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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Brad and Angelina's Divorce by the Numbers....

Doomed from the start?...
Unless you're living under a rock, by now you know that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, one of Hollywood's most celebrated and scrutinized romances, are calling it quits after a fourteen year relationship, which included a two-year marriage.

On Tuesday, Jolie, 41, filed for divorce, citing "irreconcilable differences," the ever popular legal grounds for ending a matrimony in our no-fault-divorce culture.

Now, it's easy to make fun and dismiss it, as another example of the Hollywood lifestyle run amok, as the talk show circuit has already started doing and, in a subliminal way, others use to vindicate their own failures.  Yet, despite their fame, status and fortune, as a married man of eighteen years and a father myself, it's really quite sad.

At the end of the day, it's as Julia Roberts' character says in Notting Hill, "I'm just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her."  These are two people who fell in love and couldn't make their relationship work, regardless of how it started or why it is ending.

As most married couples know, marriage is not easy.  But, it takes more than feelings.  It takes true love, which means commitment, selflessness and perseverance.  Feelings come and go but true love never fails.  In fact, it "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things," as St. Paul writes. 

In any case, having been involved in the Marriage Covenant group at my parish for several years, and seeing many struggling marriages make it and others fail, I wanted to share some observations and stats about the Pitt/Jolie divorce:
  • Living together before marriage is an almost surefire recipe for divorce.  According to the U.S. Census, while first time marriages have an almost 40% chance of divorce, those that lived together before tying the knot have an almost 30% higher rate of divorce than those that waited.  Pitt and Jolie lived together for twelve years before getting married.
  • Second marriages (Pitt was married to Jennifer Aniston) have a 60% chance of getting divorced.
  • Third marriages (Jolie was married to Johnny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton) have a 73% chance of getting divorced.
  • Getting married doesn't fix a relationship.  I'm not sure if this is the case, but their struggles have been rumored for years.
  • A leopard doesn't change his spots, unless he/she has to and wants to, and even then, it takes great effort; or as a female friend put it on Facebook, "If he cheated WITH you, he'll cheat ON you."  Pitt and Jolie started their relationship as an affair while co-starring in Mr. & Mrs. Smith.  Since then, there have been rumors about his infidelity, including the most recent one with a co-star, Marion Cotillard, who happens to be married herself!  Somewhere by now, Aniston is smiling.
  • For the most part, men and women can't be close friends (unless one is gay or has a hump like Quasimodo).  Sorry to burst the Friends TV Show bubble but, as Marriage Counselor/Author, Dr. Willard Harley, writes in his book, His Needs Her Needs, Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, which I am currently reading and we are discussing as part of our Marriage Covenant group, "An affair begins with friendship... Conversation draws you together... As your friendship deepens, you start giving each other mutual support and encouragement...  Life is difficult. Many people become disillusioned about the way their lives are turning out.  When they find someone encouraging and supportive, the attraction toward that person acts as a powerful magnet." The next thing you know, when someone allows another person to fulfill their innermost needs, that should be exclusively reserved for their spouse, whether wanting to or not, an affair begins.  (See the previous point!)
  • In today's throwaway society, where the preference is to replace rather than fix, if God is not at the center of a marriage, the chances for success are as hopeless as my attempts to keep up with the modifier, Tania, never mind Shaun T, in the Beach Body Focus T-25 workouts I do with my wife every morning.  Couples that share a faith in God, pray regularly and attend church weekly, are at least 30% less likely to get divorced or higher, depending on religious affiliation, than those that don't.  While Jolie professed having a belief in God, spurned by her role in the 2013 movie, Unbroken, Pitt was openly agnostic at best.
In other words, the numbers were stacked against them.  They were destined for futility before they even started.

On the surface, they were the poster children for modern day nuptials; beautiful, glamorous, active in causes and charities, parenting three children of their own and adopting others from Ethiopia, Vietnam and another from Cambodia, which she adopted during a previous marriage.  Jolie was a good-will ambassador to the UN, which included missions to countries around the world and became an icon for the women's health issues movement by choosing a preventative double mastectomy and removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes.  Pitt has been cited as one of the most influential and powerful people in the entertainment industry.  But, it appears, behind the scenes, despite all the success and accolades, the couple was struggling.

In a press statement, Brad Pitt, 52, stated, "I am very saddened by this, but what matters most now is the well-being of our kids.  I kindly ask the press to give them the space they deserve during this challenging time."

The well-being of their children may already be off to a rocky start.  Six kids, including three that were adopted, will have to grow up in a broken home; either without their father or bouncing around from house to house, which we may try to sugar coat in saying that it's not a big deal but many children of divorced parents develop anger, trust, depression and other psychological issues growing up.

If that wasn’t bad enough, children of divorced parents are 40% more likely to get divorced themselves, and, if their parents get remarried, it increases to 91% .  It’s a vicious cycle!

Meanwhile, millions of young fans and kids around the world see the public breakup as another example of how adults resolve difficult marriages...

[photo credit: Getty Images]

Monday, September 19, 2016

Death, Friendship and the Hand of God...

From the outside looking in, I couldn't help control the tears welling up in my eyes and involuntarily running down my face.

To see the visibly shaken woman and her daughters (about the same age as my own), hugging and comforting each other in their anguish, was a bit overwhelming.  I wept uncontrollably and many of those around me, did too.

As I sat several pews behind them at a special Mass, offered for their ailing husband and father, what struck me most were the hands of the mother; caressing, embracing and soothing her daughters.  They were like the hands of God the Father, comforting and loving His children, and so they were.

In his classic spiritual work, The Return of The Prodigal Son; A Story of Homecoming, Fr. Henri Nouwen describes those hands.  He wrote, "Gradually over the years, I have come to know those hands.  They have held me from the hour of my conception, they welcomed me at my birth, held me close to my mother's breast, fed me, and kept me warm.  They have protected me in times of danger and consoled me in times of grief.  They have waved me good-bye and always welcomed me back.  Those hands are God's hands.  They are also the hands of my parents, teachers, friends, healers, and all those whom God has given me to remind me how safely I am held."

The emotionally charged liturgy, like the hundreds of daily prayers, visits from family and friends and continuous messages of encouragement and support via text, email or social media, was but a respite in an otherwise draining and painful period of their lives.

A great friend; a better husband, father and son...
The woman's husband, named Pepe, a beloved man by most who knew him, was battling an aggressive form of cancer, which had consumed him in just two short months.  His condition had worsened, to the point where he wasn't eating and, with his body deteriorated by the deadly disease, the end appeared inevitable, despite the prayers, best intentions and desperate clings to hope.

A summer that began with great anticipation, joy and laughter, quickly spiraled downward into one of tears, pain and loss.

His daughter wrote on Facebook, "During the summer, on one of our family trips to the Florida Keys, Pepe had excruciating pains running through his leg, chest and lower back.  Once we returned home, Pepe went to visit many doctors who all said that he had severely pinched nerves.  What we thought was severely pinched nerves, turned out to be lung cancer metastasized in the bones.  It was a big slap in the face to all of us."

Shortly after the emotional Mass, about six hours later to be exact, Pepe succumbed to the cancer.

It's rattling how life can change so abruptly.

Aside from the effects on the family, for those of us, who are Pepe's contemporaries and friends, it is also difficult because it brings us face to face with our own mortality.

There's a Latin phrase that I like reminding myself of, momento mori, which means remember death. It's a prompt that we should live our lives knowing that we are here for just a brief time and every decision, word and action we take, should reflect that.       

If there is one thing that I will remember about Pepe is that he always lived life for the moment. Charismatic, charming and warm, I think what struck most people about him was his smile.  The man wore a constant smile on his face, no matter what personal issue he may have been going through.

He was a devoted husband, father and son, who had been caring for his elderly mom for many years, and, as the parish priest said at his funeral Mass, "He was a man who gave and gave.  He would give right out of his pocket, if he saw anyone in need, even if he was going through difficulties himself."

What Pepe most enjoyed was spending time with his family, antique cars, boating, traveling and living life, as if he understood it was fleeting.

He was also a man of great faith, who respected his Catholic beliefs so much that he abstained from receiving the Eucharist for many years because he didn't feel worthy (Then again, are any of us, worthy?).

Pepe attended the first men's retreat I led in November 2011, but, even before then, he was already a devout Catholic man.

He was a great friend to all.  I remember when I was going through a particularly difficult time at work a few years ago, and things looked bleak that Pepe came up to me one night and told me to persevere, keep doing my job and trust in God.  He told me he had gone through a similar experience but that things eventually get better and they did.

Still, like all of us, he had his share of pain and regrets.  There were issues, circumstances and relationships that bedeviled him.

I remember talking to him one night and encouraging him to put the past aside and to reconcile with God and the Church for the good of his wife and daughters.  He told me that he would.

God has a way of bringing back His lost sheep.

I'm not suggesting that he got sick for a purpose but, since God brings good out of evil, it did bring him back to the Eucharist. He was able to receive the sacraments of Anointing, Reconciliation and the Eucharist, leading up to his passing; the Viaticom, as our parish priest stated; God's food for the journey.

In fact the priest stated, "I have never seen a man know and love the Eucharist, as much as Pepe."

The prodigal son returned home to the Father, as the gospel reading at the emotional Mass for his recovery, stated.

There's a poignant line at the end of the movie, Meet Joe Black, that always resonates with me. It's when Bill Parish (Anthony Hopkins) turns to Joe Black (The Grimm Reaper played by Brad Pitt), as a celebration of Bill's birthday was underway, a band was playing, fireworks were going off and both men knew their time to leave had come, and says, "It's hard to let go isn't it?  Well, that's life.  What can I tell you?"

Knowing Pepe's zest for life, I'm sure, it must have been hard to let go.  But, this is a man who helped build a multi-million dollar company on nothing more than pure will, leadership, charisma and fearlessness.  So, I can almost say with certainty, that when the time came, he faced it with courage, grace and faith, or, to borrow a line from Blue Oyster Cult, he didn't fear the reaper and he took His hand...  

Thursday, September 15, 2016

St. Francis de Sales: Be Yourself Perfectly...

Another gem from St. Francis de Sales...

Norman Rockwell's Freedom of Speech...
"Do not wish to be anything but what you are and try to be that perfectly."

We are made in the image and likeness of God and so are made for perfection.  If we truly live our lives as God made us to be, we would be ourselves perfectly.

Jesus says, "Be perfect, as the Heavenly Father is perfect" and that can only be achieved through grace with faith and the Sacraments...

 -- St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622),  17th Century Bishop of Geneva, and Doctor of the Church, who as a priest was known for his patience and gentle approach to quell religious division after the Protestant Reformation.  He was a lawyer by trade and, after convincing his father to allow him to enter the priesthood, he was just as successful in sharing the Catholic faith and converting Calvinists in Geneva.  He would preach to them and hand out pamphlets that he would write himself.  St. Francis is said to have returned tens of thousands back into the Catholic fold.  The "brilliant apologist," as some have described, was known for practicing his axiom, "A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar."  Well recognized for his book, Introduction to the Devout Life, which is hailed by Catholics and many Prostestants alike, he also wrote, A Treatise on the Love of God, and hundreds of pamphlets, which were later assembled as, The Catholic Controversy, and letters addressed to the laity.  Along with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, he founded the women's Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.  He was canonized in 1665 by Pope Pius IX 43 years after his death.  His feast day is celebrated by the Church on January 24th...