By Mike, Founder
It doesn’t happen all by itself. In fact, if I’m not careful, it can be a real mess. Each year, I must prepare myself for Christmas. By this I mean, I must prepare my heart. I have experienced calm, peaceful joyous wonderment in my family relationships, with my friends, at our parish activities this time of year and at work. For me, the Advent and Christmas season are another opportunity for peace in my heart. Some years I have experienced this peace, and other years, despite my best intentions, I have not.
In the simplest of terms, it is natural to recall memories of our youth at Christmastime. In my family, each Christmas Eve, we would give one gift to each other. This was like a little teaser gift, knowing there would be more gifts on Christmas morning. My brother, sister and I really looked forward to this tradition. We speculated about the packages under the tree from our out-of-town family, and we spent time talking and giggling together, wondering what was in each box. On Christmas morning, I always woke up first. I snuck past my parent’s bedroom hoping the floor wouldn’t creak as I went by. I sat upon the stairs gazing at the beautiful tree with so many presents underneath. I just sat there enjoying the view. Eventually, I would wake up my brother and sister and we would go downstairs together. Soon after that my parents would come down and we would begin celebrating Christmas with each other. I consider this to be a joyous, innocent and loving time in our family, and now that I am older, I cherish these, and many other, family memories.
I have other memories of my youth that I naturally recall at this time of year as well. These memories are clouded by the childhood sexual abuse imposed upon me by a dear friend to my parents, and the ways that abuse affected me and how all of that disrupted my family relationships. For many years at Christmas, our family suffered terrible dysfunction and difficulty. Each of my siblings seemed angry, and no one knew why. Eventually, after we gave gifts to one another, we would end up alone and isolated in our rooms. Even my parents, whom I love dearly, seemed distant and quiet during these years. It was not the same Christmas it used to be.
We didn’t know until years later that my parent’s dear friend, our Catholic priest at the time, had built up and driven a wedge into the heart of our family. He had sexually abused me for years, betrayed the sincere love and friendship of my parents and disrupted our family forever. Now, I want to reclaim what was lost as we uncover the truth of the abuse and how that abuse has affected not only me, but each member of my family. I want to return to the joy, innocence and love we all had. The clouded memories of the times we felt isolated from one another and the joyous and happy memories of a better time all come together during this time of year. The juxtaposition of those memories and all of the related emotional content is difficult for me to reconcile.
Understanding this on-going difficulty, and knowing I sincerely strive for the most holy and joyous Advent and Christmas season for myself and my family, I must prepare my heart. This year, I feel at ease as I prepare. Recently, I was given a great gift by my sister. This is no ordinary gift that fits in a box, but this gift helps me recall the joy, innocence and love of a better time in our family. My sister and my brother-in-law attended the Mass of Hope and Healing in the Bridgeport, CT diocese. This is a Mass which promotes healing for victims-survivors of childhood sexual abuse and their families. She has been aware of my own participation in the annual Mass of Hope and Healing held in the Archdiocese of Chicago each year. My sister and I don’t get to see each other too often. She went to this Mass to make a connection with me. What a wonderful gift!! With that connection, both of us can reconcile ourselves to certain painful family memories now knowing it wasn’t faulty family relationships that was the problem, but it was a manipulative man who betrayed my parents trust, abused me and broke our family bonds.
This year, Advent begins November 27. My heart is in a good place right now. I have had a good year as I continue to strive to live a full, complete and healthy life despite the abuse I endured. No longer holding back years of my life from my family and friends, I now feel free to be myself. I am thankful my family has responded to my efforts to heal. I am grateful to my sister and brother-in-law for being open to participating in a Mass which must have been difficult for them to walk through the doors of the church. With this renewed freedom, I am comfortable opening up my heart to be filled with the hope of renewal in Christ Jesus this Christmas. I hope to reclaim some of that simple joy I experienced as a boy on a staircase trusting my family would gather in love for His arrival.