April 25th, 2017
I have just finished a counselling session with a couple. I decided to take this opportunity to share a bit more about the ministry I am involved in. As well as teaching at St. Mary’s University in Calgary, I have a small practice where I see 3-6 couples on a weekly basis. I got involved in marriage counselling very early in my priesthood. I was heavily involved in marriage preparation. Fortunately, I had an opportunity to obtain more training.
As a priest for almost 32 years, I have come to the realization that early family life experiences are critical for faith formation. How do you explain the love of God to someone who has not experienced love in his or her family? Or, how do you encourage someone to trust God when they have experienced abuse from someone they were expected to trust? I am not surprised that I see so many people who suffer from “scrupulosity”. They cannot experience a loving and forgiving God when they have not experienced forgiveness growing up.
Many people are in their own personal prison. Although the doors are unlocked, they are still prisoners unable to walk out to freedom. In Luke 4:10, Jesus was in synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown. He was handed the scroll and read from the prophet Isaiah. He used the words from Isaiah to outline his mission, “to set captives free”. Many people are stuck and imprisoned and thus very limited to hear the word of God. It was no accident that Jesus fed the people in the desert…it’s hard to hear the word of God on an empty stomach. Our basic needs have to be met for faith to take root.
St. Eugene de Mazenod’s challenge to all Oblates was to reach out to the most abandoned. In many ways married couples are abandoned. Couples who are under stress in their marriage seldom reveal this, unless the problems are severe. Many couples quietly suffer; searching for help that they cannot find.
I cringe when I hear the term “dysfunctional families” because the term implies that somewhere out there is a functional family. All families struggle with dysfunction; some more than others. I suspect some dysfunction teaches us how to cope, work within human weakness; but major dysfunction can hurt the soul. It is not only the dysfunction that I have to deal with as a therapist. I am frustrated with couples who wait so long to get help. Often I find myself as a marriage counselor trying to “put out fires” that have been simmering for years instead of working on the issues that caused the pain in the first place.
I am becoming more and more convinced that prevention; giving couples the needed skills before they experience relationship problems will be more effective. Reaching couples will take creativity; I am looking into the Internet, blogs, YouTube, twitter and books to provide opportunities for couples to learn more about relationships. We have to rethink how we minister and use the benefits of the Internet and other forms of technology to reach the people of God.
By Dr. Peter Doherty, OMI
God bless you!