Finding Healing Through Brokenness and Forgiveness

God cares for us through brokenness.

I grew up in a great family: four kids, two parents, normal, Catholic-but-not-too-Catholic. We lived the average American life until tragedy struck when I was fifteen. During routine sinus surgery, a doctor’s mistake led to a massive brain infection that left my dad half-paralyzed, disabled, and unable to work. Our family fell apart in many ways, which led me to battle with God.

I remember thinking everything had been perfect, and then God had taken it all away. I grew angry and asked, “What kind of God are you?” Many of us pushed back against God, faith, and our parents. My parents divorced but have a good friendship now.

It’s hard to talk about things when they go bad or our families get broken. As a high schooler, I didn’t know how to tell people what had happened. I began living an isolated life where I shut my heart down and lived superficially. Externally, I had a great life. But internally, I was shattered and dealing with anger, sadness, grief, and questioning God.

I didn’t think the Lord was safe or trustworthy. I went to a Catholic university but avoided priests because I didn’t want them to ask if I had considered the priesthood. Eventually, it became an unavoidable question. I traveled through Australia and Southeast Asia and ended up on a shrimp boat for a month. In the middle of this great adventure, I realized I had all the same questions that I had at home. Everything I had never confronted was still tangled up inside of me.

I stopped resisting the Lord, who had gotten stronger in his insistence. I entered seminary and had a beautiful journey of deep conversion. My real conversion—my full commitment to the Lord—happened there. Now, I love being a priest; it’s the greatest gift. I can’t believe I almost threw it away.

On the tenth anniversary of my ordination, my family gathered and asked me to toast my dad. I reflected on how he had dealt with suffering. From one perspective, he had everything taken away. But now, he reads Scripture and goes to Mass daily. He’s never been angry at God. He jokes about his arm not working and is lighthearted about his shattered life. My family is so close; my siblings and I are best friends with our parents. We’re always together. One of my brothers is also a priest. In the toast, I said, “Dad, you are like the sacrificial victim that the Lord chose for our family. You offered the Lord your life as a father; you didn’t close yourself off from Him. You stayed faithful throughout this unexpected, arduous, heartbreaking journey. It was devastating in many ways, but it could’ve shattered us much further.”

Because he persevered and we all stayed with the Lord, we are much closer than we would have been. Everybody in my family regularly attends Mass. This is the Paschal mystery being worked out in human life.

Strangely, we wouldn’t change it. It would be nice if we didn’t have to suffer, but isn’t that the story of life? Viewed in the light of grace—through the lens of the crucifix—the Father allows evil because it allows things to happen that wouldn’t have been otherwise possible. In hindsight, we see what the Lord was doing, and we wouldn’t trade it. But it is a suffering. We have to say, “I don’t know what You’re doing, Lord, but I’m willing to wait and stay faithful. I’m willing to press through because that’s the only way.” Christ doesn’t avoid the cup He doesn’t want to drink. He proceeds in his Father’s plan, and the conquest of grace is stunning unto the end of the age.

That story is meant to play out in our own journeys of suffering. When we step out of the flow of grace and suffer alone, or when we let suffering grind us into what seems like death and we stay there, the Paschal message is not accomplished in us. Easter joy can’t bear upon us unless we finish the pathway of the Paschal narrative.


Editor’s note: Fr. John Burns will be a keynote speaker for the Avila Summit in October of 2023.  More info and in-person or online tickets can be found  here. 

This article was first published on the Renewal Ministries Blog and  is condensed from an episode of The Choices We Face called Healing Through Forgiveness. You can view it here. You can view additional episodes here

(Coming soon! Part 2: Finding Healing Through Forgiveness)

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