Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
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Family Life and Relationships
Father Tim Lemlin
A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year old grandson. The old man's hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered. The family ate together at the table. But the elderly grandfather's shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth. The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. "We must do something about Grandfather," said the son. "I've had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor."

So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner. Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl. When the family glanced in Grandfather's direction, sometime he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food. The four-year-old watched it all in silence.

One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, "What are you making?"

Just as sweetly, the boy responded, "Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up."

The four-year-old smiled and went back to work.

The words so struck the parents that they were speechless. Then tears started to stream down their cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done. That evening the husband took Grandfather's hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.

Often I hear people say, "If I knew then what I know now . . ." I hear it from married couples. I hear it from religious. I hear it from priests. I even hear myself saying it. The truth is, we can never fully anticipate what will result from the choices that we make. Surprise is an integral part of our lives. Where surprise is eliminated, so also is life.

Surprise usually brings about change. Some change is gradual. Some is immediate. Change, in many people's minds, is painful. It's frightening and to be put off for as long as possible.

In each walk of life surprises are waiting to happen. Some are welcomed, others we disdain. Four years after being ordained I became disillusioned with the priesthood. It wasn't the way of life I had expected and anticipated. Rectory living was stressful. I discovered that I used more energy trying to live in the same house with other priests than I did ministering to the needs of people. I also discovered that I couldn't fix everything - most things. It dawned upon me that I was not the savior of the world, nor did I have the same charisma that others had.

It has been years since that first disillusionment and I am still twinged by disappointment. I am also deeply grateful that it did happen. The suffering that resulted from being disillusioned also brought about surprising changes, opening my eyes to see more clearly and my heart to love more compassionately.

The couple in our opening story lived in the illusion that they would never become like the grandfather. Their son's actions and words surprised them - changed them - enabling them to see more clearly.

Family life and relationships, though positive and necessary, can also be the cause for illusion - a way of seeing life that is biased. God can and does surprise us. Most of us resist being surprised. We don't like it. The stress and tension isn't appreciated. Yet, it is only through these surprises that we gain the freedom to become more than our illusions would ever allow us.