Thanksgiving is over. Hopefully we all had a pleasant time and remembered to keep being thankful for all of the blessings God has placed in our lives. But, if there is any truth at all in the stereotype presented to us by our culture, we may be at least partly relieved that Thanksgiving is over. Don’t we sometimes find it difficult to be thankful for the people with whom we spent our Thanksgiving holiday—our family? Of course, we all love family. But often enough there is one family member or another whom we would rather love at a distance. Even those closest to us or with whom we have the most in common might have that one little quirk that drives us crazy.
A similar phenomenon takes place in religious life. After a little more than a year of formation as a Dominican, I have often heard the comment made about life as a religious: you don’t get to pick your brothers. But, we also claim that our way of life as Dominicans is a gift from God. And this includes our brothers. God gave me these brothers, not the imaginary perfect ones that I may have dreamed of before I entered the Order. And as difficult as I can be, he gave me to them. Family, whether from birth or from religious life, can be easily idealized from a distance, but when we sit down to the table and see each other up close (warts and all), that becomes the time when by God’s grace Christian charity can really be put into practice.
I am reminded of a quote from G. K. Chesterton’s Heretics: “We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbor….The old scriptural language showed so sharp a wisdom when [it] spoke, not of one’s duty towards humanity, but one’s duty towards one’s neighbor. The duty towards humanity may often take the form of some choice which is personal or even pleasurable….But we have to love our neighbor because he is there—a much more alarming reason for a much more serious operation. He is the sample of humanity which is actually given us” (Ch. 14). Just like our “neighbor,” God chose our family for his own inscrutable purpose. At times we easily find joy in them. At times they make us crazy, but they are always in our lives because God put them there.
A similar reflection occurs to me in light of the Solemnity of Christ the King, which we recently celebrated, and the Nativity of our Lord, for which we will soon begin preparations in the season of Advent. At the beginning of Christ’s earthly life, he is greeted by a rather motley group: neither the shepherds nor the magi (who become more acceptable when we render them as “kings”) would have been welcome company for an upstanding first century Jew. But these are the ones whom God picked and whom God placed in the lives of the Holy Family. Likewise, when Christ the King returns, it will not be the people whom I have chosen but the people whom he has chosen with whom I may be sharing the heavenly thanksgiving feast. Of course, they will be purified and perfected and thankfully, for the sake of us all, so will I. But I suspect I will be happier and holier if I begin living in gratitude now for God’s gift of family whether biological, religious, or Christian: the particular beautiful and strange people whom he has chosen to put in my life, for his glory and my sanctification.
Image: Norman Rockwell, Going and Coming