Growing up in a large Catholic family, the story of Jesus’ birth was always an integral part of our family’s many traditions. I vividly recall the story of young Mary and Joseph journeying by donkey to the town of Joseph’s ancestors, only to be sent on their way because “there was no room at the inn.” A bit later in their saga, the Holy Family found themselves once again on the road, cradling their young son, whose life was being threatened by King Herod and the Roman occupation forces. This time, they fled not to a distant city, but to a completely different country, seeking shelter and safety in Egypt.
The story of the wandering, homeless Holy Family became such a part of our many Christmas traditions that it lost its heartbreaking poignancy for much of my childhood. In fact, I wonder if as a child I was ever able to truly grasp the harsh reality of that seemingly sweet and sentimental Christmas story.
Yet, I was drawn in by the joy. That joy was confirmed by the witness of the military chaplain who celebrated Mass every Sunday. This priest was so full of the joy of the Lord, his witness of joy celebrating the Mass drew me into my own faith as a young girl. As I entered my teen years, I had such a strong love for Jesus that I tried to attend Mass even daily. Yet, there came a moment when my faith was shaken, and I began to struggle along a path that led me away from my home in the Church.
At the age of nineteen, as an unwed mother, I was pregnant with my first child. The Jesus story took on a new meaning. I often thought of Mary and her own teenage pregnancy: she was betrothed but not married, navigating circumstances quite beyond socially acceptable norms. Yet she trusted the message of an angel with a firm faith in God.
The touchpoints of Jesus’ life story and my own continued. Several years later, after a difficult marriage, I found myself a single mother yet again, now with six young children. By the grace of God, our little family became the recipients of generous donations of clothing and food from complete strangers! To this day, I do not know who left bags and boxes of items at my doorstep; but I do know that, through the help of others, Jesus was caring “for the widows and the orphans” (James 1:27). Jesus had come to show us the way home—back to his Church—and I was witnessing the love of God in action. I vowed that someday I, too, might be able “to repay the Lord for all the good he has done for me” (Ps 116:12). I experienced a deep gratitude for the help given freely to my young family, and my heart began to soften. As I participated in Mass with renewed fervor, I heard the same familiar words with new ears and saw the same familiar things with new eyes. When I received the Eucharist, I knew Jesus was with me and in me, and believed he was working around me! I came to realize that the love of God, shown to me by complete strangers, had healed me in broken places that I didn’t even know were broken—their love had led me home! I wanted to share the blessings of my faith and my resources with others.
The most recent opportunity presented itself because of the war in Ukraine. Several people in our parish felt compelled to sponsor a family under the Uniting for Ukraine program. This family was like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fleeing into Egypt. They lost everything in the bombing by occupying forces and had fled to a foreign country for safety. The members of our parish’s Welcome Circle opened our hearts and our treasuries and found housing, clothing, groceries, and transportation for this family. Uniting as Welcome Circle members has brought us all closer together as a parish family, on a mission with a shared goal. Friendships have developed as a result—both among parishioners and with the beautiful family we sponsor. And I have to say that as Christians, there is a deep satisfaction in knowing that together, we have striven to “do something beautiful for God,” as Mother Teresa would say. We are really living Eucharistic lives.
I never imagined all those years ago that my wanderings would be redirected by the hands of providence not only for me to come home, but also to welcome others home, too! It has been so incredible to experience the humble satisfaction of having helped our own “holy family” from Ukraine find a new place in the world. I am grateful to have been part of something so good, true, and beautiful: to have been given the opportunity to do what Jesus would have done. Our parish family has truly put our faith into action and “our boots on the ground.” Now, each time I participate in the Eucharistic prayer as the priest celebrates Mass, I have an ever-deepening understanding of the words: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere, to give you thanks, O Lord!”
For more information on the USCCB’s Welcome Circle Program, please visit usccb.org/welcomecircles and sign up for an information session.