During the Christmas season, and especially on Christmas Eve, I cannot help but think of family, and especially about how families “work.” I especially try to avoid comparing my family’s holiday traditions with those of others. What works for my family does not necessarily work for yours. Some families decorate their Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. Others decorate the tree weeks before. We should always beware of characterizing a family as “close” or perhaps “dysfunctional” solely by observing their traditions. Because what we might see when observing a family from the outside might not be totally accurate.
Similarly, many of us struggle, especially during the holidays, with how we care for our families, especially our parents. There can be much guilt associated with this struggle. Should we be doing more for our parents? Should we be visiting them more often, even though our busy lives do not yield to this very easily? With a parent in a nursing home, we might wrestle with the question about bringing the parent into our own home. If we determine that we cannot, is it out of selfishness or necessity? All of these questions come to a head during the Christmas season.
Today’s readings have an answer, of course. (They always do.) In the first reading, the Lord reminds David through Nathan that He was the one who made David a great King in the first place. The Lord is “a father to him.” So who is David to worry about the Lord? The reading reminds us to always remember that we are products of our parents, of the families and circumstances into which we were born. Our parents had a very large role in making us who and what we are today. Should we therefore succumb to our guilty feelings and second-guess the life decisions we have made? Since our parents taught us how to make these life decisions, wouldn’t that be like second-guessing them?
From today’s Gospel reading, we can also see where parents’ true joys lie: to watch their lineage blossom and grow and move out into the world to do great things in the Lord. Zechariah was able to watch his son, John the Baptist, grow into a young man who could “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” For those of us who are parents, we share in Zechariah’s joy when we see our children, or grandchildren or great-grandchildren, go out in the world and make a difference.
So if we are feeling guilty about not doting over our parents, I believe today’s readings tell us to relax. We are simply doing what they taught us to do.
There are limits, of course. Everyone needs to have their basic needs met, and deserves to live out their senior years with dignity. This is not just a family issue, but a global one. So if we are not doing what we can in this area, it is not just our parents we are letting down.
If we pity our parents and their current situation, perhaps it will help if we remember that it was they who built the world we are currently living in, and their greatest joy is to watch us build something even greater.