by Ken Rolheiser
The reality and the dream of ancestry

Some family trees have beautiful leaves. Ours has a few nuts. But there is nothing I would change.

Some of my favourite family tree humour includes I think my ancestors had several “bad heir” days. And after I die my face book status should read: Is visiting with ancestors. And: The witness protection program explains why I can’t find some relatives.

In December I was driving up town about dusk when I saw the most beautiful Christmas tree decorations. The tops of the tall spruce trees were glowing in gold. This was something artificial lights could not attempt.

I thanked God for outdoing all the decoration attempts in town. The setting sun somehow broke through the cloudy afternoon and blessed me with this beauty and inspiration.

Some days later I was observing family members entering Queen’s House Retreat Chapel for our Midnight Mass New Year’s gathering. I saw branches of the family assemble in the rows of seats. There were newly weds and expectant mothers, grandparents and grandchildren.

The Family Tree is a rich symbol. If you stretch out your arms you can touch the branches. Our tree is more than 100 years old and the foliage is thick and expansive near the bottom.

The uppermost branches are bare and white, reaching into heaven. These sentinels point the way, the direction all the growth is going. Every branch tip is pointing upwards. The Communion of Saints comes to mind.

There is a spiritual dimension to the Christ centered family: I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.(John 15:5)

As I looked around at my family tree I realized how rich and blessed we all are. Money is insignificant here. Only membership and witness are important. And for the next hour and a half everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, all shared the blessings and news of the past year.

After our prayerful celebration I realized more of the graces that being family includes. A niece asked me, “How did your parents pass on their spiritual values? How did they witness. Can you tell us more about their life stories?”

I remember my parents’ faith when they faced the challenges of life, like the death of a loved one. When financial worries surfaced, faith was there. All through the bumps and bruises of living they clung to their prayer lives and their spiritual commitments.

The daily family rosary was always a chance to assess the events of the day and a chance to realize the workings of grace. “And lead us not into temptation” meant the same in German. “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death”. We knew Mary was our companion through life.

Gratitude and thanksgiving were always part of our family. At weddings, funerals and important celebrations our elders would always celebrate with song: “Holy God we praise thy name…”

There are many young shoots springing up in our family tree. May they be protected by the shade we offer and the roots that ground us to this tree started in Russia so many years ago.

Faith is caught in so many ways, sometimes including the quiet witness of everyday faithfulness.

(563 words)