This reflection was first published in 2020
Grandmaman was dying. Driving through our small town running Christmas errands that Saturday morning, I held her in my mind and I prayed. As I passed twinkling lights, Santa displays, and garland-framed doorways, I gave thanks to God for her life and asked Mary to be with her. I thought of her where she lay breathing slow, shallow breaths, in her bed in her room, just a few hours north in Montreal. She was so close, and yet also impossibly far away as border closings and coronavirus restrictions kept us from going to her.
Grandmaman was not dying from coronavirus. She’d made a full recovery from that a month earlier. At the age of 98, she astounded doctors, nurses, and all of us when the color came back into her cheeks and she sat up, eating, laughing, and talking about the weather.
My parents and my siblings and I kept a prayer vigil for Grandmaman in her final days, just as we had prayed for her many times before. Just as she has always prayed for us. Grandmaman worked hard to raise her children in the Catholic faith. I am forever indebted to her for the faith she shared with my mother, who in turn shared it with me, and I now share with my own children. For this is what happens in a family.
The feast of the Holy Family reminds us of the priceless gift of a family. Jesus could have come to earth as a full-grown man and gotten right down to the important business of teaching and preaching. But he didn’t do that. Jesus came to us as a tiny infant. Jesus came to us in a family.
Every year the feast of the Holy Family is a reminder for me to pause and be deliberately grateful for the gift of the good family I was blessed to be born into, going back for generations, and for the gift of the good family my husband and I are working now to raise.
Our families are meant to be domestic churches — everyday places where we can meet and know and learn about God. Where we can find out who we are and who God calls us to be as we struggle to love and serve one another. In a family, we pray one another through the joys and challenges of everyday life. This is the example we see in the Holy Family, and what I see in my grandmother’s example, my mother’s example, and that I now strive to live out in my own motherhood.
Elizabeth Ann Seton knew the gift of a family, and she also knew the pain of loss we sometimes experience within family life. She lost her mother at a young age, faced the challenge of losing her husband as a young woman, and then two of her daughters died from illness as well. Through it all, she remained steadfast in her faith and in her determination to share that faith with future generations — her own children, her sisters in religious life, and the students in the school she founded. Her maternal love reached beyond her immediate family, multiplied, and blessed the world at large.
For inspiration in my own family life, I look to the generous examples of Mary, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, my mother, and my grandmother. These strong women of faith show me the power of prayer. They set for me an example of abiding faith and show me what a beautiful gift our lives can be when we pour ourselves out in generous love for the people God entrusts to us. And most importantly, they show me that all of this happens inside of a family. Some of the greatest work we ever do is in the everyday living out of our faith, loving others inside the walls of a home, in the heart of a family.
Gabrielle Noel de Tilly Gosselin died peacefully on a Sunday morning. She breathed her last while her daughter, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren were at Mass, just hours and yet a world away, praying for her. And still we pray now. We pray in thanksgiving for the gift of her life, we praise God for the ways he blessed us through her hard work and good example, and we ask God to bring her into everlasting life.
I’ve been keeping a photo of Grandmaman near the Nativity set in the living room. May the Holy Family guide us and inspire us toward greater heights of holiness and faithfulness as we follow the examples of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. May we remember the sacredness of the family, and may we all be good and faithful servants — to God and to one another — to the end.
DANIELLE BEAN is a writer and popular speaker on Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. She is the former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest, and the author of several books for women including Momnipotent,You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.
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