By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer
“Thank you for being here. I’m certain it wasn’t easy for you to decide to come,” said Deacon James Russo, speaker at “Finding Comfort and Solace,” an evening of reflection for the separated and divorced May 1 at the Shrine of St. Therese of Lisieux, Nesquehoning.
Deacon Russo’s topics included why we suffer, healing, forgiveness, brokenness and mercy. Individuals who are separated or divorced gained an understanding of Christ as the Suffering Servant, how they can unite their suffering to the cross and how this connects to day-to-day life.
The Diocesan Office of Marriage and Natural Family Planning sponsored the evening that included time for adoration, a brief presentation and fellowship.
“Like our God who is a social being, we are made to bond with each other at various appropriate levels. When that bond is broken, it hurts. People cry when their parents die, their best friend moves away or their co-worker is transferred. There is pain in separation with loved ones,” Deacon Russo said.
“Marriage is meant to be the highest level of union between people, uniting husband and wife into ‘one flesh.’ What is one flesh?”
Deacon Russo explained it’s two unique individuals who form an intimate, deeply personal communion that mirrors the loving union of the Persons in the Trinity: they remain separate, but in a sense they also “disappear” into each other at the same time. They become “one.” They merge, meld and give themselves totally to one another. Like Father, Son and Holy Spirit do. From that union should come great security, love, peace and joy.
“But when spouses separate or divorce after forming emotional, sexual, financial, parental, social and spiritual bonds – becoming “one” – they do not separate … they tear apart. So, and here’s a key principle, the deeper the emotional attachment one has, or had, the deeper the pain,” Deacon Russo said.
“Pain can also signal grave fear. Marriage sometimes becomes a person’s entire identity or their security. When it’s lost, panic arises, and a person may often fight or flounder to grab hold of a quick substitute.
“Tonight I hope to convince you to discover your identity and your security. I pray that you will become the person God created you to be. No role in marriage – spouse or parent – should ever be the center of your life; that place is reserved for God alone. When you are willing to begin to put God at the center of your heart, he will heal you from the inside out. That’s a promise.”
Deacon Russo highlighted Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman (John 4), noting the number seven in Scripture is symbolic of perfection/completeness/wholeness. He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.
The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband [that’s number six]. What you have just said is quite true.”
“Jesus is the seventh man in her life … where one can find perfection/completeness/wholeness,” Deacon Russo said.
How to feel better?
“You can always eat a half gallon of double chocolate fudge ice cream, a box of Oreos or a whole chocolate lava cake, but that won’t work in the long run,” Deacon Russo said. “As with any difficult times, slowing down, getting lots of rest, unloading your overscheduled calendar for a while, taking walks, or listening to beautiful music is a much better choice.
“Perhaps you may never have thought about going to sit before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He promised never to leave you and left his real, true and substantial presence available to you in the Eucharist. Quiet time with him, crying, unloading, problem solving or even better … just listening … can help you feel better.”
Deacon Russo also discussed the feelings of guilt the separated and divorced feel.
“Feelings of guilt can be like warning gauges on the car: they signal that something is wrong and we should pay attention to them. But first understand that there is a distinction between genuine guilt and false guilt,” said Deacon Russo.
“Genuine guilt has been described as an authentic grieving of your spirit because you know you have failed, hurt or used someone, and you regret having done so. Thank God for this, because it should move you to change direction away from self and back to love.
“It is a maturity that takes responsibility for one’s sins. If only I had been less selfish, maybe he/she would not have left. I blew it.
“False guilt is really more of a fear of rejection for having failed to perform to someone’s standards. It comes from a mixture of pride and a disordered reliance on others’ opinions and approval, and a fear that if you lose it, you’ll be lost. Some call this codependency. If only I were thinner, richer or more sexually available, maybe he/she would not have left.
“Both come from a sense of failure. But remember: we all fail. And it’s not the world’s expectations we should live up to, it’s God’s. Failure alone is not a reason for divorce.”
“Forgiveness, mercy and grace are available to you from God at every moment and in every circumstance ... even when they are not available to you from others,” he said, sharing the words of Pope Francis in saying, “God never tires of forgiving.”
If God is good, why did he allow this divorce? Many may ask this question.
“God is not a puppet master. While in an overarching way he is completely “in control,” he also let go, in a sense, of that control so we could have free will. God does not will evil, but he permits it, to safeguard the gift of our free will. And, boy, has mankind made a mess of that,” said Deacon Russo.
“But God also promises from the hurtful things that happen to bring forth a greater good. Look at the crucifix … how could a loving God let his only son suffer and die that hideous death like a common criminal? Because from that greatest evil came the greatest good … our salvation.
“You may look at bad things and think they are the end, but wait and see what gifts can come from an evil like divorce.
“When you send your kids off to school for the first time, you do not will their being bullied on the playground or other suffering, but you permit it for a greater good: their growing up, learning, and becoming the man or woman God intended. Real love does not keep a child ‘safely’ locked away from all pain. Real love stands by faithfully, helping the child to grow from it.
“Many say that through their divorce they finally found God; they grew closer to him, changed their lives and found deep inner peace. They came back to the gifts of his Church, had better relationships with their children and learned what life was really all about. Not to discount injustices and pain that you have suffered, but these are some unexpected treasures that can be yours.”