It’s the time of year for visiting and joy-filled celebrations. It’s the time for groaning tables, over-flowing glasses, and good cheer all around.
Visiting is my favorite part of the season. But, it can also be the most stressful. Each year I vow to simplify things. But simplicity never seems to come. Christmas comes with its own great expectations. It’s the grand dame of holidays, the stuff of family memories and legends. And, the grand dame must be appeased!
One of my favorite Food Network shows is Dinner Party Wars. I’m not a fan of reality shows, but I do enjoy this one. Three couples take turns hosting a dinner party. They are judged on their food and the quality of their hospitality. Spending excess time on fancy food preparation at the expense of time with your guests is a big no-no. Snobbery and self-centered conversations will lose you points as will being an ungracious host or an ungracious guest. Having the fanciest place-setting or the most pretentious meal will not guarantee you a win. Simple food cooked well while providing a warm, congenial atmosphere will. And, that’s why I like it!
The beautiful story of the Visitation, reminds us of the deeper truth in the act of visiting. We see Mary leaving the comfort and security of her home after receiving the life-altering news of her pregnancy. The journey must have been filled with fears, hardships and worries. Yet she headed out to visit her much older cousin, Elizabeth, in her time of need. She went to help, but perhaps also for moral and sisterly support. The image of the two women joyfully greeting each other, while babes leap in the wombs brings gladness to all hearts. Elizabeth wouldn’t have known that Mary was coming. How would she? She did not have time to put flowers on the front table or prepare a fancy dessert. All that was needed was open arms and a welcoming embrace.
It is a sign of hospitality to have home and hearth ready and prepared for guests. It is a sign of friendship and love to gather around the table to share a great meal and conversation. But the heart of hospitality is grounded in presence. And, the true gift lies in the visit.
One of the best gifts you can pass on to your children is the gift of laughter. My heart bursts with pride when we are together and the joking begins. Friends have told us that they see our sense of humor in our kids. YES!!! A job well done!
We`re also proud of their many gifts and talents, their compassion and generosity. But a good dose of gladness gives us all an energy boost to face the daily challenges. One of my daughters asked me, “What should I look for in a man?” Without thinking I answered,“he has to make you laugh”! (Hubby reminds me that I’m supposed to laugh with him, not at him. 😉 )
When we gather, stories of family, work and school begin to flow. Humour is found in some of the most challenging and difficult situations. When they were growing up, the kids knew their biggest embarrassments were future fodder for the siblings’ story-bank; details carefully recalled and flourishes added. New members to the family are dragged through a long initiation process as stories are re-told and inside jokes and one-liners are explained.
We have learned to laugh at the absurdities in life. Laughter doesn’t take away anger and frustration, but it helps to keep them in check. Melissa Musick Nussbaum has a wonderful article over at NCR titled We laugh because we know who we are. She describes how laughter not only helps us overcome difficulties; it also neutralizes the power of egotistical leaders,
The dictator’s goal is to be recognized as God, even if God over only this little house, that small nation, or the most modest parish. Dictators work hard at building and maintaining the illusion of godhood. Laughter destroys the illusion. (Melissa Musick Nussbaum)
The family is supposed to be the primary educator of the faith. In his 1979 Apostolic Exhortation, Catechesi Tradendae (Catechesis in our Time), John Paul II stresses that it is within the ecclesia domestica, or domestic church, that children are formed in their faith. When I first read this, I interpreted it as a wonderful shout-out to the subsidiarity of the family unit. In a church that too often thinks in hierarchical terms, here`s an example of Mom and Dad coming out on top! Do you hear that, Father?!
Of course, all families do not accept or embrace this responsibility of primary educators; whether in secular or religious education. It’s easier to pass the buck to the ‘professional’ teachers, even if those teachers are ill-equipped or under-qualified volunteers.
Formation in the faith is more than memorizing dogma and prayers for one hour a week. It requires being immersed in your faith, allowing it to weave into your daily life. The sacramental spirituality of Catholicism encourages us to put flesh on our beliefs through meaningful routines and ritual actions.
Crucifixes on our walls and around our necks remind us that our darkest worries can be raised in hope-filled prayer. Statues and pictures of Mary and the saints remind us that we have friends standing by to pray with us and pray for us. Praying as a family answers the summons of ‘where two or more are gathered in my name’. Collecting pennies from our Lenten sacrifices connects us to social justice actions around the world, with a preferential option for the poor. And we gather as the Body of Christ to celebrate the Eucharist; the source and summit of our faith.
But what about the child who comes to the parish catechism class with little or no exposure to their faith? What about the child who seldom sets foot in a church? Where does a catechist begin? What would Jesus do?
We know what Jesus would do. He would welcome all the little ones with open arms, without judgment. And this is what a good catechist would do. If the one hour a week of parish catechism classes is all the faith formation that a child will receive, then the catechist will try to make the best of that hour. And let God do the rest.