We celebrated a beautiful, happy, holy Christmas Day. At dawn, with candles lit, our family sang “Joy to the World” as we placed baby Jesus in our family creche. The children exclaimed with glee over their lovingly chosen gifts beneath our tree. Later, we laughed and feasted with cousins and grandparents around deliciously crowded tables. Snuggling on the couch in the glow of colorful lights on Christmas night, with our babies tucked in bed, my beloved husband and I raised glasses of red wine and toasted the beauty of the season. All of our hard work and preparation had paid off. We had a lovely Christmas and felt like a holy family.
Today, the very next day, my sugar-overloaded, sleep-disrupted children got into a succession of loud, angry arguments. My husband and I butted heads over an old disagreement. I lost my temper, cried, and felt the crushing failure of not measuring up to the holiness that I thought I had exemplified hours before.
And then I read the readings for the feast of the Holy Family:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. (Col 3:12-15)
Relief flooded my harried soul as I was reminded that holiness is not perfection. Let me say it one more time for you tired mamas in the back: Holiness is not perfection. Yes, holiness is allowing ourselves to be made perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Still, in choosing these readings for the feast of the Holy Family, Mother Church includes “bearing with one another and forgiving one another” as guidelines for holiness—assuming we will have failures to be borne and faults to be forgiven.
Holiness, we are reminded on this feast day, is choosing compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience after we inevitably, and sometimes spectacularly, fail. A holy family falls, rises, and gives needed forgiveness, and over all these things puts on love. My holy husband immediately chose to love and forgive me. I more slowly chose the same for him. My children reconciled. The peace of Christ returned to our emotionally storm-battered home.
I may not bask in the glow of this day as I did yesterday, but I bask in the warmth of the knowledge that holiness is attainable with love and forgiveness. We cannot be perfect families, but we can all find holiness in the midst of our flaws.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph—pray for us!