Each year since 2010, my early summer schedule has followed almost exactly the same pattern: graduation weekend, a week of administrative wrap-up, our University of Portland Holy Cross community retreat, about a week at home in Chicago with my family, and then “baby priest camp.” That time in Chicago is something that I especially look forward to and enjoy. As much as I appreciate Portland, Chicago has its own particular charm for me; I even still kind of like the hotter, more humid weather that I grew up with (especially since the really intense days are still usually a few weeks away).
Most of all, though, I am just happy to spend the time with my family. I have fun playing with my two nieces and seeing how they’re growing up. I love catching up in person with my two sisters and brother-in-law, who are still my best friends. I really appreciate walks through the neighborhood with my dad and interesting conversations with my mom about politics, culture and religion. I even value the arguments.
The arguments? Yes, the arguments that inevitably occur when I’m back home with my family. The day-to-day life of a priest – or at least of this priest — is largely free from confrontation. Folks seem to respect the priesthood so much, that I’ll go months without anyone at work or in ministry settings arguing with me or contradicting me, even when I suspect that someone disagrees with me pretty strongly; when I wear my clerics in the airport, even the TSA agents treat me nicely!
While life within our Holy Cross community can include disagreements about issues, real arguments are pretty rare. Although all of this tranquility is fine, it can tempt me into believing something pretty dangerous: that I have become holy. I can be fooled into imagining that my life has become so peaceful because I am so easy to get along with, so kind, so loving, so peaceful in myself. However, when the members of my family — who have known me my whole life, who don’t think of me primarily as “father,” who know they can argue with me without long-term repercussions – help to keep me grounded in the reality of my own humanity and my own daily need for forgiveness.
In looking at the Gospels, I have been startled by the fact that almost every single encounter between Jesus and His family, even with the Blessed Mother, involves subtle or not-so-subtle confrontation (Luke 2:48-51, John 2:1-12, John 7:1-8, Mark 3:31-34). These are not really like Jesus’ confrontations with the Pharisees or even with His disciples; for one thing, these episodes often end with Jesus giving in! Apparently, in some mysterious way, the Son of God benefitted from these interactions. It should come as no surprise to me, then, that I who am a sinner experience these family arguments as a blessing in my life, as occasions of grace and truth.
Fr. Charlie McCoy, C.S.C., is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Portland. He is a monthly contributor to the Spes Unica blog, reflecting primarily on the work of Holy Cross in education. Learn more about the work of Holy Cross priests and brothers in the field of education to bring hope to the Church and world.