One of the challenges of parish ministry can be being away from family during the holidays, especially Christmas. Given the nature of our ministry many of the holidays we associate with gathering with family, such as Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving are “work” days for us and it is often very difficult to join our families for these annual celebrations. This can be a cause for sadness, but often they are transformed into moments of joy due to the overwhelming love and support of our parishioners.
I am always astonished by the many expressions of care and concern as well as the numerous invitations we receive each Christmas to join various families in the parish for a Christmas meal. It is heartwarming to know that people care for us so much that they are willing to invite us into their own families for these special occasions.
We often speak in formation about how in the vow of celibacy, though we forgo a family of our own, we open ourselves so that we might be a part of a multitude of families. This sounded like a nice sentiment in the seminary, but it was my experience of Christmas at the parish where this sentiment took concrete form. This is an important reality in our lives as religious because so many see our commitment to celibacy as isolating, leading to loneliness and unhappiness. However it is precisely our vow of celibacy that opens ourselves to the love of so many. Yes celibacy certainly comes with its challenges and our commitment to ministry can call us away from our families at times, but it is also our vows and ministry that gifts us with so much, the allows us to share in the love of so many and truly be a member of many families.
Our life as Holy Cross religious does not call us to remove ourselves or to abandon our families and there are certainly plenty of opportunities to see our family members throughout the year. However there are times we do find ourselves far from our immediate family, but in those moments we are sustained by our community in Holy Cross and the love of the communities we serve. Rather than being isolating and restricting, our vows free us in a very real way to share ourselves with so many. Our commitment to the vowed life is not about giving up much, as many commonly believe, but rather about receiving so much from so many. Family is not something we give up when entering religious life, it is something we are blessed to accept in a whole new way.
Fr. Brian Ching, C.S.C., is associate pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in South Bend, Ind. He is originally from Flushing, N.Y., and is a graduate of Holy Cross High School. He entered seminary while a student at the University of Notre Dame. He professed Final Vows in 2012 and was ordained to the priesthood in 2013. Learn more about Holy Cross parish ministry here.