There are a total of eight beatitudes. I know because I’ve counted them. In case you’d like to confirm that for yourself, knowing my spotty scriptural knowledge as a cradle Catholic, have at it. Check it out for yourself in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 5 to be exact. As perfect as I consider Jesus’ sermon on the mount, if I had my say, I’d suggest that the Almighty add just one more. Yep, I’m about to try and improve perfection by adding to one of Christ’s most powerful and stirring proclamations on the Kingdom of God. That takes guts. I know. But bear with me.
In the lead-up to everyone’s Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities, most of us experience the usual rush of activity and planning. We’ll go to Aunt so-n-so’s for dinner. Then it’s off to Nana’s for a dessert buffet. We’ll open gifts with this side of the family, but we always go to church with the other side of the family. The plans can be highly detailed, full of countless layers of tradition to your simpler, but memorable get-togethers. My family always meets in Nebraska at my sister’s. We eat a big meal and watch football. And even if the plans change from year-to-year, there is an expectation that something is going on and we’re most certainly at the top of someone’s guest list. But what about the folks who have absolutely no set plans on the horizon? The people who have recently moved across country, who have experienced a death in their family, a divorce, or are estranged from family and or friends. They’re not precisely the marginalized folks Jesus speaks of in His sermon: the poor, the meek, the persecuted. They most likely have jobs, lives and even some friends. But they are nonetheless forgotten. They’re officially not assigned to anyone’s celebration. They experience angst about what they will do and who will invite them. Or worse, they anticipate spending it alone. And now, introducing Beatitude #9:
Blessed are the forgotten, for they shall be invited to God’s heavenly banquet.
As a mother of three and the wife of a man who has a big family, I’m one of those people who annoyingly always has somewhere to go for the holidays, or more specifically someone to be with. In fact, one of my biggest anxieties during the holidays is whether we can provide a proper chair-to-rear-end-ratio for the gaggle of family and friends attending the next big party. But I wasn’t always that person with the golden ticket to the big event. For part of my life, I was one of the forgotten. At least that’s how I felt.
When I was 22 my mom died suddenly, leaving my dad, my brothers and me in complete shock and despair. My mother was the foundation of our family. She was the emotional glue that connected us all. When someone dies, there’s a tendency to romanticize a loved one. But I’m not using hyperbole to make her sound like a saint. In fact, I’m trying to portray a very practical, realistic rendering. She handled all the holiday plans, bought all the gifts and did all the decorating, which was not a whole lot—my mother was no Martha Stewart of which she would agree. But of the planning and decorating that was done, she did it all. If we weren’t invited to some big family to-do because everyone was doing their own thing for a year, she rolled out the red carpet at our humble abode. She did all the cooking. We would feast on turkey, ham, potatoes and that familiar, but funky canned cranberry sauce that she served in half-inch thick slices. Mmmm. (Not until I was in my 30’s did I even know about the real stuff! Cranberry sauce with real cranberries? Wow.) We’d gladly stuff our faces and then sit around wondering how it was even humanly possible to consume so much. She manufactured a holiday for us. It revolved around her, the loving, nurturing matriarch. When she was gone, it seemed our entrée to the holiday festivities went down the tubes. My dad had trouble boiling water. My brothers and I were fresh out of college and could barely manage a grilled cheese without setting off the fire alarm. Pathetic. I know. But we had come to rely on one person who was no longer there. We were grieving too. Maybe we weren’t the most pleasant guests to be around at that time. Maybe we were annoying people from the get-go, regardless of our mournful state. But as I reflect on it decades later, I am hurt to remember there were no invitations at that time. The phone just wasn’t ringing off the hook with urgings to “come on over to our house.” People were caught up in the craziness of their own family plans. We just didn’t factor into their thoughts. We weren’t excluded, merely forgotten.
So, we managed. But even now when I ponder those raw, depressing years, I get sad. One of the first years my dad took us out to dinner for Thanksgiving. Once we finally found a place that was open, it just didn’t feel right. My dad was incommunicative. My brother and I fought. I ate a dinner roll and spent the rest of the time in the car crying. When I moved into my own apartment, I remember sitting around on Christmas day trying to figure out what to do. Everything was closed. My brother jumped in to offer that he had the fixings for spaghetti at his place nearby. It wasn’t what I had expected for Christmas, but we dealt. After those early experiences, feeling like holiday orphans, I would dread the countdown to our unorthodox gatherings, while I imagined everyone else anticipating a Norman Rockwell-esque family feast.
When I began dating my husband, his family invited me beyond the velvet rope. I once again became one of the privileged few on the guest list. His family had a tradition while he was growing up where they would invite two disabled friends, who had no families to their small house that was already packed to the gills. To hear my husband describe it, it never crossed their minds that there was barely any elbow room or counter space. They squeezed everyone in somehow and still experienced a joyous celebration. That was before I started coming around. Somewhere along the line, my new family began to expand exponentially with boatloads of nieces and nephews and new in-laws. I often wonder what happened to those two guests that were memorialized in photos. Maybe they too were forgotten…
It’s just days before Thanksgiving. I think it’s a safe bet to say there are a lot of individuals in our midst that have no concrete plans for the holidays, nothing exciting to look forward to. Often it is no cause of their own. No matter the reason, they are undoubtedly suffering. Are you one of those people that’s so caught up in your shopping to-do list that you haven’t stopped to consider a neighbor who was recently widowed? Or what about the coworker who has serious social awkwardness and has strained relations with his family? What about that single friend of yours? That black sheep of the family? Or a school parent who recently moved their young family to a new state? I don’t think any of us has to look too far out of our own bubble to encounter someone who would appreciate a hearty invite.
I imagine the enthusiastic invitation I would’ve loved to hear so many years ago. “What are you doing for INSERT HOLIDAY HERE? If you don’t have any special plans, c’mon to our house. We’d love to have you! Uncle _________ is really annoying but the rest of us are ok. And I make a mean sweet potato soufflé!”
Beatitude #9 may not technically be in the Bible, but it should be, especially if there is some special holiday edition published. “Blessed are the forgotten, for they shall be invited to God’s Heavenly banquet.” Until that final heavenly banquet with our Lord, in which we all hope to be in attendance, consider inviting someone new to your earthly celebration. Make room at the table and in your heart.