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(LifeSiteNews) — Five years ago, the joy of Christmas that I experienced was rarely tainted by sorrow. I was surrounded by a large, very close-knit family, most of whom were practicing Catholics. We shared faith and love, and it was as perfect as Christmas could be.  

Every little tradition was grounded in faith and family—Christmas Eve Mass before gathering to celebrate Christ’s birth, driving around northern Virginia in the fifteen-passenger van with Christmas carols on the radio, carefully placing Baby Jesus in the nativity on the mantlepiece—we were never apart and there was no serious division among the family. 

In recent years, though, the once picture-perfect Catholic family Christmas has become much more complicated. Grandchildren have started growing up, deciding for ourselves whether or not to follow the faith. The division isn’t always obvious, but there is greater disagreement over matters of faith and morality. Those who were once inseparable have drifted apart amid the trials that life brings. 

Then we entered a time of grief as several beloved family members died, leaving the once purely joyful solemnity with a sense of sorrow. At first, this felt like a complete overshadowing of the peace and joy we celebrate at Christmas. But then, slowly, the pain of having lost loved ones was eased by the recognition of the gift that they gave me and our entire family during their lives on earth: the Catholic faith. 

Rather than dwell on how much it hurts to be without someone, I began learning to appreciate the example of faith that my family members have shown. The grandmother who died before I was born passed the faith along to my father, who has passed it on to me. And the grandfather we lost last year had integrated his faith into daily life so beautifully that he couldn’t have a conversation without tying in Catholicism. Even my two beloved siblings who never lived outside our mother’s womb have taught me how to trust that God will comfort even the most devastated souls.  

Sometimes the agony of having lost someone and the realization that my life will never be the same overshadows the witness that they gave. But the losses have all led me to understand the critical importance of family in sharing the faith we celebrate at Christmas. 

Jesus was born into and raised by a family. His parents worried and suffered when he did. They also raised Him in faith. Jesus, too, mourned the death of His loved one, Lazarus. The story of the Holy Family is a witness of hope, peace, joy, and love. But it is also filled with suffering. I didn’t realize it for many years, but to be a part of a family is to enter into suffering. And to enter into suffering is to partake in the carrying of the cross, which Christ was born to do for each of us. As much as family loss hurts, it is a beautiful reminder of what the Holy Family experienced and why the Savior came to us as a baby. 

As another Christmas approaches without my departed loved ones, I am grateful for the gifts of family and faith, which those who have gone before taught me every day of their lives. The sorrow of never meeting my grandmother again in this life is replaced by the hope that we will meet someday in Heaven. Although I won’t hear my dear grandpa tell his nine children and 28 grandchildren to “keep the faith” on Christmas Eve, I will follow his advice. And seeing the ornaments on the Christmas tree which hang in loving memory of my unborn brother and sister will turn me towards the reason for all of the hope and joy, and the one who makes the suffering worth enduring: Baby Jesus.