How all those little celebrations make a difference
– Bl. John Paul II
“You people don’t celebrate your faith; you mourn it.”
– Serendipity (character from
Out of all the ways God could have designed humans to interact, he chose the family as the primal, fundamental operating system. Ideally, we’re born into a family, grow to adulthood in the context of that family, and then cleave to a spouse to begin a family of our own – one which is independent from, but still connected to, the family of our birth.
All very lovely and bucolic sounding. However, the fine print is always omitted in the Bible, isn’t it? Take, for instance, the horror of diaper changing, which manages to be both monotonous and constantly fresh in its unpleasantness. Or consider the head-pounding chaos of toddlerhood, which finds you one day yelling out the back door, “Get off the roof of the chicken coop! You don’t even have shoes on!”, and other such phrases you never ever thought you’d find yourself uttering, let alone shouting loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear.
Then there’s the teeth-gritting trials of puberty and adolescence, with the constant opportunities to practice acts of mortification while your teen insists that he’s the one being mortified by your behavior. And if you’re really lucky, all this leads to the joys of “emerging adulthood”, which is nothing more than some made up developmental phase coined by post-college 20-somethings who come back home to crash on your couch and hog your Netflix queue.
The family: designed by God to help sanctify us and personify God’s love for us. So why does it sometimes seem that Jesus forgot about it when he was talking about his yoke being easy and his burden light? Between the pressures of a culture openly hostile to the family unit, and the normal ability of people in close proximity to get on one another’s nerves, how does a God-fearing person manage to remember that the family is something to be celebrated and enjoyed? Easy – they celebrate it and enjoy it.
As both Bl. John Paul II and a minor character from a theologically lazy movie noted, the family is not only vitally important in the greater scheme of things, but also by how it influences our interaction with its various members. It’s not enough to realize that the family plays a pivotal part in salvation history; we need to echo that amazing fact in our dealings with it, no matter how crazy the players are.
Around here, we do that by making up ridiculous celebrations. With eight people under the same roof, tensions can (and often do) run high at the drop of a dime. The best tonic we’ve found to the temptation to start screaming at each other for the slightest offense is to have frequent reasons to celebrate. Birthdays are easy places to start; beginning in late March and not letting up until early September, there is a birthday a month around here. We celebrate by taking the day – each person’s day – off of work and school. As Catholics, who are almost unique in our celebration of life from conception until natural death, celebrating in a big way the day someone drew their first breath just seems natural.
Apart from birthdays, we have baptismal anniversaries, patron saint feast days, holy days of obligation, “Hey, you learned to read!” celebrations, “Happy 15th Soccer Game” observances, and midsummer/midwinter/midweek festivities. Shoot, this past weekend alone, our family celebrated Star Wars Day (“May the Fourth”) and Cinco de Mayo (despite the fact not one of us claims Mexican heritage).
Celebrations are easy enough affairs: a special dish at dinner, a game of capture the flag after lunch, a walk to the park instead of morning chores. Anything at all, really, provided it’s intended to build up and strengthen the family unit, will work. Don’t be afraid to be silly. A friend of mine enlisted her younger children to make a giant poster for her oldest son’s last vocal performance of high school. The poster featured lots of glitter and her son’s face in giant photocopied form. During the concert, she let the little ones reveal the poster to the delight of her older son. Little gestures that elevate the every day interactions of the family to the level of celebration are vital.
After all, if God is the source of all that is good and beautiful, and he deliberately placed the family at the center of that, doesn’t it make sense that we should strive to reflect this happiness and joy in our families? The world will do its best to try and make us mourn the hardships family life brings with it, so we need to counter with an enthusiastic celebration of the everyday as experienced in the context of the family.