A word should also be said about those whose love, like a fine wine, has come into its own. Just as a good wine begins to “breathe” with time, so too the daily experience of fidelity gives married life richness and “body.” — Pope Francis
Penance does not require hair shirts today; our neighbors are hair shirts. — Ven. Fulton J. Sheen
Two people in the last few weeks shared with me a story of their struggle to live their faith. I asked both if I could share their stories for others to be inspired. Here’s my version of what they told me. The first is a man who read my summer blog on adultery and wrote me a long email about it, the second is a woman I met at a retreat I led last year. I paraphrased this summary from his long email, and wrote from memory what I recall the woman telling me when she shared her story. I also slightly altered details from each to make sure they were unidentifiable.
Everyday holiness, quiet heroism. Both stories reminded me of Tertullian’s dictum that “a Christian alone is no Christian” — we need each other to become who we are meant to be. For me, they also give evidence to the hidden conquests of God’s Kingdom at work quietly in the world every day; signs He is extending His peaceful reign from the Cross. He is the King of Hearts, who ushers into the world His “eternal and universal kingdom; a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” I never tire of quoting these words from today’s Mass.
I’ve been married for thirteen years and have never experienced in a serious way the temptation to infidelity, until this last Spring. There’s a woman I came to know through my daughter’s school who had gone through a recent separation from her husband. One day at our kids’ game she asked me if she could talk to me and ask my advice. She said she felt I was a man who would be a good listener. It seemed fine. We met for coffee and she shared her painful story and as we spoke over about two hours I felt very close to her. Probably because she was being so vulnerable with me and even sharing with me details about her sexual urges. I felt uncomfortable but wrote it off. Then we started texting a lot over the next few months and it quickly got bad for me. I thought of her day and night and every time I would see her my heart would race. [lots more details about their interaction over these months, but I will not recount here] It was like infatuation and I felt horrible about it. I even tried to convince this woman that her husband was not worth returning to because I started to feel I possessed her. It was really sick. I never did anything physical, but I was totally obsessed and hid it from my wife. One day I texted the woman that I loved her, and asked her if she would have married me in another life. I knew I had crossed a line.
I felt afraid and guilty all the time. And then somone randomly sent me your blog post on adultery. I read it and felt totally exposed. I immediately decided to go to confession to seek help. I knew I could say anything to the priest and it was safe. After revealing it to him I felt 1000 pounds lighter and felt like I had broken an addiction I had developed to this woman. The priest gave me several tough penances, but one was a prayer to pray which was totally amazing in its effects. He said, every time you feel tempted to adultery say to God: “God, set a seal on my heart” [a beautiful twist on Song of Songs 8:6 – “Set me as a seal upon your heart”]. I say that prayer probably a hundred times a day and it has been so powerful, makes me feel like God is protecting my heart from my own weaknesses and keeping me faithful to my wife and children and helping me to love this other woman like I was supposed to, as a sister, and not the way I was.
Best part, she very recently got back together with her husband.
I had to share this with you because you need to know your writing is used for good.
I have always wanted to fast on bread and water for my children, to ask God to bless them by my sacrifices. But fasting is so hard for me and whenever I do it I get depressed and feel terrible. I was talking to God about this the other day, and told Him that He has to help me if He wants me to fast. Then suddenly, as I was praying, an old friend called me out of the blue. We chatted for a while and then she asked me how I was doing. I was having a hard time so I started to tell her about it, but right in mid-sentence she just jumped in and used what I said to launch into her own problems and never listened to me. I started to get angry, felt so hurt, but suddenly thought: this is the fast God wants from me right now, to accept this annoyance and just listen to her with love. So I then joyfully listened to her talk and talk for about twenty minutes and then we said goodbye. And I was so grateful. I could see that the most important sacrifices I make are not the ones I choose and self-impose, but the ones that are thrust on me, that I don’t choose. And God allows us to choose to respond with love and patience and then offer that up for my children. How awesome is that?
May this be our prayer: