Published July 12, 2022, The Young Catholic Woman
By Jean Mondoro
“Love and sacrifice are closely linked, like the sun and the light. We cannot love without suffering and we cannot suffer without love.”
—Saint Gianna Beretta Molla
We’ve all seen that family from our parish who’s always on time and dressed nicely for Mass; the kids are involved in youth ministry, or their Catholic homeschool group; the parents are always on the same page; they are a close-knit family that follows the Lord. Everyone seems to hold them up as an inspiration. That was once my family. Then I realized that every family, no matter how perfect they appear to be, even my own, has problems.
My family had always encountered difficulties and I never understood why people praised us so highly over our apparent goodness. We had plenty of arguments and hard times. But we always stuck together, and we all remained faithful to God. I knew I was blessed to have happily married parents and be close to all seven of my siblings. But whenever I encountered a family who struggled to remain close to each other, I always thought “that could never happen to us”. And then it did.
My siblings and I started growing up, and natural tensions between parents and children arose. We were going off to college and starting to be more independent. I didn’t think much of it. I just figured that was part of life. Then one of my siblings all but walked out of my family’s life. Everything I had ever known about home and family was shattered by the realization that my family would never be the same again.
It’s like the death of a loved one, but worse. Instead of being torn away by uncontrollable circumstances, this dear sibling has chosen to leave. And it hurts more than I could have ever imagined.
My experience with this painful family separation has led me to realize a few things which I hope will help others suffering from division in their families.
DON’T ALLOW IT TO COLOR EVERY ASPECT OF YOUR LIFE
When bad things happen, we tend to reflect one negative situation on every part of our lives, thus coloring life in general to be in a cloud of darkness. But during hard times, it is critical that we separate the good from the bad. Not every hard thing in life is caused by a single occurrence. For example, when my brother separated himself from our family, I caught myself blaming that situation for everything that was tough after that—some of it is certainly directly related, but it isn’t helpful to indulge in those emotions. Instead, take time daily to reflect upon the good things in life. Thank God every night for the blessings of the day. Acknowledge the pain and how life is incredibly hard because of the traumatic division you are experiencing, but also remember that there is still beauty in the world, even though it may be harder to see right now.
CHERISH THOSE WHO ARE STILL CLOSE
When one member of a family is missing, the gap is as wide as a canyon and as deep as an ocean. It can be tempting to focus only on who is missing rather than who is still with you. This is hard because you don’t want to forget about the missing person. But there is a healthier way to remember him/her. Laughing and crying about the past can be extremely therapeutic. Think of it as keeping alive the memories of a loved one who has died. That’s part of the grieving process. The danger lies in getting caught up with the one who is gone. Instead of dwelling on the empty chair at the dinner table, be intentionally present with the people who are sitting there. All of you are suffering. Being there for each other is the best medicine. Additionally, it helps to make new memories with each other. If all you have are family memories when everyone was home, it can be very hard to do other things with people missing. But your family will need to move forward, even though that will be quite painful. Find something fun to do together, whether that’s going on a road trip or having a movie night at home. It will help to distract you from the pain and help you learn to live without the missing loved one.
PRAY FERVENTLY FOR THOSE WHO ARE DISTANT
This last piece of advice is one that I cannot stress enough. Prayer. Praying for your loved one who is gone may be the only way that you can show love to that person (depending on how much communication or interaction you may have with him/her). It will help you to keep a charitable mindset as well as benefit your loved one’s soul. God works miracles every day. You may not see them in your time, but He never wastes a prayer. Choose a specific prayer that you can offer every day for your distant loved one. Commit to that, and never stray from that commitment. Also remember to pray for your family (St. Joseph is a great patron!) that all of you will grow closer to God from the cross that you are all carrying.
EMBRACE THE SUFFERING
If you are in a position where someone in your family has walked away from your family for whatever reason, please know that you are not alone. We have this fantasy in our minds that every family we see at Mass is exactly like the Holy Family. But family problems are more common than not. Divided families are, sadly, becoming more and more normalized. But take heart in the fact that these crosses are opportunities to love each other as Christ loves us—even our enemies. It is a true test of our faith in God and our perseverance in living according to the faith we profess as Catholics.
The path to Heaven is paved with love. And suffering is the way by which we learn to imitate the love of Jesus.