Survival tips for the most common complaints about spending Christmas with family
If you’re not looking forward to going home for the holidays—and there were times when I did not—I’ve found it’s best to begin by laughing at ourselves. I have to look in the mirror and say, “If God can put up with the likes of me, who has offended Him infinitely, and insisted on not giving up on whatever good there could be cultivated in me, then surely I can express my gratitude by trying to love and serve whatever good may be found in those back home." (Please don’t misunderstand me: If home is a violent or abusive place, do not go there! Seek shelter and seek help!)
It is true that large, holiday dinners at the family home can be occasions of practicing the spiritual works of mercy. And, honestly, sometimes we are more inclined “to admonish sinners” rather than “to bear wrongs patiently” and “to forgive offenses willingly.” I recall one student who said she dreamed of yelling Psalm 69:9 (“For the zeal of thy house hath eaten me up: and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me”) and overturning tables. I told her that, barring a divine revelation to the contrary, she would be better quoting 1 Peter 3:15-16 (“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame”), and then act accordingly. The goal of Christian witness is to glorify God and win souls, not humiliate adversaries and win fights. Also, if you are going to stand up for the Lord’s truth and the Church’s honor, be sure that you know what you are talking about first. Dave Armstrong’s “The One-Minute Apologist” is a good place to start.
Where I serve, the Mass is always offered reverently and according to the mind of the Church. Sadly, not everyone can make that claim. Even so, at every Mass the Holy Sacrifice is offered, and the matchless graces of the Eucharist are available. At your parish, ask God for the graces always available at every Mass, and give thanks for the infinite humility of our Lord Who comes to us whenever we call upon Him, even as we offer imperfectly to Him our imperfect love and reverence.
I’ve had dispirited students and exhausted friends ask me, “Why do we even bother with Christmas? It never lives up to our expectations, we spend too much, we eat too much, we drink too much and we end it all more tired, more broke and more fat than when we started.” I’ve told them, and I will tell my anxious students this semester that we “bother” with Christmas because we wish to recall and to receive anew the amazing gift that our Heavenly Father has given us. The best thing that our Heavenly Father can give to us, the words that only He can say to us, are in fact what we most need to hear, but it is something that we could never have dreamed of asking for. Only our Heavenly Father can say these words to us: “You are worth my Son.” Only our Heavenly Father can say that, and only He can prove it.
Our Heavenly Father proves that amazing declaration to us by speaking His Word, His Son to us, so that His only-begotten Son becomes the Word-made-Flesh. The Son of God becomes the Son of Mary—He is the Christ of God, Who is become man for us.
And Our Heavenly Father proves that amazing declaration—“You are worth my Son”—by accepting the sacrifice of His Son upon the cross, for only the shed Blood of Jesus can wash away the stain of our sin. Our Heavenly Father allows us to heap upon His Son all of the malice, betrayal and wickedness that must be dredged up out of the human condition—up to and including even death itself. And our Heavenly Father amazes us yet again by overcoming evil and death by raising His Son from the dead, and then, amazes us even more by offering us a share in that victory.