Christmas break refreshed the body and spirit

By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald Commentary

A few months after Archbishop Gregory Aymond returned to New Orleans in 2009, he took a look at the end-of-the-year work schedule for those serving in ministries of the archdiocese and made a command decision, which didn’t need any committee’s approval.

In addition to offering  archdiocesan employees several days off before Christmas, as had been the norm for many years, the archbishop decided to expand that window of holiday time through New Year’s Day, creating, essentially, a 12- or 13-day break from work.

“I hope this time will allow you to refresh yourselves physically and spiritually and help you to spend more time with your family and loved ones,” Archbishop Aymond said at the end of a Dec. 19 Mass for those who work in archdiocesan ministry.

It’s almost impossible to describe what this gift of time has meant. For those of us who don’t even take our full vacation time – maybe in the misguided fear that the job otherwise couldn’t be done – the Christmas break is the only time of year to unconditionally forget about answering emails or returning phone calls.

Because the boss has given us a two-week hall pass.

What this year’s Christmas break created in my life was a deep deposit of family time with loved ones; 2 p.m. naps (is there anything much better in life than a 2 p.m. nap?); and eating breakfast at that restaurant I always had wanted to go to but was too busy to create the time for.

Note to self: The eggs with Hollandaise sauce over fried chicken at Another Broken Egg on Harrison Avenue and the Eggs Florentine (eggs over creamed spinach and potatoes topped by fried oysters) at Elizabeth’s in the Bywater qualify as true breakfasts of champions.

The break offered unrushed time for last-minute errands and gift-shopping without worrying about squeezing into that last parking spot. It might have taken 45 minutes for Ben at the AT&T store in Metairie to transfer data from my wife’s old phone to a new one, but I had time flowing out of my pockets.

Nowhere to go. No one to see.

The barbecues for family were incredibly special. I love to cook but don’t get enough chances to do that for a crowd. The grilled salmon,  smoked pork loin (over indirect coals and pecan chips) and stuffed chicken made it to the plates and disappeared.

On the day LSU crushed Oklahoma in the college football semifinals, we had an extended family reunion for 75 relatives. Everyone wore purple and gold and pored through family photo albums.     

Our younger son, daughter-in-law and their two girls – ages 3 and 16 months – couldn’t get from Nashville to New Orleans until after Christmas, which made the extended time even more meaningful. On Dec. 29, they rolled into New Orleans and texted that they were headed to St. Mary Magdalen Church in Metairie for the 9:30 a.m. Sunday Mass, where the girls’ other grandfather plays the piano and organ and leads the children’s choir.

When I held 3-year-old Miriam – her birthday was Dec. 30 – in the front pew, it was everything Archbishop Aymond could have prescribed: Physically and spiritually refreshing.

“Hi, ya, Pops; hi, ya, YaYa!” Miriam told us, with just enough nonchalance to melt our hearts.

Miriam’s parents always sit in the first pew at Mass so that she can take it all in.

“Who’s that, Pops?” she asked me in her church voice.

“That’s Father Lee Poche,” I told her.

During his homily on the Holy Family, Deacon Jim Heneghan held up a marble statue of the Holy Family, depicting a slightly weary Joseph lying on his back and holding Jesus on his knees while Mary, pondering, took it all in.

At the end of Mass, I put Miriam down on the kneeler and she scampered toward the aisle. As she stepped out, she genuflected and made the sign of the cross.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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