Tag Archives: suffering

Winning the Battle of Family Life

11 Oct

Image result for Moses in battleAre you or someone you know facing a serious struggle? It could be at home or at work. It could be your spouse, one of your children, or a friend.

We learn three important lessons from Moses in this week’s reading from Exodus:

(1) Moses is not afraid to confront the battle.

(2) Moses relies primarily on prayer to win the battle.

(3) Moses is not afraid to accept help to win the battle.

In the daily struggles of marriage and family life, it is important to take the same approach. Recognize and confront your battles, rely on prayer, and ask for help if needed.

  • What is the biggest battle your spouse faces?
  • What is the biggest battle you face today?
  • What is the biggest battle your children face today?
  • What time have you set aside to bring these situations to prayer?
  • Who can you ask for help to support you in your family’s battles?
  • Is there a struggling family to whom you can reach out and help?

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

Why We Care About Marriage (Part 1)

12 Aug

bride-and-groom-768594_640June 28, 2003, was one of the most joyful and significant days of my life as it was the day I married my wife, Libby.

We were planning to work full-time together as youth ministers in the same large, suburban parish in the Twin Cities, and this was part of the excitement as we headed toward our wedding day. Our mindset was, “Not only will we be missionaries for Christ bringing the good news of His love to teens, but we will be doing it together as married missionaries!  What could be better?!”

During our engagement, like many couples marrying in the Church, we met several times with our pastor. I don’t remember everything he told us, but the one thing I do remember is his telling us that our most important ministry to the youth and other parishioners we were preparing to serve was the ministry of our marriage. We really didn’t have any idea what he meant at the time, even though we took him seriously.  We thought we would run some good programs for teens that would awaken them to their relationship with Christ. But as the first few years of our marriage and youth ministry unfolded, it became clear what our priest was trying to teach us.

Don’t get me wrong, we were qualified and competent youth ministers, but the greatest thing we ever did for our parish community was the witness of our married love for one another in the midst of great suffering. Libby and I faced the great trial of having two of our infant children pass away from a rare genetic disease. Both our son Peter and our daughter Gianna died when they were about three months old, about 18 months apart.  Our sacrament gave us access to limitless grace, and since grace is God’s life within us, it sustained us through that difficult time, giving us the strength to witness to God’s love in the midst of tremendous suffering.  We could not have imagined when we said, “I do,” nor would we have chosen, that our suffering would be the primary witness that Libby and I would proclaim, but yet it was the opportunity we had. Trial can often be the occasion for a wedge to form between couples, but our faith turned us to one another and to the Church in a deeper way than we imagined. Our suffering brought us closer together, and that closeness was a sign to all in the parish of our trust in God and one another.

Let me give a few examples.  Continue reading

The Third Option

25 Apr

Ever been stuck between a rock and a hard place? Mary Magdalene was on Easter morning.  Well, actually, it was Jesus’ body that was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and she seemingly had no way to get to him.  This consumes her thoughts on the way to the tomb.  How will I get that stone moved? Jesus needs to be anointed. If I ask the guards, what will they do to me? Can the disciples move it? They would be thrown in prison if they tried! And further, they don’t have a great track record of sticking around when things get tough…

What I think is most striking about this inner dialogue of Mary is that as she runs through the impossibilities in her head, she keeps moving toward the tomb.  It seems like she has two options: to incur ridicule or worse from the guards at the tomb, or to fail to give Jesus a decent burial.  Yet when she arrives, she finds something altogether different. Jesus has provided a spectacular third option she never could have dreamed of.

I have been reflecting lately how so many of our pressing social issues come down to a failure to see and embrace that third option.  Our society forces people in difficult circumstances into a false dichotomy of horrible solutions.  If you’re in a troubled marriage, you have two choices: the trauma of divorce or the long agony of staying together “for the sake of the kids”.  Young, pregnant and unmarried? Your choices are abortion or a doomed future of poverty and underachievement. This is a brilliant tool of the devil.  No one likes divorce or abortion, but if you juxtapose it with something equally devastating, it suddenly seems like a viable option.  The “lesser of two evils”.

Now enter Mother Church, who is increasingly a lone voice against some of these “lesser evils”.  Prohibit contraception? You want women to become helpless baby factories! Prohibit assisted suicide? You want Grandma to linger is meaningless pain! Prohibit IVF? You want to deprive people of the beauty of parenthood! What our culture fails to see in every one of these tough cases is the third option.  The Church never just slaps on a legislative cuff.  Instead she gently takes the struggling sinner by the hand and says, “this is extremely difficult, but you can do it”.  In short, the third option is grace.

Grace is a poorly understood concept today, but simply it means God’s supernatural power which we have access to by our Baptism and by the other sacraments.  What it means is that we never face our hardest times alone.  We face them with the same power that moved the stone for Mary Magdalene.  Grace opens doors where no doors should be able to open.

The third option is a transformed marriage where partners can learn to slowly rebuild trust and love again.  It is adoption, where an infertile couple becomes parents, the young person is able to continue with their education and the baby gets to live.  It is Natural Family Planning, through which couples learn to be generous in their love, open to God’s will for their families and through which they can either space their children or often conceive children despite low fertility.

I’m not naïve. I know that life is not a Hallmark movie.  That’s the beauty of grace! I know that sometimes the third option is an ability to survive one of the first two horrible options.  If Grandma is terminally ill, grace normally won’t provide a miraculous cure.  But God will illuminate the meaning of Grandma’s suffering.  Like all suffering endured with Christ, it can be a powerful avenue of grace for others.  This is true of any suffering we let God into.

Finally, the best part about the third option is that it is available even after one of the “lesser evils” is chosen.  There is hope for those who have divorced, whether that choice was made for safety, against one’s will or in the pursuit of a happier life.  There is forgiveness and healing for those who have chosen abortion, or IVF or contraception.  Here, too, the third option opens up floodgates of mercy and peace that never could have been imagined before.  No matter what the situation, choosing the third option of grace leads to a surprisingly rich joy.

So this Easter season, let’s approach the tomb with our deepest anxieties.  Let’s offer them up to the Lord and see what miracles await us.

Note: Grace is often channeled through practical avenues.  For help in understanding the issues raised in this post or in getting practical help, please contact your pastor or the Respect Life or Family Life Offices.

Died for Me

29 Mar

closing scene, Saving Private Ryan

My daughter Gianna, like her brother before her, had a rare genetic disease called Mitochondrial Depletion Disorder. Essentially, the cells in her liver could not make the energy they needed to stay alive, so her liver started to shut down. As a result, the doctors recommended a liver transplant. The chances of her getting a liver were slim (she needed half of a toddler’s liver, as she was only 3 months old) and the long term outcome of the risky surgery was questionable at best for her diagnosis. But it was the only chance we had, so we waded through all the blood tests and paperwork and waited for the phone to ring. Continue reading

Perspective

16 Feb

Overall, my 7 year old son has adjusted well to life in Kansas City after our move from up north in September. There are times, however, when he is almost brought to tears in thinking about all that we left in Minnesota. What I find fascinating is the specific things he laments losing.

For instance, he talks a lot about his “best friend,” whom I will call Cole. Cole is a kid who is a grade ahead of my son and with whom he had maybe a total of five play dates the whole time we lived there.  When he talks about Cole and how much he misses him, I am sympathetic, but I can’t help but picturing what things would have been like if we had stayed. Cole, now a 2nd grader, would be so wrapped up in school and activities that my son and he would rarely, if ever, have time to play. I marvel at the other friends he left that I know he misses, but that he forgets to mention.

Likewise, I know that when my son talks of moving back to Minnesota, he is picturing life there just as it was last year when he was in kindergarten.  Yet I know that even in the few short months since we left, our friends there have changed, and so have we. He doesn’t realize that if we moved back tomorrow that he would miss the new group of friends he has met here. He doesn’t take into account that we made a commitment to our job here and have no jobs in Minnesota anymore. He doesn’t get the fact that other people are living in our house and that we have signed a contract to rent our Kansas City house until the end of the summer. He definitely does not understand that moving an entire house full of things so soon after moving them the first time would certainly turn his mother’s head prematurely gray!

What he understands when he suggests we move back is are his feelings at the moment, his affection for all that he loved about living up north. A good parent empathizes, but also sees that granting the request will not make him as happy as he thinks. As parents, we have a greater perspective.

Lack of perspective is not a 7-year-old’s problem. It’s a fallen humanity problem. Continue reading

Handling the Truth

6 Feb

Many of us who uphold the Church’s teachings, especially in questions of morals, have been told we’re not “compassionate.” How dare we tell couples they shouldn’t live together before marriage, or that they shouldn’t contracept, let alone abort their children, once they’re married? How dare we tell those with same-sex attractions to avoid acting upon these urges? How dare we bring up uncomfortable truths on a whole range of issues, from capital punishment and just wars to honesty, the rights of workers, and the Sunday obligation?

In other words, for many, truth is a hindrance to their conception of compassion and love. Yet truth and love are opposite sides of the same coin!

I’ve been to Confession many, many times in my life (good thing, too!). I have had confessors mechanically mete out an absolution and penance, perhaps in the process reminding me just how evil the sins I committed were. I’ve had other confessors tell me that nothing I mentioned was a sin, that I was a “good man,” and that for my penance I should “lighten up” and “do something just for me.”

The first type of confessor tried to communicate the truth about sin, while the second type tried to communicate “compassion.” While the grace of the sacrament is always present, my most fruitful experiences of Confession have brought together both elements. The priest affirmed the truth about sin, but also in a tangible way communicated the peace, healing, and mercy of Christ. Continue reading