The black sheep.
There she was.
Here's what happened.
It's one of those weekday church services downtown at about 5:10 PM.
Sparsely populated congregation this afternoon at the Cathedral.
I've got a whole pew all to myself.
But just before mass begins, a huge family enters.
Brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and a bunch of toddlers and tots.
Just as they get settled in taking up the three rows immediately behind me, this group of about 30 extended family has one late entry.
Shuffling a little, he is just about to take his seat with the fam.
Then he sees her.
He points to the opposite end of the pew he's entered.
At the far side sits a pretty girl, about 26, in a plain black dress with long straight dark brown hair.
Grandpa points with even greater emphasis.
"What's she doing here?"
His words echo through the church, breaking the pre-service silence.
"What's she doing here?"
Grandpa clearly has identified this family's black sheep.
As the other family members calm the family patriarch, the girl in the black dress stares straight ahead.
What made her the black sheep?
Baby out of wedlock?
Married a non-Christian?
Whatever the offense, grandpa has a hard time containing his disapproval.
Even in church.
I, for one, was happy she showed.
I've seen this black sheep syndrome ruin too many families.
It usually begins with a choice made by the excluded one.
A choice that family members just won't abide.
The unfortunate system works like this.
The controlling dominant family members tell the rest (the followers) they will boycott family events if the black sheep is part of the deal.
Soon the black sheep becomes the uninvited.
They only hear about family functions as a rumor.
The followers try to console the black sheep but advise non-attendance.
Parties, holidays, and weddings roll-on sadly.
The black sheep grows lonely and full of resentment at being left out.
The followers feel guilty but lack the courage to challenge the hateful estrangement enforced by the dominant ones.
The family is on a terrible treadmill of anger and desperation.
Forgiveness and reconciliation lurk just around the corner.
Waiting for pride to give way to love.
It's tragic that the pathetic cycle frequently just continues on.
You might have a black sheep in your family.
If you're the one insisting on exclusion, shame on you.
Life is too short.
In an instant, you'll be trying to explain your evil endeavors to St. Peter.
Should you be forgiven when you've never let the black sheep off the hook?
If you're the follower, you're not much better.
You're a co-conspirator in creating undeserved misery.
If you are the black sheep, well, keep trying.
Ask God to intervene.
To change hearts.
No matter your mistakes or choices, family love should be unconditional.
One more thing.
It's okay to crash the party occasionally.
It's your family too.
No matter what grandpa says.