Sadness was not what I expected while listening to a popular Catholic speaker. His love of God and family bubbled over as he described a beautiful coming-of-age tradition when kids became teenagers in his family. That’s when it hit me. “Wow, our families are so different!”
Their event included relatives who called with affirming messages. I imagined trying to arrange the same thing among my relatives. First would be an awkward pause. Then: “You’re kidding, right?”
That realization hit with a pang of sadness. But quickly, my Catholic mindset shifted into gear. God gave me my family and he knows the challenges. Everyone’s crosses are different but we all have them.
That moment laid on my heart the sensitivity that many parents struggle with family challenges beyond their control. Friends have shared such pain with me after listening to good Catholic speakers then feeling salt was rubbed into their wounds. For example, at a Catholic high school, it’s a great idea to bring in speakers for a parents' night to impart good family values. But inevitably, some parents will go home feeling sad for what they are lacking.
The Kiss of Jesus
It was that very realization of the pain and struggles in the lives of others that spurred Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle , a popular author, speaker and EWTN TV host, to share her shocking past. I have known Donna-Marie for several years and knew parts of her story, but not all. I often thought, “She is so sweet and graceful, no one would ever suspect what she has been through.”
After reading her new book, The Kiss of Jesus: How Mother Teresa and the Saints Helped Me to discover the Beauty of the Cross, I was astounded to learn her past had been much more horrific than I realized. It included being held captive with a machine gun by a boyfriend-turned-abuser when she was just a teenager. Fearing for the lives of her family--which he said he would kill--it would be several months to a year before Donna-Marie could safely make her escape.
She then married and had three children with an alcoholic husband who eventually walked out on her. A second marriage and two more children was not the happy ending she hoped for when he turned out to be physically and emotionally abusive.
It would seem that Donna-Marie had good reasons to be bitter, but instead, her faith brought her the grace of resilience. There is thankfully a happy ending for her, certainly aided by her beautiful faith and loving spirit.
This book is a big surprise for anyone who has been a fan of Donna-Maria. In it, she provides a beautiful example of surviving immense difficulties with faith and forgiveness. Donna-Marie is an example of living a good Catholic life in spite of less than ideal situations.
Insights from Donna-Marie
In an interview with Donna-Marie, she shared some of the inspiration that gave her a spirit of survival.
Although you turned to God, solutions did not present themselves overnight. Did you ever feel abandoned or doubt your prayers were being heard?
No, I never thought that my prayers weren't being heard. Yes, it's true that our prayers are not necessarily answered in the way we might hope. But, sincere prayers are always heard by God who knows exactly what we need and when we need it. He is the Divine Physician Whom we should trust.
We have to trust God with our lives. We need to trust Him with our prayers. We ask Him for help in our struggles and in our painful situations. We continue to reach our heart up in prayer even when things are intensely dark and scary. Prayer anchors us. Prayer gives us hope. Prayer lifts our hearts to reach the heart of God.
At times in our lives, it might seem very hard to trust God. We might feel that He is too distant to hear us or to care about us. But the truth is--He loves us so intensely and wants only what is best for us. We need to learn to surrender our hearts to God wholeheartedly and trust that when we surrender our lives to Him. He will bring a good outcome to everything in His Divine timing.
We can pray for an increase in the virtues of faith, hope, and love. Catholics have an interesting way to look at suffering. We learn from our Church that suffering can be redemptive. Saint John Paul II said, "From the paradox of the Cross springs the answer to our most worrying questions. Christ suffers for us. He takes upon himself the sufferings of everyone and redeems them. Christ suffers with us, enabling us to share our pain with Him. United to the suffering of Christ, human suffering becomes a means of salvation." Those are poignant and amazing words for us to ponder.
Can you offer suggestions on getting past feeling sorry for yourself when the cross is heavy?
It is not unusual for someone to experience trouble with the weight of their cross and instead of trying to understand it or even embrace it, they might choose to whine or feel sorry for themselves. It is human nature to recoil from suffering, after all. But our Christian faith instructs us to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.
In wanting to come close to Jesus and merit the rewards of Heaven one day, we need to pray for grace and the courage to pick up our crosses to wholeheartedly follow Jesus. So, when we are having trouble accepting the inconveniences, struggles, and pains in our lives, we can lift our eyes up towards Heaven and remember, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians, 4:17).
Were there times, given two troubled marriages, that you felt judged by other Catholics or left out in any way?
Perhaps, I felt judged at times in the sense that divorce carries with it a stigma. There are those who choose to judge a person unfairly without ever having walked in their shoes. That’s very hard to deal with. Yet, even though for the most part, we live in a couple’s world, there is no reason for a single parent to feel inferior or alone. They are an integral part of society and the Church, and are just as dignified and of value as anyone else.
I believe that the Church should reach out more to offer assistance and programs to single parent families. Perhaps, after the Synod on the Family concludes, there might be more ideas and ways that broken families can be helped by the Church. I think that the laity can help in many ways by starting groups and out-reaches at their parishes.
On another note, since we are talking about dysfunctional marriages, it’s important to recognize that we have no guarantees for the future. We can try our very best to be careful in choosing our future spouses. But we truly don’t have control over whether or not there might be hidden and deep-rooted problems in our spouse that might surface later on to cause harm to the marriage. In that case, we should do all we can to seek help for our marriage and our spouse and to never give up on prayer.
For more inspiration, check out Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families. Follow Patti at Twitter and like her Facebook pages at Dear God Books, Big Hearted Families and Catholic News & Inspiration on Facebook. Sign up at the right column to receive articles in your inbox. God bless you!