By Barb Arland-Fye
The edge in my younger son Patrick’s voice as he responded to persistent questions from his older brother Colin, who has autism, signaled a storm brewing. I gave in to the mood and the storm broke loose. It happened the day after Christmas, just as our family prepared to enjoy dinner together.
We planned to pray the “Meal Prayer for the Feast of the Holy Family” from the Christmas Meal Prayers that diocesan households received as a gift from the Diocese of Davenport. We were too preoccupied to say that prayer because Patrick left abruptly, saying he was going back to his apartment, a 30-minute drive away.
At that moment, we were not feeling the peace, joy and love of the holy season of Christmas. We said the Catholic Grace Prayer before meals, and ate quietly. Colin was in tears, worrying about his brother’s unexpected departure, and ate about two bites of his dinner.
I reflected on the role of the family as the domestic church, the Gospel reading about the Holy Family, and Catholic teaching that refers to the nurturing role of the family in building up society and the greater church. Within the family, “one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous — even repeated forgiveness — and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1657).
We called Patrick later that evening to make sure everything was OK, but feelings were too raw at that moment to ask for and receive forgiveness. The following week, God provided another opportunity to work on fraternal love. Colin receives life skills assistance at his apartment in the late afternoon and evening. An unexpected staff switch left him feeling anxious and a bit weepy as we prepared for another Sunday evening dinner at our house.
Miracle of miracles! Patrick, my husband and I had an opportunity, one-on-one, to guide Colin through his anxiety. From another room, I could hear Patrick talking in a calm voice with his older brother. Steve did the same, during his one-on-one with Colin. Later, I found Colin in the basement with the TV on, still looking sad. When I asked him why he was sitting alone in the basement, he said, “I needed some space to myself.” We talked about his worries and I assured him that everything would be OK. After hearing that same message from each of the members of his beloved “Fye Family,” Colin was at peace.
In family life, Pope Francis says, “Love does not yield to resentment, scorn for others or the desire to hurt or to gain some advantage. The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up” (“The Joy of Love,” No. 119).
Father Ron Rolheiser’s column in this week’s Catholic Messenger features a list of 10 books that resonated with him in the year 2020. “The Four Things that Matter Most” by Ira Byock is one of the books. Father Rolheiser writes that “the four most important things you will ever say are: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.” Another nudge from God, to let me know that family life is not perfect but always a work in progress.
These four most important things can guide us on the journey in our family, and hopefully, in our hurting country.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)