgiveness and mercy for the times we have hurt them.

With the New Year approaching, let’s offer mercy and forgiveness to one another. Of course, I know there are families where abuse is occurring, and no one should condemn those who have had to separate or divorce for that reason. In many cases, though, whether it is between a husband and wife, parents and children, siblings, in-laws or other relatives, mercy and forgiveness is possible, even though it might be hard.

To quote the great St. John Paul II, “The family is placed at the center of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that is opposed to love. To the family is entrusted the task of striving, first and foremost, to unleash the forces of good.” As the year ends and a new one begins, let us stay of the side of love.

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