Support us on Paypal
Contact Us
Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Love the Ones You're Given

Robert Barron - Love the Ones You're Given

Robert Barron - Love the Ones You're Given
TOPICS: Love, Family

Peace be with you. Friends, on this Feast of the Holy Family, so it's the very day after Christmas, I'm aware that we've all probably been with our families very recently, our immediate families, our extended families. And I want to tell you about a member of my extended family. It has always caused me to reflect on things more spiritually and theologically talking about my Uncle Tommy. Uncle Tommy was my father's older brother, though he outlived my father by many years, and Uncle Tommy was in the Second World War, he must have been in his early twenties in those days, and he was sent over to England and then over to Europe, and in 1944, in that winter of '44, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

Anyway, he comes home from the war, and probably today we would say he was suffering from post-traumatic stress or we'd have some way to diagnose what it was, but whatever happened to him over there affected him very negatively. And Uncle Tommy just had a difficult time when he got home; couldn't hold a job, he got several different jobs and never had them for very long, fell into conflict or he was afraid to go to work or whatever. He never married, so he couldn't really get his personal life quite in order. And he was probably looked upon by a lot of members of his own generation as, well, poor Tommy, poor Tommy. Well, I'll tell you though, we kids loved him.

So, as his siblings had kids, me and my cousins, we would gather at grandma's house for all the great events. And the adults were all there and they were, of course, good to us. But Tommy was especially our friend. He would play football with us. I have very vivid memories of playing football on the street in front of my grandmother's house and Tommy acting as the coach and the quarterback, and I learned a lot of sports as a kid from him. I remember going to Angel Guardian Orphanage, Chicagoans know what I'm talking about, and racing with him around the track. I remember playing basketball with him as a kid. The other great gift that my Uncle Tommy had was, I'm all Irish, both sides of my family and he was like uber-Irish, had the Irish gift of storytelling and of jokes and humor.

We just died laughing as he would tell us these marvelous stories, which he found very amusing, and often I think we laughed more at his laughter. Anyway, he was marvelous, raconteur, and he would tell us the stories, he'd play sports with us, and he was just a great friend. I think what happened to a lot of us cousins as we got older, we found that maybe we had kind of outgrown Uncle Tommy, and then we began to move on with our lives and so on. He lived with my grandmother, and she lived to be quite an old lady. When she died, Uncle Tommy was kind of lost, and we got him an apartment, and he would stay there for a time, but then he'd drink too much or he would lose the place or whatever. It just was difficult to keep him kind of in one piece.

So anyway, years go by, and he hung in there, and he was a churchgoer. He was a man who took in from his parents a deep Catholic faith and practiced it. Anyway, he becomes eventually a fairly old man and it was just, how should I put it, kind of difficult for different reasons for Tommy to come to the family gatherings. So my brother and I conspired to bring him to my brother's house on Christmas Eve, or maybe a couple days before Christmas, to have a special dinner with him. So my job in those days was to get him at his apartment, which is always a little bit challenging, and then bring him to my brother's and then bring them back.

Now, this is December 23rd, December 24th in Chicago. So usually it was miserable weather and snow and ice, and so I'd drive down to uncle Tommy's apartment and I would find him there and get him in the car. And by this time he was pretty much deaf. We thought he could hear maybe a bit selectively, but he was pretty bad. And so we'd have these conversations in the car, and he was very attentive, in kind of a beautiful way, to the careers of his nieces and nephews. He followed what we were doing. And my brother during those years was really climbing the ladder in his chosen profession, which was the newspaper business. He was the reporter, then editor, and then editor in chief of a certain section. Then finally he became editor in chief of one of the big papers in Chicago.

So he was really making his moves. So I'd be in the car with Uncle Tommy driving him and he'd say, "Well, Johnny is doing really well". And I'd say, "Yeah". "What"? "Yes, Johnny is doing well". Then it'd be a pause and he'd say, "And you're still just a priest"? "Yeah, still just a priest". "What"? "Yes, I'm still just a priest". So that was sort of the nature of the conversation with Uncle Tommy. We get to my brother's house, and I remember this very vividly. It was beautiful. He had a big bag, like a plastic bag or a garbage bag. It was filled with, I don't know where he got these things, toys and clothes for my brother's kids, who were very young at the time.

And he'd come in the house, literally like Santa Claus with a bag over his shoulder, and open it up. I think my brother and sister-in-law would kind of take a careful look at what exactly was in that bag before the kids would play with it. But they loved him too. The same way we did when we were their age. They sensed even in this old man who's deaf and very compromised, they recognized this sort of loving spirit in him. Uncle Tommy died on New Year's Day. I think it was the year 2002, so I want to say almost exactly twenty years ago. And there's something poignant about the way he died, because even with all his struggles and all his difficulties, he was a churchgoer, as I said, and he would go to Mass typically every day. He would walk from his apartment to church.

And he was walking to Mass on New Year's Day, and he was stone deaf, so he didn't hear traffic very well, and he was struck by a car as he was on his way to church. And here's one of the great ironies. He was struck by a rabbi who was on his way to his church service. And he died. That's how Tommy died. And so we all just were caught up in some of the irony and some way the poignancy and beauty of his death. And I remember preaching at his funeral, and I said, "Well, Tommy was always disappointed that I was still just a priest". So I said, "If I become a monsignor in the next couple weeks, we know that he's in heaven".

Anyway, why did I tell you this story about Uncle Tommy? Because I'd be willing to bet, almost everybody listening to me has got someone in your family like Uncle Tommy. I bet everyone's got someone who's maybe not completely put-together, someone whose life kind of got off the rails at a certain point, someone who doesn't quite fit in, maybe is a little bit eccentric. And you probably spent some time with them just in the last couple of days. What do families teach us? One lesson, I think, is, we don't always get to choose the people we love, but we're given people that we're then called upon to love.

So there were lots of people in my family, my extended family, who were very lovable, who had nothing but good qualities and were easy to spend time with. There was someone like Uncle Tommy, who did have marvelous qualities, who was a dear friend to us, especially when we were kids, but it was also, I don't know, kind of a difficult personality. Maybe be pretty easy to say, "Ah, you know, Tommy, I'm not going to deal with him". But I think God, through our families, is giving us the people he wants us to love, and part of what makes our families holy is that we have this capacity, that we cultivate this capacity of love, not just the people that we like, that we have chosen to be with, but the people whom God has given us to love.

Here's something else, a second spiritual lesson I'll take from the Uncle Tommy story. So our family had this kind of wonderful, quirky, eccentric figure, Uncle Tommy, part of our extended family. When the Word became flesh, when God became human, God entered into a family. Now, the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, two of the greatest, most sublime saints in our entire tradition. Yes. Yes. They were the most intimate members of his immediate family. Do you ever wonder though, what were the Virgin Mary's cousins like? What were her second cousins like? I'd be willing to bet, there were some eccentric figures among those people.

The Blessed Mother, I mean of course, but her second and third cousins, the people that might show up at family gatherings, I bet there were a few odd, quirky figures. How about Joseph's side of the family? Did Joseph have an eccentric uncle or a great uncle or cousin or a nephew? Did Jesus have cousins who were maybe a little bit difficult to be with? They didn't quite know what to do with them? Yeah. In fact, go into those great genealogies in the Gospels that tell the story of Jesus' extended family going back in time. Are there heroes? Yes, indeed. But are there a lot of shady characters too? You bet. A lot of questionable figures? Absolutely.

And here's the point, everybody, my second spiritual lesson: God saw fit to enter into just such a family. God saw fit to enter into this intimate connection, yes, with the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, but also all these other people that were connected to them. All these different relatives, all these quirky members, undoubtedly, of their family. God loved them too. Loved the heroes, you bet, and loved those who were a little bit off-kilter.

And see that's the reason why we are called to love those that God has given us to love. Not just those that we like, not just those that we choose, but the ones that God has given us to love. So maybe on this Holy Family Sunday, I am saying a special prayer for Uncle Tommy, who was a good friend to me when I was a kid, and who was a marvelous figure and a quirky, eccentric, flawed figure too. Okay. Maybe you can say a prayer for the Uncle Tommy in your life and realize that you're called upon to love, yeah, all those that God has given you to love, because that's the way he entered into the human family. And God bless you.
Are you Human?:*