pietaI have just endured the worst week of my life.

While the personal nature of what is happening still demands that I remain non-specific about the problem, it is fair to say that my wife and I have experienced more turmoil, upheaval, division, betrayal, and hurt than we would have previously thought possible. The subsequent emotional roller coaster lurching through each day’s required activities, threatening to derail…everything. But as with all such trials, there’s nothing for it but to keep going. Even if every time I think I’ve got a handle on it, another “aftershock” arrives, threatening to shatter the fragile serenity I’ve begun piecing together.

I’ll be honest: In these recent days, I have failed more than I’ve succeeded at following my own advice about not getting angry. At times, the rage feels better than the sorrow, if only because it is less paralyzing. It activates. It motivates.

It also destroys. I must keep reminding myself that it is not good to destroy, no matter how satisfying it feels in the moment.

And I do keep attempting to pull myself away from the train wreck. I am trying to perform the duties of my state in life as normally as possible. Still, I keep coming back to the keyboard and staring at the screen, thinking I’m going to work, only to feel completely stuck. I keep trying to find a way to offer something to all of you when all I can really do is endure the numbness of shock. I look internally, to the place where my writing comes from, and I find either a mess of knots or just…emptiness. Like Bilbo Baggins would say, I feel like butter scraped over too much bread.

On top of the crisis that is unfolding in our midst, my family and I are in the process of a major move. As such, there is nothing even resembling stability in our lives. Things are in boxes or being sold or given away. There is no comfort in familiarity as shelves and rooms are emptied. We are spending more time apart than together. Everything is in a state of flux as we weather the proverbial tempest that we have found ourselves caught up in. Everything is changing. The surreality of it all feels like a fever dream.

And the enemy is gleefully exploiting every opportunity this affords.

I spent most of the long weekend hunkered down, doing as little as possible. Thanks to the support of good family and good friends, my wife and I both found some unexpected consolation these past few days. And as the situation we’re dealing with crossed some invisible but unmistakable line in the sand, we found ourselves preparing to move beyond it, to cut our losses and steel ourselves for a future that would be very different than even our very recent past. I woke up this morning determined to take charge again. To refuse to let myself be beaten by this cross that has been given to us. But as I sat down to write, another phone call came, and with it, again, the swell of fury, the fist-pounding frustration of powerlessness to change what should not be.

Free will is a hell of a thing.

It amazes me, sometimes, that God gave us such a gift. That He loves us so much that He gave us total autonomy. That He loves us so much, He allows us to choose Hell. Think about it: if you saw your son or daughter walking right off the edge of a cliff, wouldn’t you run to them, pulling them back to safety? Wouldn’t you physically, bodily, remove them from harm?

God does not treat His children this way. He speaks to them, softly but with authority. He reaches out His hand to them. He tells them to stop walking. Still, He never forces them to stop.

As a parent, I find this staggeringly difficult to comprehend. I can only assume that His rationale is something like this: the only love that’s worth anything is a love that is truly, completely, freely given. Either you will choose Me or you won’t, but the choice is yours. And then He lets us make that choice. He isn’t bluffing.

Can you imagine?

As I’ve caught sight of certain news stories in passing over the past week, I find myself also reaching the inescapable conclusion that on a spiritual level, most Catholics — those who care about their faith, anyway — are enduring something quite similar to what I am experiencing in my own life. I certainly feel that, as I look from the chaos of my existence toward the Church, I find no solace there. Instead, I see only strange, ugly, and unfamiliar things. False doctrines, troubling portents, and a never-ending torrent of thoughts, words, and ideas from the highest reaches of the Church that do not comfort or reassure, but instead endanger the faithful.

The desktop background on my computer is Adolphe William Bouguereau’s Pietà. I work with two monitors, so the one on the right, when not in use, displays this masterpiece, always just within my line of sight. I have found, in the few months that I have had it there, that beyond its apparent beauty, it is a deeply personal and moving work. It changes in meaning, somehow, depending on the mental and emotional state of the viewer. As Our Blessed Mother tenderly holds the dead body of Our Lord, she looks not at Him, but up and to her right, eyes brimming with tears, mouth turned down and chin drawn up, the unmistakable countenance of grief. And whatever my given disposition on any particular day, somehow her expression speaks to me.

If I have sinned, I find that Mary looks at me accusatorily: “You! You have done this to my Son!”

If I am prayerful, she is imploring: “Make reparation for sins. Make His death known. Help Him save souls.”

If I am grieving, she grieves with me: “Know that I know your pain, and more.”

There are times, honestly, when I simply can’t bear to look at her. I find that I am unworthy of her love – the unconditional and never-failing love of a true mother. Love that is not always soft and gentle, but sometimes fierce, protective, or demanding, and always with our best interests at heart.

Mary is a gift of unspeakable worth. She is God’s secret weapon. I have at times in my life grown angry with God. I have at times rejected the trials He has asked me to endure, or have longed for His guidance and grace when I felt bereft and abandoned by Him. But Mary is different. Quiet but firm, Mary is always there. She comforts, she protects, and when necessary, she admonishes. But she never leaves our side, and it is, I submit to you, impossible to ever be angry with her. And since she always and only wants what Our Lord wants, she softens the sharp edges of His justice, allowing you to entrust yourself completely to her when it seems too difficult to go to Him.

I am reminded, as I reflect on these things, that I must go to her more. That I must shrug off the malaise that has draped itself over me like a shroud, and pray more. That I must surrender my powerlessness to He who has all power, and to she to whom He has entrusted the care of His children. She is the mother of the Church and our mother. She is praying and interceding for us always.

I implore your prayers for me and my family. It is my petition that we may find the help we need to move beyond this moment of darkness and doubt, and to trust God entirely, and find joy once again in all the blessings that we have been given.

And if you’d like to say a prayer that I can get this ship (1P5) running at full steam again, I’d be much obliged. We have a lot of work to do in the next few months, and I don’t want to get any further behind.

Thank you. I promise that in return, I’ll give you my best effort.

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