I hope you will indulge me this Christmas by allowing me to speak very personally. This will be the second Christmas without my dear mother, Joyce, and I must confess that I have really been missing her lately. I know that many of you find the holiday season difficult because of the loss of a loved one during this time of year, or simply because Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s evoke so many memories of happy times with them.

Let me share with you a special grace I received recently that comforted me in knowing that my mom is still close. Perhaps it will assure you of your closeness to your deceased loved ones in the communion of saints, especially at this time of year.

My story actually begins decades ago in my Grandmother Martha’s house where she was raising three girls, having been widowed in 1931 when my mother was only 3 years old. In the family home was a beautiful and now antique-looking picture of the Holy Family. In fact, in one of my mother’s wedding photos taken in 1956, one can see this picture hanging on the wall. It was part of the faith life of the home as my mother was growing up.

When my Grandma Martha died, just a short time before my parents’ wedding, the picture of the Holy Family went with the eldest of the three girls, my Aunt Rita. It hung in her home as she raised her family. When my Aunt Rita died, I went to celebrate her funeral as her priest-nephew. My cousin asked me if I wanted the picture of the Holy Family. I readily said yes and took it with me. I had it reframed and it has hung now in my home since 2004.

When I came to Oregon in 2013, my mother moved in with me and we shared a home. So for the last four and a half years of her life, my mother was living in a home where this childhood image of the Holy Family was once again prominently displayed. She saw it every day.

Next to God and her faith, nothing was more important to my mother than family. We spent our last Christmas together two years ago. My sister from Michigan, her two daughters and Mom’s first great-granddaughter all flew out to be with my mom, my other sister who lives here in Portland, and me for one last Christmas. We knew this was to be my mother’s last. On Christmas day, we celebrated Mass together in my home and shared one last traditional Sample family Christmas dinner. It was the first time the whole family had been together at Christmas Mass in decades.

My dear mother, Joyce, died just six days later. Pay close attention. It was in the early morning hours of the feast of the Holy Family. At the time I thought how appropriate it was that she died on a feast day that spoke of what was most important to her. But there was more to come.

In making my mother’s funeral arrangements, I had to choose a holy card as a remembrance of my mom to be shared with those who came to her services. She had a great devotion to our Blessed Mother, so I chose a card with an image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with her favorite prayer, the Memorare, printed on the back. That is the only card I chose, but what I did not realize at the time was that this was just one image in a whole set I had not seen. When the cards arrived, I was disappointed because I just wanted the image of the Immaculate Heart, but there was nothing to be done.

One of several images that was in the set that now had my mother’s information and the Memorare on it was an image of the Holy Family. I placed one of these cards in my breviary, from which I pray every day. Remember, I never ordered this image, nor had I seen it before the cards arrived. One day a few months ago, I began looking at the card more carefully for the first time during my prayer time. It struck me that image of the Holy Family on the card looked familiar. I took it outside of my chapel to the image of the Holy Family from my mother’s childhood, now hanging in the hall in my home. Much to my shock, and then my delight, it was the EXACT same image in every detail.

Coincidence? I don’t think so! I considered this a little kiss from my mom, assuring me that she is fine and that she is still close to me. Our deceased loved ones are always close to us in the communion of saints that we profess.

This little story was such a boost to my own faith in the goodness and love of our God, who desires to be close to us. So close that he sent his Son, Jesus, to be with us always — Emmanuel. May God grant you a most blessed Christmas, and may you have faith in his love for you and his closeness, especially in times of difficulty. God bless you, your family and all who are dear to you!