Features

Humbled and Contrite

Originally Appeared in : Vol. 100 No. 01

Par for the course, I had gotten separated from the rest of our Halcombe brood as I went to tell Mr. McRae “Thank you” for having us over for Grandma Mary Louise’s annual Christmas Eve party.

The party had gone wonderfully for our crowd. And both Magan and I had been able to sample the delicious food for a change.

The evening was made even more special by the addition of four sisters—Father Jude’s biological sister Ernestine, and the other three from Father John Stephen’s order (Margaret, Lucy, and Anne).

They are some of the sweetest women we’ve met and were smiling and waving at our kids as my munchkins chowed down on meatballs, chicken strips and macaroni one table over. At least, that’s how I left things when I got up to speak to Mr. McRae.

I felt accomplished. My kids were behaving; I reconnected with a few friends I hadn’t spoken to in a while and had a pleasant conversation with Mr. McRae about some of my favorite science subjects.

I returned from Mr. McRae’s man cave to a party devoid of any Halcombes. Naturally, I was concerned, not so much for their wellbeing but for what preempted their departure.

“Ree got in BIG trouble,” Magan said as I opened the van door.

“Yeah, Ree’s a bad girl,” Isaac chimed in.

“What happened?” I asked.

The short version was that all of the sisters began to engage the kids in party chatter, but some, chiefly Elijah and AnnaMarie, picked a wrong time to be bashful-on-the-verge-of-rude.

Sister Margaret asked AnnaMarie if she’d like to play Miss Mary Mack, to which AnnaMarie impolitely declined. When pressed on the issue by her mother, AnnaMarie proceeded to crab walk across four chairs while hissing like a scene from “The Ring.” It would have been surprising had it not been hideous.

Confused and concerned, the sisters asked Magan, “What is she doing?”

Thankfully, Jesse was there to save the day and made a beeline for Sister Margaret, who told of how she learned the game watching girls in her village. It was adorable but was lost in the fold of Magan’s powerful desire to parent AnnaMarie.

Both Elijah and AnnaMarie refused to tell any of the sisters goodbye, which only heightened the awkwardness.

What both of them failed to realize was that the sisters had saved them from a more severe rebuke, because our newfound friends had parked directly behind our van.

AnnaMarie began to cry because some of the kids reminded her that Santa was coming later that evening, and she wasn’t making a good case for him leaving her anything save a lump of coal.

Isaac just kept saying, “Ree, you’re a bad girl,” which only made things worse and, by this time, Eli was crying too. Except Eli’s tears weren’t about a potential Santa shrug-off and instead from a genuine disappointment over his behavior.

When we got home, Eli sob/ mumbled, “I’m going to write them an ‘I’m sorry’ card.”

Taking a folded sheet of copier paper and a pencil, Eli proceeded to scribble, “I’m sorry.” I settled him down, and eventually, everyone was tucked into bed waiting for Santa and baby Jesus’s arrival.

They both may have been sobbing identically, but what they were crying about couldn’t have been more different.

AnnaMarie was worried about the consequences of her actions, while Eli was worried about having let the sisters and us down.

Eli’s example was a real lesson on the meaning of repentance; we should all try to follow.

As Catholics, we are offered a mechanism toward penance through the Act of Reconciliation, which falls in line with 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Just like Eli’s “I’m sorry” card, Reconciliation can cleanse us of sin and prepare us to meet God with a pure heart.

Our long-term hope is that our kids stop having “Come to Jesus” meetings over their behavior like the one had in our van on Christmas Eve, and instead learn to come to Jesus (or nuns wanting to play games with them) with humble and contrite hearts.

For now, all I can guarantee is that every able-bodied child in our house now knows how to play Miss Mary Mack.

Jason Halcombe has five sons and two
daughters. He and his wife, Magan, are
members of Imm aculate Conception Church,
Dublin.

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