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Perspective: Storms don’t have to devastate your family

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By Dr. Ricardo J. Márquez

I see signs of powerful storms all around me: When I hear about the high rate of depression among adolescents; when I read about the exploding rate of suicide among young people; when I accompany anxious, bewildered parents coping with sexual identity issues; when I see a domestic partner responding to tensions with violence; when calls seeking therapists, counselors and spiritual coaches just keep coming. These are signs that a Category 5 hurricane is churning through our families.

For many, the holidays were moments intensely charged with emotions. A longing to see each other, to embrace, to share, to renew the faith and to strengthen bonds; moments of joy and happiness. Others lived far different experiences, enduring loneliness caused by family fractures, by the absence of someone who decided to leave or died, by the excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs that stoked violence, by wars, by poverty or by the desperate need to immigrate.

How do we approach these complicated and varied realities?

A tendency to judge, label and criticize is not helpful; it deepens the wounds and the distances. Indifference, complacency, escape and isolation don’t help, either.

Then, how do we react? With magnanimity; with a soul that is big, open and generous; with a heart that grows as one begins to learn how to manage interior tensions, that is sensitive to suffering, compassionate and thus vulnerable, that cries with the one who is crying and sings with the one who is joyful and grateful.

But that heart is developed. It’s not improvised from one day to the next; it’s the fruit of grace, of asking and wishing for something, in combination with the discipline of silence and prayer. It’s the result of the constant work of looking inward, of listening to the interior voice of the conscience that guides us with wisdom and compassion.

We can only build in the exterior what we have built inside; we cannot give what we don’t have; if we want to harvest, we must plant, water, fertilize and nurture the seedling.

That’s conversion, the invitation to transform ourselves from within, of insisting constantly: “Lord, help me to see, to listen, to be able to walk on the path to the common good, justice and peace.”

This invitation may sound like another voice clamoring in the desert. We’re surrounded by so much noise, worry and distractions that it’s hard to hear it. But we have to continue to shout it from the mountain tops, like the prophets, wishing to learn through our conscience and not from experiencing the tragic consequences of the storm that’s at our door.

We are more than what we believe we are; we have alternatives and a great potential to explore new possibilities. Great changes begin with small steps. We are called to live life, and “a life in abundance.” We can begin today, freeing ourselves from the power we give our past, from guilt and shame, accepting and embracing our lights and our shadows, giving all that we are, putting it in His hands, asking for His love and grace to serve, console and to be able discover the ultimate purpose in our lives: To be one with everyone in Him.

If the signs of the times announce storms, may this new year be the opportunity to grow, to learn and to transform our lives; may it be a year of deep conversion for our good, and that of our families and all of humanity.

Ricardo J. Márquez, PhD, is associate director of the Diocese of San Diego’s Office for Family Life and Spirituality.

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