Padre Paul’s Ponderings: The Challenge of Being a Prophet on the Homefront

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: The Challenge of Being a Prophet on the Homefront

The Challenge of Being a Prophet on the Homefront

Not too many people, unless they were closer followers of boxing, had heard of Micky Ward, a welterweight boxer, or his older brother Dicky Eklund, his older half brother who also was a fighter in the 70s and 80s, but their story was told in the 2010 film “The Fighter.”

Released in 2010 and staring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, it tells the story of Micky Ward, a welterweight boxer. Wahlberg plays Micky Ward, but the favorite son of his mother is his older brother Dicky, who is a former boxer who went the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1978. Sadly, he became addicted to crack cocaine.

What makes the film so powerful is that it’s a film about family dynamics. A large, Irish-Catholic family from Boston with a matriarch, Alice, (played by Melissa Leo who won an Oscar, along with Christian Bale that year) Alice manages Micky, but she also keeps seeing potential in her older son to resurrect his career and continually overlooks his addiction, as he is enabled by her and everyone else in the family to keep on going in his downward spiral.

Eventually things blow up and Dicky does prison time; Micky gets a new manager and training team, and Micky also has to stand up to his family. Finally Dicky begins to wake up, and the film ends with Dicky crediting his brother as the creator of his own success, and the closing credits show the two, real-life brothers together.

In the Gospel for this 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we hear of Jesus going to His native place, and people ignore Him; they have various biases for they knew Jesus when He was younger and His family is seen as simple and insignificant. Jesus then says “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” (Mark 6:4).

It’s a powerful line but so very true. How many family dynamics are just like that of the Ward family; where one member of the family is struggling, but perhaps out of fear or timidity or biases, a person may not speak up or just be ignored, still seen as the “kid brother” or as a child in the eyes of a parent. Of course as we all know, silence can just lead to more problems. For true happiness and growth, especially within our families, it’s important to not be afraid to speak up and act, even if it’s hard.

So how does one do that? I do not have a degree in psychology (just two semesters at a community college, but I did regularly watch the show “Frasier”), but as a priest, a human being, and member of a family, I have to say I am so grateful to the “homefront prophets” I have had who have been willing to help me – and continue to do so – on my journey; as I do for them. Again, this is only how true spiritual growth will happen.

As a starter, I think it’s important we always keep our eyes and hearts open. No one wants to see problems. But we all have them. As toddlers and children, there is an age of innocence. But as we age and life goes on, we deal with things and sometimes make bad choices, or life situations change. A person is going through stress, or maybe relying on something like alcohol or drugs; a person is becoming more ornery or angry; or maybe a family member is distancing themselves from the family, or becoming bitter. Whatever it might be, young or old, if we truly love one another, we want to see the many good qualities in our family, but be aware of someone is in need of help.

We then pray about the situation. Obviously if a person is in danger or a danger to someone in a family, we act immediately. But more often than not, it’s a situation to be. handled with prudence and introspection. Remember Solomon asks God for wisdom, and what an important thing to have in our lives in dealing with people. When we pray and take it slow, we are given the words to use, and formulate a plan for action.

Talking to others is good too – people we can trust. Maybe we are worried about an aging parent driving, or living alone, or a sibling falling away from the faith. Whatever it might be, finding a trusted person to give us advice is important, and it can be especially helpful if it’s a sibling or another family member.

However, there comes a point where we have to act, and this is where fortitude matters so much. Finally in the movie Micky calls out his family, and this leads to healing. If we don’t act though, things will just get worse and worse. People will take advantage of us (sometimes the case for instance where one sibling is doing all the work in caring for a parent or grandparent and no one else pitches in, only to show up for the reading of the will) or a person will get worse and worse, like Dicky Ward in the film. Indeed the response might be denial, anger, defensiveness, but much like in the movie in the end – healing. That can only happen though when we use fortitude and act.

With this comes patience. How painful it is when we see people continue down a bad path, even after we speak our mind and try to help them. But don’t give up; much like Dicky in the film, people can change – it sometimes just takes a long time. It is OK to say to someone you cant support or enable them financially or foster their bad decision making, but we also want to remind them we are here for them when the time comes for them to get serious about making an important change. We continue to pray for them, and look for ways to speak to them, gradually trying to bring them along but knowing there will be setbacks along the way.

And lastly, let’s not forget to look in the mirror and listen to the prophets God sends us. Pride can be such a seductive sin; we can think we have it all sorted out, but often don’t see what we need to work on. I once heard Jack Nicklaus the legendary golfer would often say to his trainer “talk to me like I know nothing about golf as you watch me,” because he wanted to be the best. So it should be with us. We want people who are comfortable around us – and this means people who will challenge us when we need to open our eyes to something important and find true happiness.

As we all know it’s not as if simply by acting all will be will – it takes a lot of effort when we are trying to change and help one another, and the greatest, most difficult battles we face are with the people we know, and even with ourselves. God though is patient with us, for He sees our potential, and hopefully we do too.

More than once I have told the story of the woman in the hospital I met as a seminarian who was a member of the Assemblies of God. It was the summer of 2004 when I was working as a chaplain intern, learning about ministry to the sick and those in hospitals. The woman, actually just checking out and being discharged, insisted on trying to help me, so I would know I was going right to heaven (I had told her I hope to go to heaven). Had I to do it again I would have engaged in more conversation, not done the Midwestern “I’ll go along with this so I can get out of here ASAP” thing. For I still hope to go to heaven, but to do so the work never ends. I have many things I am happy about, but things I need help seeing – as we all do. So let us not be afraid to seek out prophets who will help guide us, and do the same for one another, in particular amongst those we are privileged to call our friends and family.

Have a blessed week,  ~Fr. Paul

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July 2024




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