Family Ecumenism: Maintaining peace at family gatherings

Uncle Jerry thinks this about the government, cousin Emma thinks that about the Church, and your brother is still holding a grudge about something that happened 15 years ago. The holidays are wonderful, but man, they sure can be stressful! If the thought of family gatherings has you overwhelmed, you’re not alone.

Where can we begin to find the peace that we’re looking for? “In the Christ Child, of course; he is the Prince of Peace. We’d all do better at our family gatherings if we make a Holy Hour first, and then boy that would really make things go smoothly! But that is not always possible,” said Fr. Sam Martin, priest of the Diocese of La Crosse and regular contributor to The Inner Life®.

When we hear the genealogy of Christ from Matthew’s Gospel, we see that even our Lord’s family is made up of saints and sinners. “That gives us consolation that our families, all of us, are a work in progress. We want to remember that our Lord was born into our family, he takes on our flesh, our nature, but he grafts us into this union that he has with the Father. He comes to reveal that God is our Father and that we are all wanted and willed into existence as his children. Our family life … is meant to be a preparation to live in union in heaven, and preparation would imply that there’s work to be done.”

What can we do to prepare ourselves for family gatherings, especially when facing people who may have hurt us in the past? “Spend some time with Jesus, the little baby in the crib. Make a Holy Hour between now and Christmas and have a heart that’s reconciled with God in Confession and speak a lot to Jesus’ mama. Any Marian devotion this time of year, especially, is a brilliant preparation for that time that we spend with our human family, an extension of God’s worldwide family.”

Difficult and confrontational family members, especially those who hold different moral, political, or religious beliefs than our own, can make the holidays tense or awkward. How should we respond? We can start by cultivating patience, which Fr. Martin says is “an expression of love.” We also need to be as open and understanding as we can with our family members who disagree with us.

“Everybody is in their own place spiritually, they’re each on their own path and we want to hope and pray that those paths converge someday in heaven. But God is eminently patient the way he treats us, the way he allows us to grow, the way he sees the good in us but he also knows that we have things we need to work on,” said Fr. Martin. The more we grow in our own holiness, the better able we are to be kind and loving to our family members, even the ones who drive us a little crazy!

Is Christmas the time we should speak up to correct a family member who isn’t on the right path? “If there are things that they really objectively need to grow and change in their life, well we pray a lot about that. If the Lord wants us to say something, well he promised he’d give us the right words. And there are a lot of speeches I’ve written in my head that I’ve never been allowed to give, and I suppose that’s probably for the best.”