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The Holy Family, Holiday Movies, and Divorce

December 27, AD2015

CS-Holy Family_Pixabay
I need to quit watching Lifetime Network movies. Or TV. Or both. Okay not all of it, but probably two-thirds or more. This month the channel I mentioned is having a marathon, as they generally do, of “holiday movies.” As I said, some of them are really good. But the majority, not unexpectedly, do not share a Christ-centered idea, even in principle if not name, of what Christmas was created for in the first place

Christ in the Movies

One example is a particular story which used the Christmas star to point a family to Santa. I do not know about you, but somehow that strikes me as a bit upside down. Another made use of the sacred hymn “Silent Night,” and I thought to myself, at least they are bringing some piece of the message of Christ into the story. Not a chance. They were dancing to it in a bar. The list goes on and on, so I will get to the one line that struck me most and which leads into the heart of my topic today. In another of many cinematic debacles, a mother is seen telling her grown child the “true” meaning of Christmas. Jesus, of course. Right? Think again. The divorced daughter is trying to decide whether to give love another chance and the mother tells her that Christmas should show us that “everyone has a right to be happy.” To use an expression from the 1980s, “get the barf bag.”

So what does this have to do with the Holy Family, whose Feast we celebrate today? Layers upon layers of things, I would contend. Let me in full disclosure state that I am divorced myself, and this is not meant as an indictment on those who are. There are sometimes reasons that are extremely complex, and no judgment is aimed at anyone reading. St Joseph was even tempted to divorce the Blessed Mother when he found out that she, possibly, had been unfaithful to their betrothal. But he did not do so. Instead he listened to God through the angel, telling him that the Christ was to be extraordinarily born through her, and not to fear. Joseph then gave his own “fiat” to become the man who would be our Lord’s earthly father and our spiritual one as believers in that holy Child.

Divorce and Me

I was divorced in 1991. Before I returned to the Church a decade ago, or for that matter even had thought of Catholicism in my life again after so many years, I took a step that began to open the door to genuine peace between me and my former wife. It was to have been our twenty-fifth anniversary, and we had been apart at that time for exactly the same amount of time we had been married, which was just over twelve years. We had very little contact with one another over the years, not because we hated each other but just to avoid the deep pain and chasm which existed between two people who were once one. I do not suggest this is appropriate in all cases, but I sent her an anniversary card. In it I wrote a note telling her I was deeply sorry for the pain I knew she had been carrying, and asked for forgiveness for my part in the downfall of what had once been a good marriage. I told her I still, and always would, care for her. I had done something similar with her parents a few years earlier and never heard anything back from them, so I knew it might not bear any visible fruit. But I would only know if I tried.  Two full months later I received a response from her. She thanked me for the card, told me she forgave me, and that if I ever wished to be in touch again I was welcome to do so.

Healing of Hearts

Our marriage was not cured as such, but our hearts were beginning to mend on both sides.  Since that time we have been in touch probably every 1-2 months, either by letter or phone, and even met for, of all things, Holy Mass, as I had returned to the bosom of Rome by then. The woman she was renting with at that time was devoutly Catholic, though Shirley herself remains evangelical Protestant. Then we were out to a relaxed lunch and joyful afternoon of catching up after many years of not seeing one another. Her hair was now more grey than blonde, and my once-trim body was not so much thin and fit, but otherwise we were the same people who once had shared a life and ministry together. It was an extremely positive experience for us both.  It was an emotionally wrenching day, but one I hugely treasure.

Holiness over Happiness

I began to powerfully realize how much I had missed over those twelve years. My life was not the happier for it, although at first, for at time, it seemed to be. Somewhere around that time—I am not sure if it was before or after that remarkable meeting—I realized that I had never sacramentally confessed my divorce. Whatever my motives, I had sinned gravely in my quest for “happiness.” I had hurt her, both our families, and scores of others who had supported my ministry and listened to my sermons, homilies, and counsel. I had fractured and sabotaged the personal Holy Family that God had entrusted to me, and I could never again relive that period of time, of which I am now deeply ashamed. Anyone who thinks all of that makes a person happier is indeed living a delusion. Finally, through that beauteous sacrament, a burden I had carried for all those years was lifted, and replaced with hopefulness and healing.

The Holy Family shows us Christmas

Now back to the Holy Family itself, the real one, the one we celebrate today. St Joseph could have opted for his own temporal happiness, leaving Mary to fend for herself with what would seem to be a bastard child, but he didn’t. The Blessed Mother could have said “no thank you” to the angel Gabriel, but instead, she not only obeyed, but welcomed the baby who would one day soon make her the Mother of Sorrows. They faced the small town of Nazareth, its whispers and innuendos, and married as God had instructed them to do, even while Mary was pregnant. One can only wonder what kind of wedding dress she might have worn to conceal that fact. Frankly I do not think she even attempted to. Their family was intact, the domestic church was established, and that was their united gift, both to God, the community, and ultimately to the entire world. What part of that Christmas message are we missing today?

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Away from Rome for 35 years, Richard ran the gamut from married Assemblies of God minister to 15 years as an “LGBT” activist before seeing the non-gaiety of his former lifestyle and religious choices. He reconnected with the Church in 2005 and was confirmed at age 50 during the 2006 Easter Vigil. His story was first featured in This Rock/Catholic Answers magazine during 2008 and nationally shared on Gus Lloyd’s “Seize the Day” radio broadcast in 2009. Richard’s journey was later posted on the “Why I’m Catholic” website and remains one of their most visited conversion essays, and presented on Patrick Madrid's daily radio program in 2015. Besides Catholic Stand, he shares occasional pieces for Public Discourse, ChurchPOP, and manages his own blog to boot. His studies include 8 years of theology, divided evenly between Protestant and Catholic perspectives. Music is another of his passions, particularly classic jazz, blues early rock—and Gregorian Chant. He has worked in various facets of healthcare for nearly 40 years and is a 4th Degree Knight of Columbus. Richard resides in Minneapolis, MN and is a member of All Saints Catholic Church.

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  • JDM85

    Amazing soul-wrenching story, Richard. It gives me hope for some of the issues my own family continues to face.

  • Thank you for being honest about divorce and the pain involved as well as the sin. As you showed in your TV examples, too often divorce is treated as no big deal. My sister has been divorced, twice (she’s not Catholic) and it’s taken a toll on her. A toll she won’t acknowledge. It’s also taken a toll on her kids. At least they were old enough at the 1st divorce to tell her how it’s affected them. She’s in denial, but at least they feel free to speak their minds. They at least are not in denial and aren’t bottling it up.

    It is quite sad how the true meaning of Christmas has become so perverted, from the examples you gave. I’d have to say that that is worse than the commercialization. The commercialization ignores the soul and so people can seek the Lord who can truly fill the hole in their soul. But calling sin “good” is like calling cancer “good”: the afflicted don’t know their souls are being eaten away and are thus far more weakened and may not seek the One who can heal them… after all, they don’t know they need healing.

    • Thanks for those thoughts…you surely understand and God bless you in your journey.