Americans spend quite a bit of time with their extended families. This makes it a perfect time to practice the spiritual works of mercy. Father Luis Granados, is an associate professor at St. John Vianney Seminary, and a member of the Disciples of the Heart of Jesus and Mary, the order that runs St. Mary’s Parish in Littleton, gave us some practical tips.
Praying for the living and the dead
Father Granados recommended the family gather and pray for all those who have died during the year, espcially members of their own family.
“There can be a moment when you gather and you realize who is missing. That’s a beautiful time to offer Masses for the dead,” Father Granados said.
Comfort the afflicted
“The afflicted during Christmas are the lonely. They don’t have anyone to celebrate with. It would be great if the family invites the lonely to their home,” Father Granados said. “Go to a nursing home. Bring some joy to those who are alone and elderly.”
Willingly forgive offenses
It can be easy to try and save this for big hurts, but it can be just as important during the little offenses that crop up whenever a bunch of people with blood ties spend several days in a house together.
“The family is together, which is great, but it can also awaken all those past offenses,” Father Granados said. “Christmas is the day of forgiveness because it was the moment when Mercy came into the world. So pray for that person, and pray that you may forgive.”
He also said that one may feel hurt by the other person for a long time, but the grace comes in choosing to forgive.
“Forgiveness is a path. The ‘willingly’ is the point. It’s saying you want to forgive,” Father Granados said.
To bear wrongs patiently
Again, while being around family is a beautiful thing, there can be many little (or even big) moments in which one feels wronged. Father Granados recommends frequently turning to Jesus and Mary, and to say small prayers to them, especially during the first flash of anger.
“Invoke the name of Jesus… Say simple prayers like ‘Jesus, remember me’ or ‘Jesus, help me be patient’,” Father Granados said.
Father Granados warned about misunderstanding this work of mercy, which should be seen as fraternal correction, with an emphasis on fraternal.
The thing to with family is that you are playing a long game. Instead of trying to correct everything that a fallen-away family member has done, try listening to them. Build the relationship. Then, Father Granados recommends inviting them to come to Confession with you.
“I think it’s more fruitful to go together,” Father Granados said. “In this case you’re not just admonishing, but inviting.”
Counsel the doubtful
Again, this one can be easy to misunderstand. Father Granados recommends not lecturing family members on aspects of the faith they may not understand or not be practicing, but to instead spend time together and open a space for dialogue, and especially the questions they have.
“Build the relationship and open a space. Jesus really listened and focused on what [people] were saying. Then after all that, he counseled,” Father Granados said.
Instructing the ignorant
Father Granados said that it is ultimately the parent’s job to make sure children understand the importance of Advent. He recommended that parents spend time explaining who is coming at the end of Advent.
He also recommended that the family incorporate a few traditional Advent liturgical year practices. For example, there are traditional hymns, called the “O Antiphons” that can easily be found on Youtube. These songs anticipate Jesus’ arrival and build up to Christmas day, and are a part of evening prayer for every priest and religious during this time in Advent. The first letter of each O Antiphon forms an acrostic, spelling out Ero cras, or, “tomorrow I come”.
“The heart of Mary is preparing this. She is saying all of this. The wisdom who created everything is here,” Father Granados said.