When I was growing up, I heard my father recount the story of a friend he worked with, Joe, many times. Joe was a Vietnam war veteran who had survived four years in a prison camp as a POW.
He had been separated from the few men in his company that had survived an enemy air attack. On that fateful day as he searched for his brothers-in-arms, he walked right into an area crawling with Viet-Cong troops. Terrified, Joe ran in the other direction, outpacing his enemies. When he thought he’d distanced himself, he dove down under the shallow waters of a rice paddy to hide. The water was only about 3 feet deep bet he was able to remain completely hidden. He stayed alive by breathing slowly and steadily through a tall reed, maintaining perfect stillness.
After three days of hiding Joe finally stood up, feeling certain the enemy had grown tired of looking for him. But as he rose out of the water, he found himself surrounded at gunpoint and was a prisoner of war for four years. When he was finally rescued in 1978, he emerged from his captivity a staunch atheist.
Some years later, he came to know my father as a co-worker where they worked in the computer engineering field. My father, being a man of great faith and desire to bring others to know God, had many vigorous discussions about the existence of God with Joe during their lunch hours. Joe’s decision to believe there was no God came from a simple statement: If there was a God, He would have saved me, but He didn’t. Therefore, there can be no God. It was a simple equation and was the only way Joe could reconcile his years of suffering. But my father hoped their discussions might open the door for the Holy Spirit to break through Joe’s pain and show him the depth’s of God’s love and Dad never missed an opportunity to be friendly and chat with Joe.
I don’t know if Joe ever converted from atheism, but I do know my father helped him in ways no one else had – through his sincere interest to help, his persistent friendship, and willingness to listen when there was nothing in it for him. My father, himself, had been through great hurts and was compelled by those experiences to lend compassion and understanding to this man who was hurting so much.
Many people who experience the tragedy of divorce can relate to Joe’s shocking disbelief that a loving God would allow such pain and devastation to take place. Divorced Catholics leave the church in droves because they are angry with God, or they assume they are not welcome in their parish. Many are too embarrassed and ashamed to show their faces at Church. Others simply don’t understand how to reconcile the fact that they are both Catholic and divorced. Every day, more and more people are trying to rebuild their lives after divorce not realizing they have walked away from the very things that will bring about true and lasting healing… Christ, His Church, and His sacraments.
A Corporal Work of Mercy
In the New Testament, St. Peter urged us to share our faith with these words: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15). As a Catholic who has experienced the pain and anguish of divorce and is now moving on to a new, happier phase of your life, I encourage you to use your experiences to help others. Not only can you help someone through one of the toughest times in life, but you would be performing a corporal work of mercy, namely, “visiting the sick.”
Just like my father used his experience in dealing with his own painful events to help Joe, you could be the catalyst for helping someone else going through a divorce to stay close to their faith. Sharing your story of struggles in a hopeful and positive way with someone who is feeling lost and abandoned could make the difference in whether that person remains a Catholic or walks away.
I welcome your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.