All of life is one holy family (New Year’s, 2018)
In the Catholic Church world this New Year’s Eve we will celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.
This coincidence of the Feast of the Holy Family and New Year’s Eve got me thinking about my notions of family and what constitutes both family and holiness these days. Is there a New Year’s Resolution to be had here?
I have just come back home to the Woods from celebrating Christmas with my happy (and certainly striving to be holy) family of birth so surely that is why the feast struck a chord. But also when I arrived home there was a beautiful Christmas card waiting that offered this reflection about families: “A family is more than just people related to each other. It’s people sharing memories and hopes, cares and concerns. A family is people who are there for each other.”
“People who are there for each other.” Now there is a beautiful definition of a holy family.
As a member of a religious community, my concept of family has certainly been enlarged over the years. My religious sisters are definitely part of my family circle and not just because we belong to the same community. They are my family because we belong to each other. I see care and concern evidenced time and time again — whether it is in taking one of our fragile members to the Emergency Room or encouraging one of our newer members to stay true to who she is and to what Providence is asking of her.
Within the past 10 years, as the Providence Associate relationship has flourished, the notion of family has been broadened even further. Here are these folks of all sizes and shapes walking into our lives and becoming part of the care and concern we call Providence. Sometimes they are there for others where they live; other times they are there for us, their sisters, when we need the hope and energy that they bring.
Tucked into the past two weeks have been the wakes and liturgies of Christian burial for four of our sisters. In each case, we have been joined by members of each one’s birth family. Some of them have been coming to visit an SP family member since they were small children. As the tears roll down their faces as we bid our sister a final farewell, I feel a deep family connection with them. I find myself saying to them as they leave, “You are always welcome here.” Once again the definition of family takes on new meaning.
But perhaps the greatest enlargement of the definition of family for me has come from welcoming a herd of alpacas to these Woods almost 20 years ago. Of course, their greatest attribute is their cuteness, but they also play an important role in the life of a sustainable farm here at the Woods. Their fleece leads to beautiful handmade products and their excrement keeps healthy other forms of life on the farm and in the garden. They are a valued part of our Woods family.
And if we are going to include the alpacas, then we’d better not leave out the trees that allow us to breathe … and if you are going to embrace the trees as family then you’d better include ________________? You get the point, I hope.
We are part of a limitless family if we allow ourselves to see all of life as holy, all of life as one. All of life is one, holy family. Imagine the decisions we would make if this is how we really saw all of creation?
It seems to me that the Church got it right by asking us to reflect on the Holy Family as we begin a new year. Jesus, Mary and Joseph began their life together among animals who made room for them in their stable home. They were kept company by shepherds who they had never before met. Strangers from other lands brought them gifts.
There is a New Year’s Resolution to be had here … and a prayer:
who makes all things new,
may we receive with gentleness
and touch with hopefulness
and protect with fierceness
and love with tenderness;
and may we celebrate with gratefulness
and welcome with humbleness
and tend with gracefulness
all that you give
into our care.