How can I help...?

Dear Fr. Joe: How can I help … my friends whose marriage is falling apart?

FAITHFUL READERS – many of the questions I get begin with these four words: How can I help …?
It’s a wonderful thing to get a message that basically reads, “I want to help someone!” As a priest, I am touched that so many people want to help their brothers and sisters. So, I’m going to answer a couple of these questions with one simple caveat: No matter what type of problem someone has, the first and most important step is to pray for them and pray that God will guide you in your response. With that, let’s get right to it!

It’s a tough thing to watch a marriage falling apart, and I feel deeply blessed by knowing that you want to help people in that situation.

Obviously, there are times where divorce is not only allowed, but necessary for the safety of one spouse or the couple’s children. Generally, common sense will dictate understanding those situations where there is no other recourse, such as abusive relationships. Outside of those, I would urge you to see it as your duty to help this couple fight for their marriage – to help them to address the issue/issues together with prayer and a professional in order to preserve the sacrament.

Share stories of times when you and your spouse struggled. Remind them of the times when things were better, pray with them, encourage them to remember what they loved about their husband or wife, offer to help with the kids when they go to marriage counseling or even when they simply need time together as a couple. These are great ways to help people whose marriages are struggling.

Beyond that, there is an excellent program called Retrouvaille (pronounced retro-vie). If you type that into Google, you’ll see how to sign up. I have sent struggling couples to this program and it was extremely helpful. Besides this, there are other excellent options out there that your diocese may be able to tell you about.

… my priest, who always seems so harried?

As a priest, let me say this: Bless you for asking! A priest’s life is a blessed but busy one and personally, I find it to be a life that is filled with pressure. As a result, I have a lot of ideas here that can help, beyond prayer.

First, I’d encourage you to be supportive. Everyone is an expert on how the priest should be, what he should be doing, etc. Don’t be that person. In the immortal words of my dad, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Trust that he is doing his best. Trust that he loves God until he does something to take that trust away.

Second, let him pray before Mass and be present to people after. Don’t hang out in the sacristy before Mass to have a conversation unless you are doing a ministry. Personally, I know that asking me to remember something before or after Mass is generally a bad idea. Call the secretary and let him/her know what you want during the week rather than try to get him to remember something after a busy Sunday.

Be sure to let him know when you or someone you love is in the hospital. Don’t assume he knows or that someone will tell him; people get very hurt when the priest doesn’t come see them, but the priest can’t do what he doesn’t know.

Best thing? Don’t gossip. Ever. You’ll add years onto your priest’s life.

In a future column, I’ll talk about how to help those who are grieving, and the person who is begging in the street.
In the meantime, pray for everyone who is struggling and needs help. And enjoy another day in God’s presence!