April 13, 2012

Faith reunites family, brings joy, peace and love

A Catholic community that stresses peace and unity in life helped John and Julie Mundell gain a new perspective on the power of love to heal a family. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

A Catholic community that stresses peace and unity in life helped John and Julie Mundell gain a new perspective on the power of love to heal a family. (Photo by Sean Gallagher) Click for a larger version.

By John Shaughnessy

Many families have them—situations that reach the point where bitterness, misunderstanding and heartbreak can separate people who once shared a bond of love.

Spouses see their commitment to each other fading away.

Parents and children drift apart because of a sense of betrayal or hurt.

Siblings stay away from each other for years because of fights and arguments from the past.

When The Criterion invited readers to share their stories of how faith affected their marriage, John and Julie Mundell of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis offered the story of how a divorce and a death devastated a family, and how the painful after-effects of those realities threatened to tear that family apart.

Yet, theirs is also the story of how faith helped to reunite a family, and how it gave three generations the opportunity to experience a joy, a peace and a love that once seemed impossible.

For John Mundell, the story began when he was a small boy and his parents were divorced.

“Many things had contributed to this—my father’s immaturity, the long illness and difficult death of their first-born son at the age of 4, and subsequent drinking by my dad,” John recalls.

After the divorce, there were weekends when his father picked up John and his brothers for visits. But there were also times when he arrived late or didn’t show up. His father also made promises about trips and adventures that never happened. And there were the days in high school when John wished his father would come to see him compete in his sports, but he never did.

“It seemed as if it was too difficult for him to show up at these kinds of events, feeling a little like an outcast or perhaps a failure,” John notes. “Although he was always proud of our accomplishments and often bragged to his friends, underneath this, there remained the pain of the divorce.”

The pain even continued after both of John’s parents eventually married “very good people.” Julie Mundell recalls that in the first 10 years of her marriage to John, they would often visit his father and his second wife, but John’s father and stepmother only came to visit them once, for 15 minutes, even though they lived just 45 minutes away.

“We were so hurt,” she says. “As our young family grew, this became harder and harder to understand. We got to the point of thinking, ‘If they want to see us and the grandchildren, they’re going to have to come here.’ It seemed logical, but it didn’t give us peace or joy.”

At the point of heartbreak, John and Julie experienced a change in perspective when they began attending meetings of Focolare, a worldwide Catholic movement based in Italy.

“We were attracted to its style of life,” John notes. “We began to live its spirituality of unity in our daily lives, trying to put the words of the Gospel into practice in each moment—to love everyone unconditionally, to be the first to love—to live for unity and peace.”

Julie adds, “We decided together that, despite the past, we would visit regularly, happily, because that was what the Gospel was calling us to do—to love without expecting anything in return. As the years went by, the most visible fruit of this effort was the relationship our children came to have with them. Innocent of any past hurt, they grew up loving their grandparents.

“In choosing to bring unity and peace into our relationship, we found the old wounds began to disappear within us. We began to see dad as someone God wanted us to love. And in choosing to love each time we visited, we actually experienced an internal conversion and began to really love, to the point that they loved us in return as much as they could.”

That approach spread to John’s sole surviving brother, and the feeling of unity became a part of the extended family. It made a difference in the get-togethers they shared. Even more, it helped when the health of John’s father and stepmother declined.

“Over a period of several months, it was necessary for us to make many visits to my hometown—going to hospitals and doctors’ appointments, taking care of their house and their dog,” John recalls. “Without choosing to have lived a life of unity through the years, I think we would have felt the burden of obligation rather than doing these acts out of true love and a sense of family.”

The sense of family radiated when John’s dad and stepmother died within one day of each other in September 2004.

“We were at the bedside of each one,” Julie notes. “The children stayed near and unafraid. Their last hours were truly in a family atmosphere of love for one another. We gave them comfort and assured them of our love. We prayed with them and for them. We believe that in our love, they felt God’s love through us. And this helped them to entrust themselves to God’s love and mercy, and die peacefully.”

Nearly eight years later, John and Julie marvel at how their family moved from hurt and heartbreak to hope and love. The credit belongs to Focolare and “this beautiful way of living out our Catholic faith in very concrete ways,” John says.

“For us, it has been the most significant contribution to our daily style of living, and one that has enriched our lives beyond imagining.” †


Related story: Unexpected blessings -- In good and bad times, couples share how faith has affected their marriage

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