Sunday, December 11, 2005

Explaining the love affair

It's the semi-annual discomfort with my family about church: which Christmas Mass to go to so we can fit it into the hectic to-ing and fro-ing, "how fast can we get it over with," "there won't be extra singing or INCENSE, will there?"

I have to take my mother with me to church on holidays, she's not very mobile any more, and she likes to come and stay over and spend Christmas Eve night together. And I'm glad to have her. But that invokes the Sacred Holiday Law of spending every moment glued together at the hip, as well as its Preamble: we do what the oldest person wants to do because they're going to die any minute and you'll feel bad.

If Mass lasts more than 45 minutes, she's rolling her eyes and nudging me. Get up early? Or get to church early? Heaven forbid we sing a few pre-Mass carols. To add to the mix, my brother and his family are Unitarians, so they have the day off, and want family time on their schedule. They smile knowingly at us serfs when we explain that we must go to church, which totally curdles my dwindling supply of the milk of human kindness.

This is driving me crazy. Everything I try to use to (quite frankly) manipulate the situation is going nowhere, and I am forced to be frank and honest. But what do I say?

"Christmas means more to me every year, and church is an important part of it."

"I love going to Mass, and Mass on Christmas is extra-special."

"Christmas is a celebration of the miracle of our Savior's birth, and I want to spend time rejoicing at church."

"There's a freakin' reason for the season, OKAY?"

I try them all over in my mind, and I've even murmured a few of them during the opening skirmishes, and they sound so LAME. Maybe it's because they're right out front about my faith, and I'm still a chicken around my family, because I spent so many years not caring, or not caring enough to assert my priorities.

Do you have a sure-fire statement that shuts'em up and gets them to cooperate?


Kate said...

I don't think there's anything you can say that will be both honest, heartfelt, and not sound corny.

The best suggestion I can come up with is, "Guys, I love you, and I'm glad you want to spend Christmas with me. This year, I want to go to the ____ Mass at church to celebrate this holy day with my parish community. If that sounds too long for you, you don't have to go with me/wait around for me. I'm sure ______ would be glad to do something with you (name a special activity) until I get back.

Other than that....answer knwoing smiels and complaints with lots and lots of affection and love, until something inside them starts wondering whether there might be something to this Church thing that makes you so peaceful and loving!

Wishing you a wonderful and peace-filled Christmas.


Kate said...

I forgot the short answer. "This is important to me, ok?" said with love, sincerity, eye contact, and not a trace of frustration.

Julie D. said...

How about this situation ... Tom's entire family claims Catholicism but seems to regard it more as a cultural right than anything else (except for his mother).

So our family and his mother head off for Mass while they hang around doing whatever.

For some reason I don't ever worry about having a line other than inviting them. Because I have heard a few of them quietly admit that it makes them feel guilty to miss Mass. So for them the invitation is enough.

Now depending on who you are dealing with in my family, you are either fellow Christians (who are misled into the wrong church) or total idiots who buy into an imaginary "feel good" God-thing. Again, there is no point in a "line" because none of them would work. Our witness is to loudly consider which Mass and church (depending our out-of-town location) and then to cheerfully GO without even considering skipping and then to discuss it at length when we get back. All very normal for us and sheer torture to those around us. :-)

Therese Z said...

What helpful friends I have in this blog world! I like the model you built: Kate's lots of affection and love as a fruit of loving God and His Church, and Julie's inviting them (somehow I never thought of that).

I lost my good cheer there for a little; I may not actually have it back yet, but at least I know I lost it over this subject.


MTR said...

WOA! Your brother is a Unitarian? Wow! That's some info I didn't know... Gives me a new outlook on where YOU come from... ;-)

Henry Dieterich said...

My father and brother are both Unitarians, and my sister's husband and children (and she herself, unofficially) are Jews. All of us in my generation started out as Unitarians. My father was raised Episcopalian; he and my late mother (raised liberal Presbyterian) joined the Unitarian Church in the early 1950s. So when we get together for Christmas, it is quite an exercise in tolerance. They have no objection to my daughter and me going off to Mass, and we try to do it so as not to disturb their schedule. The interesting thing has been when I have occasionally been asked to offer a blessing at the beginning of the meal (this happens about once every ten years).

Julie D. said...

oops, my comment should have said that my fellow Christians in my family feel that WE are misled into the wrong church (not that my previous statement is wrong...). :-)

Therese Z said...

Henry, you bring up another thorny point: the blessing. My brother (they are really enthusiastic Uni's, they're not just going because the place is close by), is teaching his children all these awful feely-weely blessings, where they are mostly thanking other people for good stuff, and thanking the earth. My mom wants to say the plain old grace, which looks and sounds mechanical, because we said it 1.8 billion times when we were little, and I know it means nothing to my brother. My SIL is amusedly tolerant, which frosts my flakes too. So I've tried making up new ones that are Christic but not overtly Catholic. This won't be an issue for Christmas because our big meal is eaten at another relative's house with about 50 family or more, so there is no grace at all. We'll hit the grace wall again at Easter.

Therese Z said...

On review, I don't mean to include your Uni family in with my description of the icky blessings and ideas my bro's family has. They may be far more respectful of a God, however they limit Him.

I apologize, I'm aiming only at my bro, not the whole of the Uni world.

Henry Dieterich said...

One that is fairly successful is the Jewish blessing for food: "Blessed are You, O Lord our God, king of the Universe, who bring forth bread from the earth" (technically there has to be bread or something like it on the table to do this one).



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