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Theme eight: A Home for the Wounded Heart Print
Guest column
Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
Beth Ulaszek

In conjunction with the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia this past September, the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis of the Diocese of Madison is providing a monthly series on a particular theme on marriage and family. Each theme is a chapter in the preparatory catechesis developed for the event entitled Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, available in paperback from www.osvparish.com or for free online at www.worldmeeting2015.org

Chapter Eight of the World Meeting of Families Catechesis delves into some of Jesus' hard sayings and Pope Francis' beautiful vision of the Church as a field hospital after battle.

Pope Francis said, "It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol . . . You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else."

This hints at an idea the pope often talks about and that Christ exemplifies for us throughout the New Testament: the idea of accompaniment. To bring people to healing we must meet them where they are, even wounded on the battle field, and walk with them toward Christ, who is the ultimate physician.

I am no stranger to those wounds. I, like half of my generation, am a child of divorce. Every Sunday my mom wrangled three kids together and got us to Mass. This is undoubtedly a Herculean accomplishment. She was even able to scrape together the means to send us to a Catholic school.

Despite these heroic efforts to raise her children in a Catholic environment, her own relationship with Christ was in crisis. She only attended Mass on the weekends she had the kids, our family prayer was lean, and she did not live out her sexuality according to God's plan.

When the Synod on the Family addressed divorce, I imagine they considered the vast number of people who find themselves in situations similar to my mom's.

Accompaniment

As my mom began to reorient her life toward Christ, she had to face his "hard sayings" head on. In Matthew Chapter 9, Christ explicitly states, "Whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries commits adultery." The teaching was so difficult that the disciples asked if it was even worth it to marry.

So where do Christ's words leave someone like my mom who was many years divorced and living in sin with her fiancé? The first step she rightly took was to go to Confession, where her confessor challenged her to begin living as "brother and sister" with her fiancé while she sought a Decree of Nullity. She rose to the challenge and then waited patiently for the Lord’s will to be done. Easy? NO!

Accompaniment took many forms in her life. In high school, I dealt with my own wounds and experienced a reversion as a freshman in college. It was through my witness, experience of Confession, and encouragement that I was able to accompany my mom and her then-fiancé. As her fiancé began to experience a beautiful conversion, he was able to lead their spiritual relationship and had the courage to hold them accountable to Christ's word.

The strong confessor who recognized her tough circumstance but refused to leave her behind in her sins is another key accompaniment role. As a family we sought out community in our parish. My mom and I were invited to be a part of a very supportive group of holy women, who without judging anyone's past, constantly revealed to us new paths to the heart of Christ and gently nudged us onward.

In time, my mom was granted a Decree of Nullity. And she waited until she was married to resume -- now proper -- marital relations with her husband. The two of them provide our family an example that was lacking for many years. An example of obedience, humility, virtue, and trust. It has been an invaluable example.

Had she not received the decree, she was prepared to live by Christ's word and she knew she had a strong community and a merciful Lord to accompany her with the cross she would have had to bear.

Why it matters

I share this with you hoping that it is a helpful example of accompanying those who are deeply impacted by some of Christ's most difficult teachings which often deal with marriage, sexual desire, and the family.

First, it is my hope that everyone reading this can see themselves as a character in this story, because families like mine and families in much greater crisis sit right next to us all on Sunday.

I hope that this emboldens us all to reach out to individuals and couples who live with the deep wounds caused by divorce, sexual sin, or same-sex attraction. I pray that as the Body of Christ, we may all have the compassion to gently lift our brothers and sisters out of the pain and darkness of sin and offer them the hope of redemption through Christ.

Second, I hope that it speaks to those who are living in difficult circumstances and who feel disconnected from Christ or who have never experienced His mercy. Yes, His teachings on divorce, marriage, human sexuality, and same-sex attraction are difficult. With perfect clarity, Christ looked at humanity and made a painful diagnosis, but he also freely and eagerly provides the antidote through the sacraments and Christian community.

Come home this Christmas season. Come home during the Year of Mercy. Come home and do not be afraid to reorient your life toward Christ. Your parish community, the Church, the angels and saints in heaven, and Christ Himself are waiting to embrace you and accompany you through all the challenges that lay ahead.


Beth Ulaszek is the associate coordinator of marriage and family programs in the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis of the Diocese of Madison. She and her husband Doug are the parents of two boys and are parishioners at St. Christopher Parish in Verona.