The extended Thanksgiving Christmas New Year’s holiday window in which we currently find ourselves has been… strange… to say the least. While the coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted nearly every aspect of our lives, one of the areas where the virus has hit closest to home for so many of us is how it has impacted the “family gatherings” that are important for strengthening bonds with our family members. For many, this time of year is the only time when we have large gatherings of cousins, aunts & uncles, nieces & nephews, grandchildren and so forth. I can’t tell you how often over the past weeks I have heard parishioners say things to me like, “This is the first year I can remember when we didn’t have thirty people all gathered for Thanksgiving at my mom’s house” or “No, we’re not going anywhere for Christmas this year… it will just be the four of us.” A combination of prudent caution and government imposed travel restrictions have drastically disrupted the typical ways most of us would gather with our extended, and sometimes even immediate, family members. Of course, the impact of the virus on family life stretches back far beyond simply Thanksgiving. It has been almost nine months since the “shutdown” began. Even “regular” visits to elderly or physically compromised family members, especially those in care facilities, has been difficult or even impossible for much of the past year. And families that have experienced major sacramental milestones have seen the usual plans for those celebrations greatly impacted as well. Babies are still being baptized, but often with only a small handful of people beyond the parents & godparents present. I’ve celebrated multiple weddings in the parish over the last months with no bridal party and, in some cases, no guests at all outside of the parents and siblings of the bride and groom and no wedding reception at all. During the initial shutdown I had the heartbreaking experience on several occasions of not even being able to celebrate a funeral Mass for someone who had died, and feeling almost helpless as I did some brief graveside prayers with only three or four people present. At a time of profound loss, when a grieving spouse or child most needs the support and (and hugs) of family and friends… so often that shoulder to cry on has been replaced by a phone call or a zoom chat. For someone heartbroken, that is a poor replacement for a hug. So in this time when, still, we are physically apart from ones we love and the dangers of the virus are still very real, what are we to do? How can we grow together? Can we at all? Yes, we can. Part of the solution we already know about: do what you can. A phone call might not be the same as a visit… but it is still something. Make those calls. Keep in touch. Share photos with each other. Write letters. REAL letters. (Like they used to do before email and cell phones existed. Children, if you don’t know of what I speak, ask your parents…) There is another important part of this as well. Pray. Pray for your family members, especially the ones you cannot see and those who are alone. Pray for them by name. Lift them up to the arms of our Heavenly Father. Ask the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to be with them during the times you cannot. Remember them during Mass whether you are attending in person or following streaming Masses on TV or the internet. Maybe contact the parish and arrange to have a Mass offered for them… a beautiful gift! The more we draw near to God, the closer He brings us to our loved ones both those still here on earth and those who have gone before us. God knows very well about “family ties”… for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share a perfect bond of unbreakable love. In drawing near to the Holy Trinity, God in turn bestows on us the grace to strengthen our own family ties, even with those who are distant from us. In this time of pandemic, things are different. Things are strange. But we can continue to build our family ties. May Jesus, Mary, and Joseph help us to do so, today and always.
Fr. John Paul