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What If I Took a Major Wrong Turn in Life?

Robert Stackpole Answers Your Divine Mercy Questions

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By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Feb 24, 2012)
A young woman recently wrote to me the following, poignant letter (the letter was anonymous, so I'll just refer to her as "Mary"):

I recently read about St. Faustina's vision of Hell. It terrified me. I, myself, had a vision of Hell that led me to my conversion. I still am terrified of Hell. Recently, I got married, but I have my doubts it was God's will. I did not seek God's will on the matter but pushed forward on to the sacrament. I am worried that I chose this world over God's will and that I am going to Hell for my decision. Should I be concerned about my situation? Or with every doubt, should I simply deny myself and love my husband? I do love him, but even leading up to the marriage I had doubts. I trusted in other's opinions about my marriage decision and not in God.

Well, Mary, it sounds as if you are in a great deal of anguish about this.

First of all, marrying someone rashly, or in a hurry, in most cases is not a mortal sin. It may have been an imprudent way to proceed, and it may not have been God's will at the time. But, at worst, it is a venial and not a mortal sin, and therefore your eternal salvation cannot be in jeopardy over such a thing. The next time you go to confession, just open your heart to the priest and tell him about all this and receive His absolution, by the authority of Jesus Christ. Then even the venial sin will be washed away.

Second, remember that God's mercy is so great He can even "write straight with crooked lines," as the saying goes. Thus, even if it was not His "Plan A" for you to get married recently, He always has a Plan B, Plan C and Plan D up His sleeve, if need be, to make it all come out right, if we will only start to cooperate with Him.

As St. Paul wrote: "All things work together unto good for those who love God" (Rom 8:28). So, perhaps as a married woman, you are now taking part in His Plan B for you. That's OK. The path can still be filled with blessings. Just love the Lord with all your heart, and love your husband as the one He gave to you. I really mean that: "the one He gave to you." Even if it was not His Plan A for you two to get married, you did go through with it; you said your marriage vows to each other freely and with full consent, so God mercifully blessed your marriage with sacramental grace anyway. (Remember that the grace of the sacraments is poured out upon the Church by our merciful Savior ex opera operato, which is a fancy way of saying that when the sacraments are done by the priest with the proper form and intention, then God will always do His part and pour out His promised graces upon us). So lean on that matrimonial grace to love your husband with all your heart. That is the path to holiness for you now.

Finally, Mary, I am not so sure that you were not guided by God in your decision to get married. You say you did not consult Him. But you also say "I trusted in other's opinions about my marriage decision."

The people who offered those opinions: Are they generally wise and good people? If so, how do you know that God was not speaking to you through their good counsel? Sure, it was foolish of you not to consult God directly at the time, but He is a God of merciful love, and He loves you so much He may very well have been trying to get through to you anyway THROUGH THEM. Turning to God for guidance is very important indeed when we have important life decisions to make. But do not think for a minute that God is totally helpless in situations when we fail to turn to Him. He does His best anyway to reach out to us and come to our aid in every way He can, as a Good Shepherd always searching for His lost sheep.

In short, Mary, I think you are far from the dangers of hell here. If you tried to get into hell just on the basis of what you wrote to me, I think the demons down there would probably throw you out, shouting "Go do something really bad if you want to get in here. No half-hearted sinners allowed!"

Mary's predicament, however, is not unique to those who fear they might have married the wrong person. The fact is that all of us can wonder sometimes: What if I made a huge mistake with one (or more) of my biggest life decisions? Maybe I was really supposed to be a doctor and I ended up a real estate agent instead? Or maybe I was supposed to be a female religious caring for the poor and ended up married and the mother of five children instead? Or maybe I went to the wrong college, or entered the wrong profession, or married the wrong person, or practiced contraception and blocked the birth of some kids we were supposed to have ... ? In short, What if I took a major wrong turn in life — maybe from not praying enough and not listening to God enough at the time? Am I just stuck on the road to eternal loss, or at least trapped in a life of earthly unhappiness, with nothing to look forward to at the end of it but a long stint in purgatory for all my foolishness?

Well, there is no question we can make a lot of extra headaches and heartaches for ourselves along life's path by not listening to God for His guidance. There is a reason God wants to guide us along certain paths rather than others: because they are the easiest and quickest ways for us to become the saints that He made us to be. So, we buy ourselves some extra trouble and struggle for sure when we miss those paths.

But all is not lost. Far from it. The Good Shepherd is the world's best expert at finding the lost and bringing them home on His shoulders rejoicing! (see Lk 15: 3-7)

Let me close this column by sharing with you some wise words from a spiritual classic of the 20th century: Dom Eugene Boylan's This Tremendous Lover. Boylan reassures us that in this life we can never definitively and irrevocably lose our way, cutting ourselves off from the path to heaven. God can always find a new path for us no matter how many turnings we may have missed already, if only we are willing to repent and turn to Him with trust. In fact, for those of you who love the children's stories The Chronicles of Narnia, you may recall that this is one of the central messages of the volume in the series entitled The Silver Chair. Two children are called by Aslan, the Great Lion, from our world into the magical world of Narnia to undertake a quest to rescue a kidnapped prince. Aslan gives them four "signs" that they are to follow in order to successfully complete their quest — and they completely botch the first three! Yet, by owning up to their faults, and not losing hope, and remaining faithful to the last sign, they are able to complete the quest in the end. The same is true for us: Our Good Shepherd can always find a new path for us that leads up the mountain of sanctity and peace of heart. All we have to do is turn to Him with trust — now, today — and follow where He leads. I'll let Boylan say the rest:

There is always a great temptation to discouragement and distrust even after our sins have been forgiven. We feel that God still holds our sins against us, that His providence will be less favorable to us in the future, that He no longer trusts us not to offend Him again, and He will be reserved and sparing in His graces. We feel too that no matter how great our progress in the future, the ultimate result will always be spoiled by that unfortunate past. The phantom of what might have been had we always been faithful mocks our efforts, lessens our hopes, and disheartens us. There is a certain height, we imagine, which we might have reached, but which is now impossible.

All that, natural though it may be, is quite wrong. It is based upon a wrong notion of God and is the result of a failure to understand His power and goodness. ... God can always give us the means to make up for lost time. To them that love God, all things work together unto good, writes St. Paul, and St. Augustine would include in "all things" even their sins. It follows then that God can use all things for the good of those who love Him. Even if we conceive of His plan as setting a certain height of holiness for each man, we should also remember that He can lead us to that height from any point we reach in our wanderings. If we lose our way and leave the path He has marked out for us, He can still bring us to the goal by another route. ...
Let us be convinced that no matter what we have lost, what we have ruined, or how far we have wandered into the wilderness from the right path, God can give us back all we have lost or damaged. God can show us a road — or if necessary, build a new road for us — that leads from our present position, whatever it may be, to the heights of sanctity. (Chapters 11 and 17).

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at [email protected].

View archived Q&A columns.

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Michele - Mar 7, 2012

Colleen: I will pray for you. Please do not be ashamed, after all this is what Jesus' Divine Mercy is all about. Please follow Dr. Stackpole's advice. If you cannot find a parish or priest in your town to feel comfortable in, can you make a trip to the National Divine Mercy Shrine? The priests there are so wonderful. Also look up Father Calloway's, the Vocational Director's, bio. It's an eye opener, for he admits he had many, many sins, and yet God revealed Himself to him, and he's a priest now. Wouldn't God do the same for you and forgive you? It's never, ever, too late to receive God's blessings. God bless you, Colleen.

Colleen - Mar 6, 2012

Thank you Robert. I'm going to read the article :)

I agree that's it's long overdue for me to talk to a priest. I'm so tired of carrying this "baggage" around (I'm 65!!). I guess I've been afraid that they will be too judgmental. I must find a priest and parish that I feel "comfortable" in first. I'm still searching for a "home" in my new town. Pray for me.

Robert Stackpole - Mar 6, 2012

Hi Colleen,
Perhaps a previous column that I wrote can help shed light on your situation. On the upper left of this page you will see a tab entitled "Divine Mercy Q and A Archive"--click on that and it will bring you to all 150 or so previous articles in the series. Scroll down that long list and you will find one entitled "The 'D' Word: A Divine Mercy Perspective." That article may help clarify for you the Church's real teachings on divorce and remarriage. It is certainly not the case that someone who is truly contrite for past mistakes and sins will be perpetually forbidden to receive Holy Communion by the Church. I think you need to go to see a priest and discuss with him in depth what true repentance and a real fresh start in your case would entail. The way to full reconciliation is sometimes a challenging one, but the benefits are more than worth it!

Colleen - Mar 5, 2012

Michelle...thank you so much for the insight. No, I've not spoken to a priest about this. I've been too ashamed for my mistakes. I was married at 19 to a non-practicing Catholic who was a drunk and drug-addict and gay. I was very naive and didn't know any of his "secrets". I lived in hell for 3 years trying to hide all this from family. I worked in a Catholic hospital as a nurse and talked to the priest there. He knew us and had counseled both of us. He called me in his office one day and told me I should leave my husband before I was abused (mentally and physically) any more than I already was. It was at that time that I had a "vision" one day while I was praying in the hospital chapel and I've never forgotten it. I did leave him and we were divorced several months later. He died in 1997. I remarried several years later (non-Catholic) and was married for 12 years until he cheated on me several times. My health was again in jeopardy when we divorced. I am now married to a wonderful man (who is not Catholic). We were married in a non-denominational chapel when we lived in CA.

That's my story. I find it hard to accept that God does not want me to partake in the Eucharist. Aren't we all forgiven in his eyes? Isn't our past wiped clean? Isn't that why Jesus died for us? Where does it say that I shouldn't be allowed to have communion because I've sinned and made mistakes?

Louise - Mar 4, 2012

This article really spoke to me as well. I believe that God brought me the person I was suppose to marry but I didn't see it at the time. I went ahead to marry someone else and after a difficult 20 year marriage I'm getting a divorce. It is very hard not to be disheartened and hopeless at times over all the mistakes I have made but God shows us that he can make everything right and maybe he'll bring that person back to me. Nothing is impossible for Him!

Arek - Feb 27, 2012

This is a great article! I too have been struggling for a long time over decisions I made in the past. I left the seminary after 1 yr and have since struggled with that decision and on what God's plan is for my life. It is a great blessing to have this article written. Thank you very much.

Michele - Feb 27, 2012

Colleen: Have you spoken to a priest about your divorce and not receiving communion? My mother was divorced, and after many years of not receiving communion she spoke to a priest, and was absolved and forgiven. She then started receiving communion. I don't know your situation, and I am not a religious, but it never, ever hurts to ask a priest about this matter. I want you to have peace and forgive yourself, as God has. Bless you.

M - Feb 27, 2012

Thank you so much for this article. It is just what I needed to hear at this very moment. I have been tormented about a wrong decision in marriage all my life and am still facing terrible and horrible consequences of a 24 year marriage. I am praying that God save my sacrament and heal the trauma it has caused all of us and extended families too. I was so relieved to read that God can show us a road - or if necessary, build a new road for us — that leads from our present position, whatever it may be, to the heights of sanctity.

joy - Feb 26, 2012

Praise God!!! Thank you so much for the enlightenment, its been a long time that i have been bothered about this, tormenting myself with the present life that i have now, because of un-Godly decisions in life.

Colleen - Feb 26, 2012

Isn't God's timing amazing??!! I'm 65 and have made some very bad decisions in my life but God has always watched over me and kept me safe. He's always brought me back around to Him. Even though I've asked for forgiveness so many times I've still felt a little "unworthy". I've wanted to be a Religious since I was in my teens but I was not brought up in the Catholic church and my parents did not approve of Catholics so I never answered the "call". I've always felt that I've been going down the wrong path and choosing the wrong partners all these years. I know I'm forgiven but it's hard to forgive myself. I finally joined the Catholic church in my 20's but have not been able to receive communion because I was divorced. I have never been married in the church.

Thank you for this article.

Tom Houton - Feb 26, 2012

Remember: "Trust" + "Suffering" = " Peace and joy "

Bea - Feb 25, 2012

I can't believe this!!! This is such an answer to prayer. I can't thank you enough for letting God use you to write this. It is anointed post that I needed to read. Been tormenting myself with this question for a long time. You restored my hope. I didn't ruin my life being stupid. God will help me.

Maria - Feb 25, 2012

Good points !
At times, the enemy would try to bring its lies of what has been wrong, ( even when it has been right and in God's pleasing will !) , just to keep its accusing spirit active and steal the gratitude and adoration that bring us joy !

While repentance is good and needed , esp. in order to recognise how good God is, in His mercy and holiness , it would be good to also focus how His will has sustained every cell in our bodies , from the moment of conception , how those cells , our bodies , even our own mind, heart and will has also been blessed to do so , in very many ways and be able to thank Him, for same , on behalf of others in our lives too , esp. when we see what might be wrong !

May be the way sin or our intentional choice to not do His will harms us most , by making us focus on what is wrong ,instead of how merciful God is , both to us and to the other , thus falling into even the evil of being happy about the faults of others , like the enemy has become !

We have the awesome privilege of bringing all, to His mercy , to thank Him, for what He already has done for many and trusting that He would do more !

Such trust then possibly can help a great deal , esp. in the area of being able to do His holy will , revealed in Church teachings,esp. in the challenged area of holy marital love too , where , like the incident with the fish and loaves , a little in His hands, is a lot and periods of abstinence , when needed , would not seem like deprivation but the joy of doing His will , who , in turn , would multiply the joy , at all levels !

God Bless !