Dear Fellow Parishioners,
This weekend Fr. Martin Shallbetter, who served as the pastor of our parish from 1986 to 1998, will be subbing for me at all our parish Masses. Please welcome Fr. Marty! It will be good to have him visit.
Why am I gone? I have chosen to attend the eighth grade graduation of my niece from St. Michael’s Catholic School in Olympia, Washington. This may surprise you. A few years ago it would have surprised me. During the early years of my priesthood I did not take time for such family events. I was too busy with parish ministry, even as an associate pastor, but especially as a pastor. Only in the last 15 years or so have I begun to make time for such important family events. I guess I have realized the need to practice what I preach.
What do I mean? Well, I believe that God has given each of us a family, and we will be judged someday on how we managed this gift/responsibility. If you’re like me, there is always room for improvement. Yes, I have some “challenging” family members — to be fair, I’m sure they see me as a challenge — that I am called to love regardless of how or whether they return my love. This can be difficult at times; and yet, I guess this is what people call “tough” love.
There are many times I shake my head and wonder why God gave me my family, whether I’m feeling joy-filled or exasperated, blessed or burdened. The bottom line is that this is my family. Two pieces of advice I often share with children, especially in the confessional, are the following:
1) Friends come and go, but you’re “stuck” with your family (and they are stuck with you). Regardless of the circumstances, there is no “trading” of family members.
2) When we each get to heaven and face our particular judgment, the very first question God will ask as your life review begins will be: how did you love the family I gave you?
I realize it is easy to proclaim such words. It is another matter to live out such wisdom. Perhaps you have a loving family and simply cannot relate to this matter. If so, God bless you and your family. Enjoy! However, the vast majority of us have challenging families and must dig deep to love them. This “tough” love can be offered in countless ways. The key here is the effort; that is, we must not allow difficulties to prevent us from finding and giving love to our family. If you find yourself overwhelmed and exhausted in your efforts to love your family, know that you are not alone. Most of us have this experience from time to time. Once again, remember that God is watching the effort you put in to handle this gift/responsibility.
One of the things we sometimes forget is that we are never alone in handling the life God has given us. What I mean here is that God has bestowed upon each of us various resources to assist you in your life journey. As Catholics, we are called to turn to the Church for guidance and sustenance. For example, the sacraments are a wonderful way to be nurtured. Or consider the pastoral counseling and spiritual direction that is readily available. These are just two of many resources. How are you utilizing the wealth of supports God has given each of us?
Before you get too worried here, I offer you some wisdom once shared with me by my niece from Olympia when she was only three years old. Seeing me worried about something, she said: “Uncle Brian, just breathe.” Over the years since this moment I have found myself following this sage advice when I have been faced with challenging people or moments. I invite you to do the same. May God bless each of us as we strive to manage the many gifts/responsibilities we have been given.