A good time to re-discover what our families mean to us

By Rev. Jack Ahern

The following homily was given at Mass in St. Gregory’s Church on Sun., Dec. 30:

A few weeks ago, we said goodbye to actress and comedienne Penny Marshall. Most of us remember her from her role in the television comedy “Laverne & Shirley,” but Marshall was also the director of several critically acclaimed movies, including 1992’s “A League of Their Own,” the story of the women’s professional baseball league that played during WWII that gave us the iconic line, “There’s no crying in baseball!”
But there’s another memorable and insightful moment in the film. The Rockford Peaches are on the verge of the championship when their star catcher ,Dottie Hinson (played by Geena Davis), wants to return home to be with her husband, who has returned from the war badly injured. The Peaches’ manager, Jimmy Duggan (Tom Hanks) confronts Dottie:

“I thought you were a ballplayer,” he sneers. “It just got too hard,” Dottie replies.

And Duggan delivers the line that keeps Dottie in the game: “It’s supposed to be hard,” he says. “If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The ‘hard’ is what makes it great!”

Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we also are invited to ponder the importance of family in our lives. And if the truth be told, being family isn’t always easy. At times it is hard. But the “hard” is what makes it great.

To be sure, some of the happiest moments of our lives are celebrated within families; birthdays, holidays, graduations, weddings, births, and more. But there are also moment of pain, doubt, and despair. There are events in every family that challenge us to the core: battles with addiction, a child being bullied in school or a teen in an abusive relationship, a loss of a job, serious illness, separations, divorce, and many more.

Hard stuff – but you deal with them.  Somehow you find a strength you never imagined possessing.  And once you got beyond the hurt, the anger, the sense of betrayal, you realized how important each member of the family was to you, how much you needed one another and could depend on one another, how much you loved one another.  

And you were ready to do anything - anything! - to keep your family together. You discovered the grace of God in your midst.

It is clear that Jesus’s and Mary’s and Joseph’s struggle as a family was filled with heartache, fear, misunderstanding and doubt, but together they created a family of love and compassion, of nurture and acceptance.  

Within our families, we, too, experience together the heights of joy and the depths of pain; but always, within our families, the love of God comes alive – love that is selfless, limitless and unconditional, both in good times and (especially) in difficult times.

As we gather with our families this Christmas season, may we re-discover our families as harbors of forgiveness and understanding and safe places of unconditional love, welcome, and acceptance.