The phone rang in the parish office. Moments later, the call was transferred to Father Reed’s desk. He answered and said, “Hello, this is Father Reed.” His caller replied, “Good morning, Father. My name is Bob Johnson. You don’t know me, but my wife, Julie, made the retreat you gave three months ago. She loved the retreat and spoke well of you. I’m struggling with some things in my spiritual life, and I wondered if you’d be willing to meet with me.” They made an appointment for Saturday at one o’clock. Saturday arrived, and they sat in the rectory parlor. After their initial exchanges and a brief prayer, Father Reed settled himself to listen.
Bob began, “Maybe it’s best that I give a little background about the things I want to talk about.” Father Reed nodded his agreement. “I’ve been a Catholic all my life, and I go to Mass every Sunday with Julie and the children. Julie and I have been married for seventeen years. We’ve had our ups and downs, but I’ve always thought of it as a good marriage. Still, every so often I hurt Julie. I don’t mean to, and I realize it only after it’s happened. I see her withdraw, and I know she’s suffering. I did it again a few weeks ago when—with what I thought were good intentions—I raised questions about how she’s working with our youngest son, David, who is struggling at school. It really bothers me when I do this, and I try to make amends. It can get complicated. Usually, after some days, we resolve the tension. This time, though, it’s still there.” Father Reed nodded once more and continued to listen.
“Spiritually, things have been moving in a good direction over these last years. I’ve joined the Men’s Faith Formation Group in the parish, and we meet on first and third Fridays in the morning. It’s been good in many ways. I’ve made some good friends, I’ve learned more about prayer, and my faith seems more alive. That’s why it’s so discouraging when this tension with Julie happens again, and I recognize that I’m not treating her in the way she needs. It starts
to affect everything: my relationship with her and the children, my work, even my prayer. That’s why I’m here. I need help.”
“How does the discouragement affect you, Bob?” asked Father Reed. “I find myself thinking like this: ‘What kind of a husband are you? You hear talks about how married men grow in holiness by loving their wives and children. You want to be that kind of man. But look at the mess you make of your relationship with your wife. Don’t think you’ll ever be much of husband and not much of a father either. You can’t even agree with your wife about how to help your son. Make all the efforts you want. Maybe you’ll do better in this or that for a while. But you’ll never really change.’”
“That sounds pretty heavy,” Father Reed said.
“It is, and it doesn’t stop there. As I said, it spreads to everything.”
“Could you say more about that, Bob? What’s that like?”
“Well, for example, I mentioned the Men’s Faith Formation Group. Friday morning comes, and I find myself thinking, ‘What’s the point of going? You’ve been attending these meetings for two years, and where has it gotten you? Nothing has changed. Why bother going?’ To be honest, recently I have missed some of the meetings.
“One of the recommendations is to spend a few minutes daily with the readings from the day’s Mass. I subscribe to a monthly publication with the readings, and I pray with them in the evening. And the same thought comes: ‘Why bother? What good has it done? Go ahead, pray with the readings, but it won’t make any difference. You won’t change.’ Sometimes, I give in and just don’t do it.”
“That does sound difficult,” Father Reed agreed.
“I’ll add one more thing,” Bob continued, “and then I’ll have said all I need to say. I’ve been wondering about making a retreat. Julie made one, and I saw how it helped her. That got me thinking about doing the same. I know you’ll be doing another retreat two months from now, and I’ve considered signing up. But there it is: ‘What’s the point? Sign up, go, be a part of it. You’ll hear some good things, and you may make some good resolutions. It might even change things for a few weeks. But it won’t last. You’ll go back to being the same you. You’ll hurt your wife again, you’ll disappoint your children, you’ll pull out of the group, you’ll drop your prayer—just like you’re doing now.’ So, I haven’t registered for the retreat.”
This article is adapted from a chapter in Struggles in the Spiritual Life by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, O.M.V. which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Art for this post: Cover and featured image used with permission.