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Fatherly Advice: Keeping the Faith Through a Loved One’s Illness


A listener named Mark asks Father Dave, “How do you keep your faith when a parent’s health gets worse and looks to be permanent?”

Father Dave shares that he can personally relate, having witnessed his own mother’s health deteriorate in the last years of her life.  He says, “We keep our faith by reminding ourselves of the things that have been important in our faith in the past. If we look to the Old Testament – the tradition of our Jewish brothers and sisters, even still today – a lot of what keeps their and our present faith alive and animated is looking to the past and remembering and recognizing that God was indeed, present.” Father Dave uses Passover as an example. “And on Passover, that is once a year where they literally look back to an event that was thousands of years ago, and in effect, say, around a meal and in a prayerful way, ‘God, we know that you acted miraculously in the lives of our ancestors. So because of that, even if I don’t feel you in the same way today, I know that because you are eternal you are still present to us.  We are still your people; you still desire to save us in that same way that you did back then. We don’t want to let the memory of that fade away and so we present it, we reenact it and remind ourselves, yes, God was truly present then.’”

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Father Dave encourages Mark to look back at points in his past when he was sure God was a part of his life. “Maybe it feels like God has kind of abandoned you and your parent because of the illness. Look back to times when we were sure that God was a part of our lives, even if it doesn’t feel like it today, because we believe God is eternal and God is not fickle. 

Father Dave notes that by simply asking the question, “How do you keep your faith?”, means that Mark is not starting from scratch and that faith is already a part of his life and in his heart. “One way we can keep anything,” Father Dave says, “is to hang on to it . . . we cling to our faith particularly at times of difficulty; we cling to it in the same way that we would cling to a relative or a parent.”  

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Father Dave also makes the point that sometimes our faith changes. He says, “Sometimes when our faith is implanted in us, we associate that with good times or with God blessing us or favoring us, and when the road shifts and turns, we sometimes have that temptation to kind of throw the baby out with the bathwater, meaning well, my faith was there and strong when things were going well and now that things aren’t;, I guess my faith isn’t there, when in fact, our faith is there.  Our faith will have to take a different form or a different shape.” Father Dave continues, “I remember that scene after Jesus was crucified and buried in the tomb and all of his disciples were distraught and Mary Magdalene, one of his closest disciples, discovers him at the tomb and realizes that it is him. What does she do? And we know this, because Jesus actually said this, she clings to him, and he says, ‘It’s important for you now to go forth and live out your faith and share it with others. So while you may want to just hang on to me, now it’s time for something else.’” 

Father Dave concludes with one final suggestion. “Even in times when emotions are running hot with sadness over a loved one who is sick, take a little step back and go well, this isn’t God’s fault and it’s not God not being there.  This is just what happens to almost all humans . . . It means that these things are all part of our human lives through which God desires to be and is, in fact, present throughout all of that.”