December 28, 2015
“The family is an original sign, given by the Creator himself. For the most decisive instrument for introducing us into the definitive relationship with destiny, and therefore even now to truth, to beauty, and to justice in the relationship with any thing or person, is pre-established, but not by us. We are not the ones to decide. An Other establishes this instrument; he who gives our nature the urge for mutual esteem and gratuitousness which is part of our makeup, he is the one who created the first form of experience, which will remain throughout history, a place where this urge for charity becomes stable and essential – the family.” – Servant of God Luigi Giussani
Dear fellow pilgrims,
I greet you from a flight from Minneapolis to JFK. More than usual, I felt the end-of-vacation heart pangs as the plane took off and the snowy ground zoomed out farther and farther from me, an unexpectedly heavy dose of an anticipation-of-missing wrapped in a present-experience-of-missing. My Christmas vacation was full of new joys and lessons about family, and was spent with my husband's family in Brainerd, MN.
Christmas has always been an especially sacred time for me; it is a time rife with warm memories of spending time with my loving, humorous, hard-working family that I supremely proud to be a small part of. I could go on and on about the details of traditions and specific Christmas memories (e.g. singing Silent Night in three languages after listening to my dad read a passage from the gospel of Luke, watching It’s A Wonderful Life and waiting for my dad to tear up), but the common theme among them all is that Christmastime was a school and celebration of family; I felt the supreme truth and comfort of being a part of something great, my family.
This year was the first that I spent Christmas apart from my family, which made for some especially tearful and difficult conversations with Aidan in the weeks anticipating the holiday. I was feeling just the sacrifice of marriage, which led him to feel sad that I was not feeling the gift I received in being a new part of his family.
Now, with the beautiful week of new family celebrations behind me, farther and farther behind me, I see how this Christmas season continued to be a school of family, just in the form of another "broken lamp" moment of this new marital state of being: I felt the break from my Pintar family as much as I felt the additional identity of the Breen family. I had keenly felt and mourned the loss of not participating in the Pintar Family Christmas Eve Traditions. I felt this grief pretty intensely; I felt it like a child. I had to examine it, and upon examination, I realized that it wasn't just because that I would miss the constancy and beauty of the traditions, I would also miss experiencing the collective grief that these traditions conjure. I realized that participation in these traditions is a particularly potent way in which my family continues to remember the lives of my grandparents, my (our) beloved Oma and Opa Pintar. In a way, going through the motions of Christmas Eve now, after their departures from this life, is like visiting a grave, because the motions are so rehearsed from years of vivid memories. It’s hard not to think of my Oma’s gentle vibrato singing voice when we sing “Silent Night.” When we keep these traditions in spite of their absence, we feel their presence also by virtue of knowing that everyone participating in these traditions is thinking of and missing Oma and Opa; it's a sweet and sorrowful eulogy we can all sing once a year and feel the simultaneous longing, loss, and gratitude that comes with a long separation from loved ones.
I felt this loss apart from feeling the newness and joy of cooking a Christmas Eve meal for Aidan's mom and grandparents, watching Aidan's little sister open her present we bought her, playing a song for Aidan's family, and sharing conversation and delicious meals with Aidan's extended family. The brokenness and grief paved the way for perceiving new life, new relationships. Most of all, I saw how much Aidan's family appreciated him being home for Christmas, as well as how much they appreciated my presence there. I had been approaching the week way from a supremely self-centered approach rather than self-giving. Growing into a vocation always means growing out of yourself, and for as much as I have heard similar maxims, I am just beginning to understand what this means for me and Aidan.
These reflections were churning in my heart during the Christmas Eve Mass I attended in Minnesota at St. Christopher, presided over by Fr. Mike Schmitz. In his homily, he opened with a challenging and truthful statement: Christmas is a time when people search and wait for certain feelings of a nostalgic and seemingly perfect past when we should really be turning our hearts and attention towards worshipping God in our imperfect present. For me, this word meant that I needed to embrace this new Aidan-and-Alyssa-Christmas celebration while practicing gratitude for the supreme gift of my Christmas’s past, with the firm conviction that God has many more lessons and gifts to give that can only be received in the rushing current of present time. I will forever be a daughter, a granddaughter, but now, my identity as a wife is predominant and in its infancy. I’m just learning how to walk in this vocation, and it will take time and patience to embrace these new movements.
I hope all of you had a very peaceful and wonderful Christmas, taking time to be silent in the evening of our Incarnate Lord’s humble birth.
I pray for all of your memories of family – for deeper gratitude for those experiences that reflect our God’s communal, familial nature more purely, as well as deeper mercy and healing for all those experiences that challenge our ability to love with His Mercy.