Humorist Dave Barry observes that the holidays are a very special time “when we take a break from our hectic everyday lives to spend quality time with our loved ones, rediscovering all the reasons why we don’t actually live with them.”
As with all effective satire, there is a nugget of truth contained in this statement. But after chuckling at Barry’s remark, isn’t it sad that the holiday season has become as well known for strained family relations as it is known for tinsel and toys and decorated trees?
In recent decades, the basic building block of society, the family, has taken a major hit. Families are fracturing and disintegrating left and right. And many of the families, that haven’t disintegrated yet, are under a great deal of strain and stress, which only gets magnified during the holiday season.
Do you want to know why people these days can instantly relate when they hear a Christmas carol parody called “It’s the Most STRESSFUL Time of the Year”? The answer is simple: we’ve taken Christ out of Christmas. We’ve forgotten Jesus, the “reason for the season.”
Now, of course I don’t mean that faithful Christians suddenly become pagans and renounce their faith during the month of December. I just mean that many people get so overwhelmed by the cultural and commercial aspects of Christmas—aspects that have nothing to do, by the way, with the Incarnation of Christ—that they’ve put Jesus way on the back burner, almost out of sight. In doing so, folks have pretty much guaranteed that they will be miserable during the holidays.
This Sunday at Mass, a few days after Christmas Day, is the Feast of the Holy Family. The main theme of the Scripture readings is patience. And patience, more than anything else, is the key to having peaceful and happy families. When people practice patience toward their relatives, the all-too-common strain and stress are greatly reduced.
In the first reading, from the Book of Sirach, we read, “My son, take care of your father when he is old….Even if his mind fails, be considerate of him.” (Obviously this passage applies to daughters as well as sons, and to mothers as well as fathers.)
A little later in the reading God reminds us that He is paying attention. “Kindness to a father will not be forgotten.” God is aware of our difficult circumstances, and He will bless us when we set aside our own personal desires and instead show patience toward a loved one who needs our help.
In the second reading, from the letter to the Colossians, St. Paul pleads with all believers to be patient. He writes, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.”
This is such wise and wonderful advice. When we are patient, when we are humble, when we are quick to forgive one another, that’s when we experience true peace and serenity.
Have you ever met people who are just itching to be offended? They’re like loaded guns with hair triggers just waiting to go off at the slightest provocation, whether real or imagined. It’s almost as if they enjoy being offended. It allows them to present another command performance of the self-righteous indignation drama, complete with sighing, scowling, and grumbling.
If we sincerely try to practice patience and focus on Jesus during this Christmas season, then our families just might become the exception rather than the rule. Maybe we will avoid the family-related strain and stress so common this time of year. Then we can truly sing “It’s the Most WONDERFUL Time of the Year!”