“The person then is faced with a crossroads: he or she can allow suffering to lead to withdrawal into self-doubt to the point of despair and rebellion; or he or she can accept it as an opportunity for growth and discernment about what really matters in life until the time one encounters God.”

– Pope Francis

We recently learned that our beloved parochial vicar, Fr. Arul, was elected the abbot of his community in India. This is a great gift for the Church but a major downer for our parish and especially our family. Fr. Arul has been an important formative figure in our children’s faith life, especially during some particularly challenging years. Not only that, but it comes not even a year after our longtime pastor took on an important role at the seminary. When I received the text with the news, my first thought was “the kids will be devastated.” My second thought was, “Oh no! My wife is away.” Tricia tends to be the expert in sharing difficult news with the children in a way that mitigates the crying.

As I strategized about how I would tell the kids before the announcement at Masses that weekend, I began considering location, time of day, and whether to do it together or separately. NASA’s plans have never been so complicated. Saturday morning came and I had some downtime with the younger two children. I decided to go for it. Without missing a beat in whatever make believe game they were playing, the seven-year-old said plainly, “We knew that. They told us at school on Friday.” They acknowledged that it stunk and then went back to their game. Wow, had I overthought it! Relax Dan! When the thirteen-year-old came in my room later that evening to say goodnight, I casually relayed the news. There were immediate tears, a dramatic exit, a dramatic return, more tears, another dramatic exit. Back to the drawing board! Driving to retrieve my eldest from a weekend retreat, I almost went through a red light because I was so distracted trying to figure out the right way to deliver the news. After she told me about her retreat, I told her about Fr. Arul’s move. There was anger, frustration, and some slight insinuations that she wished her father who “helped leadership in the Church” would help avoid changes she didn’t like. At this point, completely at a loss for how poorly I anticipated any of the children’s reactions, I tried my best to facilitate understanding. My eldest cut me off, “Dad, just let me feel what I’m feeling.”

As she continued to rant and I continued to drive in silence, I was reminded again of the trap I often fall into in life and leadership. How often do I obsess about how to share information with others and forget that I am not in control of how they receive it? While thoughtfulness in delivering the message is important, do I expend a proportional amount of emotional energy in holding the other’s response? In all my strategizing, am I trying to be intentional or is my intent to try to circumnavigate natural responses? As leaders and as Christians, we are called not to reject any suffering, but to help each other through it.

I decided that my energy would be better spent helping the younger two understand what the news meant, giving my thirteen-year-old a hug, and just letting the oldest have a moment to herself. As we continue to move through Lent and as we face challenges and changes in life that we don’t want, let’s make sure we balance the amount of effort we put into trying to avoid pain with the amount we try to help each other walk through pain.

by Daniel Cellucci

March 11, 2024

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