In the days of the great sailing ships, before the discovery of the compass, the old Portuguese sailors said, “The stars are there to guide us, but we will never reach them.”
That saying applies to today’s “Feast of the Holy Family”, that unique family. They are there to guide us, though we will never be fully like them.
As I grew up, I observed my mother in the kitchen and my father silent in the living room where we all did our homework. I took this as normal. Years later as I approached ordination, I knew there was something amiss and asked my father what it was about. Eventually, slowly, painfully he told me of an incident that had happened twenty years previously.
A young woman from rural Ireland helped with everything in our home – cooking, cleaning, getting us ready for school; it was called being “in service” in those days. When she was about to celebrate her 21st birthday, as she knew no place in Dublin to have a small party, she asked my mother if it would be possible to hold the party in our house? My mother, kind and generous, agreed but did not tell my father.
On the night of the party, she asked my father if they could “go to the pictures” together in the Theatre Royal. After the film and with the last tram gone, my mother – praying and playing for time – said that a taxi would be too expensive and so they walked the 4 miles home. On arrival, to my mother’s horror, the evidence of the party was visible – plates, bottles, crumbs and cakes – and the whole plot and deceit were revealed. The worst part of the story was that two of the party worked subordinate to my father and he felt his authority had been undermined and that he appeared to not be in charge of his own household.
My father told me all this as if it had just happened the day before; it came out painfully and slowly.
By a strange trick of childhood memory, I recalled when I was 6 years old, hearing loud voices arguing downstairs and got out of my bed and put my ear to the floor. The next day, I asked my mother, “Were you and Daddy fighting last night?” She passed it off saying “You know how your Daddy’s voice can be.” That was the night of the party.
They were a hard-working, dedicated couple with no extravagances, no drinking, smoking or physical abuse, and they fulfilled their religious duties individually. But that incident of twenty years earlier had imprisoned them both in silent cells. It wasn’t anything big like infidelity but the torture of a lack of communication and unloving silence.
Communication involves trust, openness and risk, in the possibility of rejection and reprisal.
On this Feast of the Holy Family, may family communication not be a star too far.