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Love and pain are a package deal

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Follow Mary’s example when dealing with inevitable family conflict

A few years ago, a family close to ours was nearly torn apart as one of their children struggled with substance abuse and the others disagreed about how to respond. There was no good solution and our friends, people of deep faith, couldn’t shake the feeling that they had done something wrong, that they had failed as parents.

Most of us understand that family life draws us into the paschal mystery: the dynamic in which God calls us to die to ourselves so we can rise in Christ. We accept that caring for our families demands sacrifice, and we look forward to the ways in which that sacrifice will bring new life. The problem is, that new life comes in God’s time, not ours. Sometimes, we experience the paschal mystery in tears, self-doubt and exasperation. When that happens, only our closest friends hear about it. We don’t like to talk about those experiences because we think that good Catholic family life should be serene and peaceful, like our image of the Holy Family.

But let’s look closely at the Holy Family. When Jesus was 12 years old, the family went to Jerusalem, and Mary and Joseph, thinking Jesus was returning home with them, lost track of him and spent three agonizing days looking for him. Eventually finding him in the Temple, they were too upset for words. They asked Jesus, “Why have you treated us this way?” He calmly replied: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)

Here we have the three best people who ever walked the face of the earth. Even so, those good people, acting in good faith, experienced real misunderstanding and distress. Simeon had prophesied to Mary that, as Jesus’ mother, a sword would pierce her soul. (Luke 2:35) For mothers, love and pain are a package deal.

The more deeply we love our children, the more we feel pain for them. Pain when being there for our kids means compromising our career, pain when our children are on the wrong path and we don’t know how to get them on the right one, pain when our children suffer for no good reason and we can’t fix it, pain when, acting in good faith, we get in conflict with our children and don’t know how to reconcile. To be a parent is to have a sword pierce our soul.

As Lent comes to a close and we approach Holy Week, Jesus reminds us that we don’t get to the Resurrection until we go through the Crucifixion. That’s the paschal mystery.

Parents, we have to remember that God, who gave us this awesome burden, never intended us to carry it alone. Despite pain and conflict, we need to be patient with him and with one another.

After the awkward incident at the Temple, Jesus responded as a respectful son to his parents: “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” Mary, for her part, then reflected upon “all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51) When we inevitably encounter conflict within our family, our first move should be toward reconciliation, and the next should be to reflect on what happened in prayer.

Difficulties in family life are not failures. They are normal and should be fruitful ground for reflection in our prayer. Usually, somewhere behind family conflict we will find love and fear. Prayer can help us express the love and tame the fear.

Luke describes Mary’s reflection after the incident in the Temple using the same language he used to describe her reflection after the Nativity. It’s likely that this reflection led Mary to reconsider who her child really was and how she may not have known how to respond properly to this reality that Jesus was beginning to understand. I strongly suspect that this realization led Mary to grow closer to Jesus.

Family life is not meant to be neat and tidy. It’s meant to be loving, and love takes the form of the paschal mystery. As we approach Holy Week, let’s follow the Holy Family’s example and reconcile and reflect, patiently awaiting the peace our Lord provides, in his time.

Northwest Catholic - March 2019

Deacon Eric Paige

Deacon Eric Paige is the Archdiocese of Seattle's executive director for evangelization, formation and discipleship. Contact him at eric.paige@seattlearch.org.

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