I spent last weekend with my family to celebrate the birthday of one of my sisters. This enjoyable gathering came between two weekends that we have called this year to celebrate the gift of life, support and encouragement which we Jesuits receive from our families.
Our first Jesuit family celebration was held in Sydney where around a hundred Jesuits and families gathered at St Aloysius’ College Milsons Point. We will meet at St Ignatius’ Church in Adelaide next weekend and then at Xavier College in Melbourne in early December.
While Ignatius did not use the word ‘family’ to describe our Jesuit company, he understood the sacrifice asked of a family if their son became a Jesuit. In a letter to one Jesuit’s mother he acknowledged the generous gift she had given in her son.
But he also recognised that some families can find it difficult to see this as a gift. He hoped that in time they would experience their son’s calling as a gift to themelves as well as to their son.
As I think of my own personal and also wider Jesuit ‘family’, and those moments that urge us to gather and celebrate, I hear an echo of the annual US holiday of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. This celebration originated as a harvest festival to thank God for the harvest on which families relied. Two hundred years later it remains an important occasion in the US for family gatherings.
In Australia, family gatherings are equally important. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day bring many families together. Within our many cultures we see many different and signficant ways families use to gather and celebrate.
For Christians, Christmas is a special time of thanksgiving for the gift of family. We are reminded of the gift of Jesus to our whole human family, enriching the life of his parents and of us all. The miracle of his birth, of every birth, recalls how great a gift our families are to us.
Our own sense of blessing and thanksgiving makes us aware that not all families will celebrate this Christmas with the joy that may mark our celebration. Many have experienced family loss in recent times. They include the Aboriginal community of Yuendumu, those who have lost life and property in the recent New South Wales and Queensland bushfires, and many others.
Many of these families, too, may come together at Christmas. We may pray that such gatherings nurture a hope that, though fragile, can remain visible when families gather. This is a deep and powerful hope that expresses love and unconditional care for family members who are most vulnerable at that time.
This time of the year that leads to Christmas offers many opportunites and events to remember the gift of our families. For Jesuits it allows us to express our gratitude to our own families who have always loved and supported us and who continue to do so.
Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial