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viewpoint

Family traditions, divine love

| Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Each year in the final days before Christmas, my family travels to Kenwood Mall in Cincinnati so that my brothers and I can get our annual picture with Santa.

The casual observer might chuckle seeing three relatively grown-up boys entering a line filled with crying, excited and whiny youngsters, but we’ve gotten used to it. The tradition of this yearly picture has always meant a lot to my mom and served as our Christmas card, so we have kept it up. (As a side note, I think I have a greater understanding of how Dorothy must have felt when she entered Munchkinland.)

But our annual picture with Santa is just one of the many Boyle family Christmas traditions.

Ever since I can remember, we have attended Mass on Christmas Eve and enjoyed the same post-Mass feast: the annual Boyle family “Chip Buffet.” Our main course includes Doritos, Bugles, Mike-Sells, Simply Naked chips, Cheetos Puffs, along with Mom’s legendary chip-dip. We have salad and shrimp too, but those dishes are an afterthought compared with the main courses. I can’t remember the last time we actually had nutritious dinner on Christmas Eve.

We stuff ourselves to such a degree that we are too full to do much of anything after dinner.  Our bodies usually wave the white flag around 9 p.m., and it usually takes us about an hour to muster up the willpower to move from the couch.

Fortunately, this is all part of the plan. We go to bed early to give Santa and the reindeer the opportunity to get everything done before morning. But before we go to bed, we always make sure to leave a hospitable environment for our guests: cookies, milk and oats.

But while the days before Christmas are fun, nothing beats our Christmas Eve bedtime ritual. When we are home, my brother Steven and I share a bedroom. My mom, brother Kevin, dog Charlie and I all pile onto my single bed while my brother Steve listens from his own as my Mom reads us two classic Christmas stories: “Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree” and “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

I used to protest this particular Christmas tradition. I had tired of the stories and thought we were a little too old to be read to.

Despite my protests, my brothers insisted that we continue. Although I didn’t recognize it at first, I have come to realize that there was always something much deeper at work here, and it has very little to do with the stories themselves.

I understand now how often I take for granted what a gift it is to be able to gather together as a family. Each one of my family members is growing into his or her own path, paths that are increasingly taking us away from Cincinnati and from one another to other parts of the country and the world.

Yet each Dec. 24, all of that fades into the reality of the present. No matter where we have been, on that day we all gather together in the same place. There, in that small room with two beds, we gather to listen to the same stories we have always listened to.

Yes, the stories bring us together, but love causes us to stay. There, in that room, I look around and marvel at my family, the people who have been with me for my highest highs and my lowest lows. Truth be told, sometimes the stories get lost as I realize I am in the presence of the most important people in my life, those whose love has made me who I am.

St. Clare of Assisi wrote, “We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation.”

We must take care to continually guard against the dreary prophecy: “If we love nothing, we become nothing.” In the same way that God’s love shapes what he becomes in Christ, who and what we love shapes who we become as “imago Dei,” the hands and feet of Incarnate Christ to the world.

So, to become who God wants us to be as imago Dei, we must love one another. And this love begins with our families, friends and communities. It means taking time to gather together, to recognize how good it can be to slow down and to recognize that even the smallest and silliest of traditions can teach us the greatest lessons: there are people worth slowing down for.

And there, in that slowness, we will find love, God’s love, that we have been most longing for.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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