I am a typical example of someone who is bright, holds a responsible job, and yet is unable to live wisely. Intelligence and true wisdom are two completely different things. Now I know that a wise life is one where God is at the center. It was not always like this.
Until quite recently I characterized our marriage as a “fatal attraction.” For several years my husband and I were an average married couple — neither good, nor bad. I recall being very moved by our son’s First Holy Communion. After that, things began to go downhill. My husband and I began drifting apart. I stopped going to church. My husband began to drink more and more and lost interest in the family.
In 1989 my brother-in-law was killed in an accident. The event proved to be a turning point in my life, for it prompted questions about the meaning of human life. Nothing seemed to give me satisfactory answers and, since life abhors a vacuum, I began seeking answers in Eastern religions. I also became interested in the philosophy of positive thinking, which amounts to creating your own reality. I went to Indo-Polish temples, attended the birthday parties of the spiritual master, Guru Krishna Kshetra Prabhu, and even entertained bhaktas (Krishna worshipers) at my home. The exoticism of this religion and culture fascinated me. I read a great deal. I recall I wanted to change myself, become a serene, self-possessed, kind, and gentle person. But nothing came of it. The desire remained, but I did not change. I was a very emotional person. Self-perfection is important in every religion, but as to achieving it, this eluded me. I believed in God. I longed for Him, but He seemed to be so distant, remote, and unattainable.
Matters worsened in our family. My husband got into heavy debt. His firm went bankrupt, and he began drinking more than ever. I suffered the hell of an alcoholic’s wife: drunken rows, police intervention, fear, financial worries, and the gnawing awareness that our child was suffering. Everyone urged me to have done with this marriage. So I sued for a divorce, seeing in this a chance for a normal life for my son and myself.
In a way, it all began with my son Peter. In November of 2005, friends of ours asked him to be their child’s godfather, and for this my son needed proper certification. I went to see the pastor of our parish and got an earful: I didn’t attend church, though I walked past it every day; we hadn’t invited the priest to our home for many years; he hadn’t seen my husband and I together for a long time, etc. etc. There was much truth in these words, and it hurt. It may sound stupid, but out of spite I decided to go to church every day until he was sick of the sight of me. And so it began.
Holy Mass struck me as something unusual — an otherworldly, mysterious experience, an encounter between heaven and earth. Faith begins with hearing. I listened. I listened. And I listened. I regained my sense of sight and sound. The word I heard read at church brought me joy, hope, and love. It was a balm for my wounded soul. I came to realize that God had loved me all this time; that he wished me well, wished me happiness, and had forgiven me. Only I was to sin no more. I resolved I would attend Holy Mass every day for a year, so as to “bring everything back” and put my life in order.
One thing was certain: I had a sincere wish to live a Christian life. Intrigued by the text of the invitation, “If your marriage is falling apart and you want to come to know Jesus, come!” I began to attend RCIA classes at the parish.
Reading God’s word taught me what real faith was. It enabled me to bear my mother’s death with greater serenity. Being with people in a community gave me the strength to withdraw my petition for a divorce and forgive my husband. When Mark — my RCIA instructor — first urged me to forgive my husband and beg his forgiveness, I thought he was mad. “What does he know about me and my problems?” I said to myself. Surely, it was my husband who should be asking my forgiveness — and on his knees at that. But something told me to “go the whole nine yards,” to believe and to trust — unconditionally, to the bitter end.
It dawned on me that I was not without fault either. I had often hurt my husband by my harsh words, by my lack of sensitivity and empathy. I came to understand what it meant to allow “Christ to be born” in my heart. I came to understand those oft-repeated words “to die for someone else.” The words meant renouncing myself, my “I,” my personal reasons, my selfish aspirations, my desire to please only myself.
I recall the shock in the courtroom, when, while testifying to my husband’s physical and psychological abuse of the family, my son and I announced that we had forgiven him and were withdrawing our petition. Everyone was shocked — the judge, our friends, our family. But Peter and I were happy. It was a great load off our minds.
I recall all the hatred seething within me — the hostility, the anger towards my husband and the whole world. I recall how my thoughts of a “failed life” oppressed me. And I recall how, when I invited Jesus into my life, all these negative feelings fell suddenly silent. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mat 11:28). I felt — almost physically — the profound truth of these words. I understood that every word coming from the mouth of Jesus was the Truth, the Way, and the Life. If we want His word to change our life, we must treat it as an instruction that must be followed to the letter. When the apostles, who had fished for a whole night and caught nothing, cast their nets in precisely the spot indicated to them by Jesus, the nets fairly burst with a surfeit of fish.
Only with love can we change or win over another person, no matter how base, evil, or ruined he or she may be. This is what Jesus taught me and this is what He expected of me. I did something I could never have done without him. The more I came to know Jesus, the more I felt attracted to and enraptured by Him. I so much wanted to walk in His footsteps and be like Him in some small way. In rapture, there is always the desire to imitate.
I asked for my husband’s forgiveness and began treating him differently — as a brother in faith. His shock was complete. Noticing I had changed, he began going to church with me. For the first time in twenty years, he went to confession. Now we receive Holy Communion together. His relationship with our son has changed; he has become more responsible, more composed and peaceful. He has not touched alcohol in three years. He speaks respectfully of priests. We do many things together and talk to each other a great deal. We also took our difficulties to a Cana retreat. There, among the Friends of Jesus from Nazareth, we came to understand the meaning of a sacramental marriage and what it was to love someone “for better, for worse.” Once again — but this time with full awareness — we invited Jesus into our lives, and He worked His miracle as at Cana. Now we want our son to see us as people whom God has changed; people who treat one another and others with kindness and consideration; in short, people who live out the Gospel. I believe that for Peter our witness is the most powerful sign — proof of the existence and action of God.
Without God, our family could never have freed itself from such an impossible situation. “My yoke is easy,” Jesus tells us (Mat 11: 30). It really is. We have experienced it! We know now what is really important and valuable in life — God, family, and warm, heartfelt relations with others. To all those experiencing difficulties in their marriage, I wish to say one thing: divorce is a way to hell. We need to remember this. In God’s eyes, every marriage is sacred — indissoluble and deserving of every effort to save it. Every effort! God will never leave us alone. Never.
The above article was published with permission from "Love One Another!" in August 2016.