“If you wish to be the greatest, you’re going to be the slave. If you want to be first, you’re going to be the servant of all.”
Since 2006, I have had the pleasure of being a psychotherapist and marriage counselor. It’s good work, but hard work. Listening to people’s problems all day can be taxing, but seeing people overcome their struggles is a grace and knowing that I played a role in that growth is a gift. I am always humbled when clients share with me deeply personal information, things that they have not even shared to their closest confidants. Truly, it has been a calling to help and minister to folks through my practice of counseling.
Yet, as I get older, I am more aware of my limitations; in particular the limitations of time and energy. As good as the work is in counseling sessions, you are limited to one person (or two if doing marriage counseling), one hour, one day a week. Since I have been listening to people’s stories for over a decade now, I have heard patterns in those experiences and now presume that there are lots of people all over that country that struggle with similar issues. But knowing that I cannot counsel everyone, I still want to help in some way and offer whatever encouragement I could. That desire drove me towards wanting to do more online writing and starting a podcast. I want to build a different kind of relationship with people through digital platforms.
If I was going to be serious about pursuing this, I knew that it meant my time was coming to a close at my previous employer and that I would have to take a risk to see where this desire was leading. So, I did what anyone else does when you get a crazy idea, I started talking to my family and closest friends about it. I needed to make sure those around me thought this was the right thing to do. My wife was on board and so were my family and friends. I was ready to take the leap of faith and tendered my resignation. (All of this seems pretty bananas when I write it out now.)
One fateful conversation was with my buddy Jason Angelette, who happens to be the director of Faith and Marriage. By the time I spoke with him, I had already decided to pursue this new venture, but I just didn’t know how God would actualize that desire. Jason, ever the energetic soul, loved what I was communicating and asked if I would be interested in doing everything I just described at Willwoods. I said I was open to talking about it and seeing if we could get the details to work out. I laid out a proposal of what I could bring to this ministry and had conversations with him and Ron Yager, COO of the company. Unbeknownst to us, the Board of Directors were having similar discussions about how to expand Jason’s work with Faith and Marriage and wanted his suggests on how to do that. With my proposal in hand, Jason and Ron shared to them what I could bring to the table. The Board agreed, the details worked out, and here we are. Lesson learned: Providence is always at work, even when we can’t see it.
So, who am I and what will I be doing at Willwoods Faith and Marriage? Great question, glad you asked. My name is Dr. Mario Sacasa, I am a licensed marriage and family therapist and have my doctorate in counseling education and supervision from Holy Cross University. I have made it the focus of my career to find the points of contact between orthodoxy and sound clinical practices. In other words, I love finding the Truth in both faith and science. I have taught graduate-level courses at Notre Dame Seminary, Divine Mercy University, and the Institute for Priestly Formation. I have conducted marriage retreats for the Theology of the Body Institute and lectured at Dumb Ox Ministries’ ECHO: Theology of the Body Camp. I have conducted my marriage retreat Living the Gift of Marriage in various parishes and dioceses. I have offered many lectures on the topics of marriage, counseling, pornography, healing, and faith. I have worked for dioceses and parishes in the areas of Family Life. I love Jesus. And my wife and kids. I have been married for close to 16 years and am the father of four awesome boys.
At Willwoods, I will be continuing their proud tradition of serving married couples through retreats and lectures. I am eager to serve you through these retreats and other speaking engagements. I am also excited about the opportunity to pursue the aforementioned digital endeavors. That means you can expect from me regular blogs on the topics of faith, marriage, culture, or whatever other hair-brained ideas I decide to write on. But my real baby is that I am starting a brand-spanking new podcast: Always Hope with Dr. Mario. I love podcasts and so thrilled to finally be starting my own. In all honesty, I have talked about starting a podcast for well over 7 years and now just happens to be the right time and circumstance. Always Hope is an interview-based show, where I will talk to experts, thinkers, and doers of various interests. I know life is hard and we need to find hope in the particular challenges we face, that’s what this show sets out to do. In addition, you’ll get shorter episodes where I will review movies (I love movies!), books, and music. I can get lost in a good story and will try my best to help you see what I see in the art. As Christians, we are charged to find the wheat in the chaff, to find the good in life even when it is hard. That’s hope.
So, what do you think so far? I’m pumped to be here and stretch my creative wings. Thank you for welcoming me and taking the time to read this post. If you like what you’ve seen, then subscribe to our email list, so you don’t miss out on the upcoming great content. Follow me on Instagram (@drmariosacasa) and Facebook (drmariosacasa) to keep the conversation going. I look forward to serving you through these digital means and helping to bring hope and dialogue back into the culture.
“We can’t impose ideas, we have to propose them. But there’s another dimension where these things are true. And there’s all kinds of things that flow from that – the structure of the family, the structure of society, and how diversity and unity are able to go together.”
We were studying the thought of John Paul II, we were reading the encyclicals and we were starting to read some of his other works; it was our idea of a party, we were gonna get some beer and we were going to sit around and each just read.
“The things, the insights, the wisdom, the theology of the church – it’s not information that you just learn and memorize. There’s an insight into the dignity of the person that is only realized in relationship with each other.”
“The grain grows on its own. It’s about cultivating its growth.”
“We need God in our life, in our marriage. Because if we deprive ourselves of that loving relationship, of his plan, we’re building our house on sand. And it will collapse.”
I’m currently reading the Lord of the Rings for the third time; 12 years have passed since I last read them and I am picking up more of the rich nuances in the novels than ever before. The whole story is an allegory for the struggle of life, the battle against sin, and Providence at work through it all. There are many rich characters in the story, but the most intriguing and contradictory one is the treacherous Gollum. He is conniving, manipulative, dirty, slimy and solely fixated on his “Precious” (The One Ring). Because the Ring is an embodiment of sin, Gollum, therefore, reveals the true effects of sin: he is isolated, obsessed, fractured, and less-than-human.
Gollum and Frodo stand in contrast to one another. The villain and the hero. Gollum is the character who is almost beyond redemption, so twisted in his own evil and lust for the Ring that his personality has literally been fractured into two: the naive child and the sociopathic killer. Frodo takes the Ring not for lust, but for charity. He feels and knows its power but resists its seduction for a greater good: to destroy it. One of the many marvels of this story is that Frodo empathizes with Gollum’s plight, unlike many of the other characters in the story. Everyone wants Gollum dead, but Frodo is moved with pity for him. Frodo clearly understands the power of the Ring and knows that it would not take much to end up like Gollum. That is empathy. Mercy is loving that which does not deserve it.
We all desire to be the hero, but the truth is that there is an inner villain inside of us all (as Jordan Peterson likes to remind us). Gollum embodies that inner demon; that part inside of us that we hate about ourselves. The vice that we fear. The thorn in the flesh. The sin we regret. All of that is Gollum. It is the part of us that we would kill if we could. We ask ourselves, “Why won’t it just go away?” “Why does it keep showing up and ruining things?” We try hard to ignore it, forget that it is there, or stuff it deep down.
I think it is safe to say that most of us struggle with being our own worst critic. We continually condemn ourselves for not being enough. Yet, I think Tolkien is inviting us to consider another option. Rather than constantly trying to kill those things in our lives that we identify as Gollums, we should begin to see them for what they are: a lost part within us that needs saving. Rather than meeting our anxiety with contempt, greet it with love and affection. The way of redeeming that villain within is not through condemnation but through mercy and clemency. Self-Compassion, as Kristin Neff calls it, would be the answer.
We often reject our weakness because we do not understand it. Therefore, let’s turn our attention to Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. St. Paul proudly proclaims that “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Cor 11:30). Huh? What? This is the missing piece and why it is important to not be ignorant nor condemning of your struggles. Paul boasts of his weakness, because our Lord tells him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9). It is in those moments of weakness that we encounter our human limitations; ergo our need for salvation. We run from those struggles because we fail to see how God can use them for his Greater Glory. But the mystery of the Cross is that in our poverty we are most likely to encounter Jesus. Paul understands this, which is why he can see the purpose behind the “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7). It is given to him to keep him humble and prevent him from developing pride. See it this way: God loves Paul enough that he didn’t want him to be an egomaniac because of his great preaching skills. That elusive thorn is the vehicle used God to make that happen. The thorn in the side is God’s mercy. That’s Providence at work in the mystery of sin.
Paul’s thorn was his own issue that he needed to understand, but we all have thorns and struggles that we are trying to make sense of in our lives. We have no idea how everything will play out. Frodo didn’t. He had no idea what mercy towards Gollum would do. In the end, it becomes the thing that saves Middle Earth. Yes, we absolutely should have a clear aversion to the sin in our lives and sincere desire to be free from it, but I reiterate my point… harsh criticism is not the answer. It only makes matters worse. Rest in your neediness and trust in God’s love to meet you there.
Learn to love your inner Gollum, because God does, and one day you will see why he was there the whole time.
“We see only our pain, but we need to ask God for the graces in those moments and pray for those who are in those situations – to see that God has not left them out of that storm. That they can call upon our Lord, and He can give us a grace to point us back to our ultimate hope, our ultimate home.”
“God also knows that we have this ability to fail; to royally mess up. But he’s ok with that. Why? Because He can bring us back, and mercy can make up for that.”