This a story about how God's words can completely change a relationship between two people.
My mother and father had a horribly messy divorce in 1985. Like so many others of their generation, the marriage was one of convenience, based far more on an exchange of services (e.g. housekeeping for a paycheck) Never in my memory did they have what you could define as a happy or loving relationship. There were many confrontations over the years, some of them violent.
Christmas day, 1984 was a fight for the record books. My wife Pat and I arrived at my parents' house mid-afternoon. Usually Dad didn't drink until the afternoon, which is one of reasons he got away with his drinking for so many years. Uncharacteristically on this day, he was fully "in the bag" by 3pm. He and my brother got into an argument over something that was truly silly: whether my 18 yr old, college freshman brother, would eat his vegetables. That was enough to set my mother off, and the fight that ensued was ugly and violent to the point that we felt that we had to get my mother out of the house for her own safety. We did. She left,and did not go back until she had a court order in hand to throw him out of house and let her back in.
Flash forward to Thanksgiving Day, 1999. My mother had been estranged from the church since the divorce. She believed that divorced people were excommunicated and not welcome. So she hadn't been to church in a very long time. On Thanksgiving morning I was getting ready to go to Mass at Holy Spirit Parish in Pittsburgh, where I had attended since childhood. My mother surprised me and asked if could go along. You could have knocked me over with a feather.
About 15 minutes before Mass time, Dad walked in with his wife, Esther.
The G-rated version of what I thought to myself was "Whoa boy, nothing good is going to come from that."
We knelt and prayed. Mass started. The priest, Father Dan Valentine, was the celebrant that day. He is a retired military chaplain with a Doctorate of Divinity in Sacred Scripture, and a truly inspired and inspirational speaker . He talked about how his family did Thanksgiving when he was growing up. They'd sit down to a huge Thanksgiving dinner, and afterwards there would "Always be a big fight." At that point I stopped in my tracks, thinking, "How do you know this? You didn't grow up in my family." Then Father Dan talked about God's will that we make the effort to heal wounds, forgive each other, and let bygones be bygones. It was very well said, very inspiring. The Holy Spirit was definitely moving there. We all felt it.
When Mass ended, my Dad came up to me. Esther came up to Mom separately and exchanged basic pleasantries. After a while, my mother said to Esther," I'm having a second Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday night. Why don't you and Frank come?" She agreed. Again, I couldn't believe my eyes or ears. From the time of the divorce until that day , my parents had been unable to tolerate even being in same room together.
So we sat down to our second Thanksgiving dinner. It was the most pleasant Thanksgiving dinner I could remember up to that point, and I was 31 years old then. The end of evening came. We all were putting on coats to go our separate ways, when I happened to notice that my Dad and Mother were still sitting in the dining room alone. My sister leaned over and said to me, "Oh boy, here it comes!" We both were thinking, "We're going to witness the next big fight."
It wasn't that at all. My Dad by that time had several years of Alcoholics Anonymous sobriety behind him. He apologized to my mother for all he did. Realize that prior to this, my Dad didn't apologize to anyone, let alone my mother. She accepted. The family healed that day.
That became the first of many happy Thanksgiving & Christmas experiences, and up to the point when my mother left into dementia, they had a civilized relationship. I'd go so far as to say they had become friends.
There was a point when my mother went into assisted living, and she apologized to him for all she had done to him, which I thought would never happen. Because being a stubborn old Irish woman, apologies were not part of her normal routine.
I tell this story in the hope that it will change some minds about forgiveness. If there is someone in your life you haven't spoken to in a long time because you have hurt them or they have hurt you, reach out an olive branch. You don't know if you don't try.
I am a Deacon, and I tell this story of God being able to inspire forgiveness every Thanksgiving as part of my homily. I have never told that story as a deacon when someone didn't come up to me afterwards and say "I know what I have to do now."
Deacon Dan Fedder (last name changed)
Oakland County, Michigan