When I first started dating my husband two years ago, some people in our parish became alarmed. They only knew of some elements of his checkered past, and were quick to jump to conclusions, unaware of the context. In some cases, they projected their past hurts by other people onto him, insisting that he must be just like the broken people they knew.
They told my parents that he was not worthy of me, and spread falsehoods about him. The thing is, as he once sighed, “They act friendly and fine to my face, and then say things behind my back, so I can’t refute them. If they have a problem with me, why not just take it up with me instead of complaining to other people? I do my best to be approachable! And why can’t they assess me as I am, and the person I am doing my best to be with the grace of God, instead of being fixated on my past and the person I used to be?” But such is the nature of fear.
After repeated failed attempts to break us up (someone even rang an employer of mine, and then an old friend in another state altogether, pressing them to interfere), they used his history to get restrictions placed on him, so that we are now confined to the parish where people are hostile to him but think they have some sort of duty to keep him under observation, and we are unable to worship at other parishes where we have real friends who have stood by us through trials, celebrated our triumphs, and do want us to join them in community.
On some occasions, my then-fiancé ended up missing Mass or we ended up missing social or work engagements because of the restrictions.
Worst of all, these meddlesome people have poisoned my father, who was initially receptive to my beloved. My father did not attend our wedding, and our once close relationship has been ruined. One of the parishioners changed her mind when my fiancé secured a job and showed his commitment to being a worthy spouse, but it was too late — the poisonous seed had been planted and sprouted in the worried hearts of my relatives around the world. Thankfully, my mother has observed the good character of my husband firsthand, and from rejecting him at first, she now accepts him wholeheartedly as her son-in-law.
It has become so painful that I cannot go to Mass at the parish without feeling angry and betrayed. I was even tempted to miss Mass this past Sunday for the first time in my life. My husband knew it was of the Devil and encouraged me to look past the hurt and go to encounter God.
Saints like Mary MacKillop, Jeanne Jugan, Padre Pio and John of the Cross were failed and persecuted by their own communities. People said nasty things about St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, St. John Bosco and St. Damien of Molokai, and even tried consigning Don Bosco to the mental asylum. Yet, they did not falter, but remained faithful to the One they served, just as Jesus remained committed to His mission despite being rejected by His own community and persecuted by the spiritual authorities of the day.
I was feeling bitter about the situation, then I recalled how a beloved, reverent and dedicated priest has been exiled from his home here, treated as a scapegoat after decades of humble service. He bears his cross patiently and quietly, though it pains him. It is difficult not to feel abandoned by God when you see a good pastor struck down, but we see how St. Athanasius was exiled five times and obeyed every time, though the exiles were unjust and orchestrated by Arian heretics. Now he is a Doctor of the Church. God works in strange ways, and they can be quite painful, but in the end He turns all to good.
I only pray that the deep wounds caused by all this meddling and the censures will heal in time, and that God will use them as fountains of grace.