A Catholic Psychologist's Take on Inner Healing & Forgiveness w/ Dr. Matthew Breuninger

art of catholic podcast catholic psychologist matthew leonard podcast video Aug 31, 2023

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"There is NOTHING like this in 'Catholic-land' online.” 


We all need healing...every last one of us.

And the latest Art of Catholic Podcast episode explores a bit of a different, but powerful angle on the topic that can make all the difference when it comes to healing deep emotional wounds and finding true freedom.   

Most Catholics are at least somewhat familiar with the idea of redemptive suffering.

It's what your mom was referring to every time you stubbed your toe as a kid and she'd tell you to "offer it up."

Redemptive suffering takes place when we unite our own trials to Christ's through a simple act of the will and obtain graces for ourselves and others.

But have you ever heard of redemptive healing?

In my conversation with Catholic psychologist and Franciscan University of Steubenville professor Dr. Matthew Breuninger, we discuss what redemptive healing is and why approaching inner healing through a trusting relationship with God is the only way to make real progress.

We also hit topics like:

  • The powerful role of forgiveness in healing
  • How suffering mistakenly becomes normalized
  • Why living for security robs us of freedom
  • The difference between pain and suffering
  • How we can experience freedom in Christ and still carry wounds.

So if you or anyone you know has struggled to heal from interior wounds, this is an episode you don't want to miss. 

God bless and enjoy!

Matthew

P.S. Have you tried the Science of Sainthood for FREE? Check it out HERE!

 



PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

 

In John 5:6, Jesus asked the paralytic of the pool of Bethesda, do you want to be healed? And that's the question I wanna pose to you today. Do you want to be healed? And I'm not talking about some kind of like a faith healing service or anything like that. I'm talking about peeling back the layers of our deepest selves, our anxieties, our wounds, our sufferings, all of those things and beginning to experience the healing light of Jesus Christ. And to that end to answer that question, I brought in a friend of mine, Dr. Matthew Breuninger, and Dr. Breuninger is, I'm gonna call him Matthew from now on because I feel too off to call him Dr. Breuninger. But  Matthew is an associate professor of Psychology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He's also a research fellow at the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture and he has a thriving private practice in downtown Steubenville. You can find him at Wellspring Counseling and Coaching. And last but not least he wrote a book called Finding Freedom in Christ: Healing Life's Hurts and I'm going through it right now. I'm a good ways through it as you can tell by the bookmark and I love it. It's, it's wonderful. And so I am glad to welcome you to the show, Matthew.

Glad to be here. Thanks.

As I said, you are a professor of psychology. You've got this private practice and so you're dealing with people's wounds and the pain that they experience all the time, but you have kind of a hairy back story, so to speak. And I bring it up because it, it seems to beautifully set you up for what it is that you are doing now. So give us a little bit of that if you would.

Yeah. Um, you know, I, I, you know, without getting into too much detail, I certainly sort of, uh, was raised like at least nominally Catholic and got the sacraments and, um, somewhere in high school I, I, because of what was going on in my family of origin and, you know, my parents were struggling and I just turned to, to friends and to, um, situations and scenarios to try to, to try to fill this sort of a deep desire I had for stability and community and love and, um, unfortunately I didn't turn to the, the church or the sacraments for that. And so, you know, I went away to college, um, to a big city and I found myself just spiritually and morally bankrupt. Uh, you know, no moral compass. No relationship with God, so to speak. And, um, I left just, just wreckage, you know, just, just wreckage behind me. Um, and just hurt people, hurt a lot of people and hurt myself. Um, and I, I ended up dropping out of college and, um, having a pretty big conversion experience where, um, you know, it was sort of put to me, like if you continue down this path, you're, you're going down, um, trying to sort of numb yourself out to reality with anything or anyone that, you know, can help you with that. Um, you're gonna end up, you know, in jail or dead. Um, and I, I was miserable. I was so unhappy, man. I was so unhappy and I was introduced to a way of life that, uh, people promised me would, you know, help me feel happy, joyous and free. And that sounded really attractive to me given where I was in life at that time. And the, the, the tradeoff though was all you have to do is sort of be willing to be of radical service to God one day at a time for the rest of your life and you will be happy, joyous and free. And, um, what's funny is many of us in the church, sort of, we, we, we have this idea or concept. We do a morning offering. We do, right. You know, Jesus, I'm totally yours. We say surrender novenas. And, um, but there's something about it when you feel like your actual life is on the line. There's something about it when it feels like, um the alternative is um, like a pit of despair. And so, look, I was desperate and, um I was taught by people how to live this sort of new way of life. And, and, and what I learned was there were all sorts of things blocking me off from God. It wasn't that God had gone anywhere was that there were a lot of barriers um of my own making. Um that were, that were between me and a really dynamic relationship with God. And uh you know, people continue to show me how to, how to live more deeply in this reality of having a dynamic relationship with the Holy Spirit and with Christ. Um But it, but it's, yeah, that was, I was desperate, man. Like I was desperate and at least for me, oftentimes pain is the greatest motivator. Um especially when, when thinking about how to like making big decisions in life. Pain.

You mentioned in your book that you were on the verge of suicide at one point.

You know, I'm driving a car and you're like, maybe I'll just end it all. I know, I, I the the level of despair, like I was so unhappy, I was hurting so much and you know, looking back, all I saw was like all this wreckage and hurt and pain and looking forward, I couldn't see any hope. Like, I just saw more of the same and, um, like I was useless. I couldn't, I couldn't, like, I couldn't work productively. Like, I, I didn't have a fulfilling job. I dropped out of college. My friendships were, I was hanging out with people like me, you know, just hurting broken people who, right. Um, actually my and my two friends at that time, my two best friends from high school had also both dropped out of college and, uh, to tell you, like the trajectory of our lives like, uh, you know, and so we were back home together and just, we're just doing the same things. Um, and I wanted to end it, and on that night, I ended up on the doorstep of the most devout people I knew at the time and, and they were the happiest people I knew too. And they, man, they took me under their wing and, um, they said, look, we'll help, we'll help you. And they gave me some real simple suggestions and I followed those suggestions. Um, but after like the, after, after I followed some of those simple suggestions every night. Like they, they lived, they lived what they talked about, man. They, I'd be on their couch every night for two or three years, every night. I'd go to their house, I'd usually have dinner or something, you know, some sort of meal with them. We'd sit on the couch, we'd laugh, we'd watch movies. They categorize me, they showed me friendship. They, they brought me into their family. Um I experienced love, I experienced like genuine unconditional love and it was from that place that I felt like I could risk getting better.

What was the spiritual life like of those people who helped you in? Because obviously there's a connection between our spiritual lives and our mental health.

Right. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, they, they, they were praying the rosary daily, they were praying the Divine Mercy chaplet. They were fasting, they were um going to daily mass as frequently as they could with young kids. Um, they were, they were devout people, they were devout. Um, and, and God wasn't an idea to them. God was a person to be encountered. Um God was living and breathing and dynamic and God wanted to be a part of their life. And when I saw that, I thought, well, maybe he'd want to be a part of mine.

Like, you know, maybe how, what is it like? Did it, did it take you a while to get to this place where you even recognized that you were suffering? I mean, you have emotions and depression and things like that, but it, it can become a normal occurrence in our lives and it becomes the new normal in a lot of people's lives.

Right. I think that's right. I think, I think one of the problems with healing sometimes is we don't even know how unhappy or how much suffering we're encountering because human beings have this tremendous capacity, right? To um take the norm or, or rather to take what's happening now and to make it the new normal. And so, you know, this happens in good and bad ways. I mean, um turns out, you know, when you give people tons of money and yachts and boats and cars, there's a spike in happiness and then all of a sudden that becomes the new normal. And so they're not super happy anymore. They're just, this is the norm, but it goes the other way too, which is like we can endure some pretty significant suffering and unhappiness. And at first it's sort of a bummer but then it's the norm, it's just life and so it can make us resilient, but it can also um sort of blind us in a way to the healing that we need. Like we really are suffering. I really am in pain. I really am unhappy and I shouldn't be satisfied with it. And this shouldn't be the norm, shouldn't be the norm.

So what's the, the role then? I mean, obviously this family was really important for you to have this big conversion and this whole transformation in your life. So what's the role for other people? They're listening to this like, what's the role of community in our lives in general as human beings? Because I mean, the two friends you had before they're out of college, right. They, they dropped out and then all of a sudden you're in this kind of new community and it affects this transformation for you. So, I think, um, it's really hard to, you hear this language in the church, right? Where we're relational beings, we're made for relationship, we're made for union and community with others and we think.

Yeah. Sure. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It's actually hard, like it would, it would be hard to overstate how important relationships are for human beings. I mean, it is stamped into your DNA. Um You know, the way we punish prisoners, the way we punish people, the worst of the worst punishments we can come up with like one step lower than the death penalty is solitary confinement. And it turns out like when you put people in solitary confinement, they lose their minds very often that that relationship is foundational for our flourishing. It's fundamental. And so, um I'll say this relationships either sort of pull you down to their level or they raise you up to their level. And so the community we surround ourselves with is incredibly important and it's something that we should, we should, we should approach the with some deliberateness. I think sometimes we find ourselves in communities because of our jobs or because of our uh socioeconomic status or, you know, uh the sports we put our, so our kids in, but actually being very deliberate is important because it it will shape so much um like health or hurt. But, but let me say this too, the friends I I met were people who had, who had already been on the path of healing. And so what's important is sort of, you know, one of my responsibilities as I continue to heal is to be this kind of presence for others. It's, it's to be a place of uh sort of interpersonal safety and security, a place of love, profound love and charity where other people can take the risk of beginning the journey of healing where other people feel that they're met with um compassion and mercy, but also encouragement to grow. But I'm not going to be willing and able to do that for others unless I'm on that path myself. Like your wounds are really scary to me. Unless I've looked at my own, your pain and suffering feels really uncomfortable to me unless I've done the like the homework of my soul. And so the more that we go through this work ourselves, the more we can be that for others. It's kind of like you don't want to be, you know, a former alcoholic and just starting, you know, a a and hanging out in a bar. And so you got to really pick and choose the people, you know, that, that you're hanging out with when you're beginning that healing process and it makes it go ahead, go ahead. I was gonna say it makes sense with regard to community because obviously we're created for the communion of God, right? The, the relationship, the self giving relationship between the members of the Trinity. That's what we're made for. And that's why it's hard stamped into who we are and we need that communion and somebody need it. Matt. Yeah. Say it, say it. But like, like for real, you know what I mean?

Well, and answer me this then because I would, I would have to think if, if solitary confinement is kind of the the worst before the death penalty, we can do this to ourselves by over self reliance, right? So we put everything on ourselves. We're not in union with and communion with other people. And Father Nicholas, this French Jesuit from the 18th century, has this great line where he basically says that if, if you are too overly self reliant, you're killing, not just yourself, but you're killing the ability of other people to express love to you. And so I have to, to think that this is a big problem for people who are wounded and suffering. It's huge.

So, so I think, I mean, that's a great tie in one sort of related point though is I think particularly for men. What I've found in my clinical practice is that I think there's a crisis of friendship among men. Like I said, a while back to somebody, I said, oh, my best friend, you know, my best friend Neil. And then all of a sudden I felt like a little kid, like I just said, my best friend, oh, like I felt small, like I'm a grown man. Grown men aren't supposed to have best friends. And then I thought, wait, what a weird bizarre world we live in that we think grown men shouldn't have best friends. Right. Like, somehow we don't need it. Like, this idea of self reliance is so permeated our culture and our, our, um and like our idea of masculinity, like, of course, you should have a best friend. You should have somebody who, like, knows you at depth like at depth. Um And not only you should, you need it. Actually, anything else is sort of, you're sort of limping along, to be honest. Um, but, but to your point, I actually think what happens, Matt is in my, my view on sort of hurts and healing is when we get wounded rather than sort of turning to God, we, we turn to ourselves and we become self reliant. We say I'll take care of this. I never want to experience that pain again. I never want to experience that suffering again. I'll handle this. I'll go out and impress all the right people. I'll go out and get the right grades or get the right job. I got this. Here's what I need to not feel this pain again. And it's a subtle self reliance that cuts us off from deep intimate relationships with others. But more importantly, any time I'm in self reliance, I'm not in God reliance. And it cuts me off from, from the grace of the Holy Spirit over time. And slowly my inner life becomes bleak and muted and gray and unhappy and anxious and it like self reliance cuts me off from what God is trying to do in and through me and I end up being happy. Is this what you meant in the book? When you said by living for security, we are not free. 100% that was one of the lines just jumped off the page when I was reading. I was like, oh my gosh, that's so true on so many levels. When I say I want, I want to not feel stupid. I want to not feel um unattractive. I wanna not feel when I'm seeking my own security. Um I'm, I'm following my will. I'm in self will. I'm in self reliance and I'm not free because I'm, I'm out chasing all the things. I think I need to make me happy and healthy and whole. And the truth is there's a lie, right? Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and everything else will be added onto you. So it turns out if I flip that script, if I seek what God's will is for me, I get the security. My sense of um insecurity begins to dissipate my feeling of dislike for my body or my attract like these things come when I put the first thing like in its first place. But when I invert the script, when I say, and this is what a lot of us subtly do we say, God, I'm gonna get these things and once I get these things done, I'm gonna follow you completely. Once I, once I'm safe and secure, then I'm all yours. But he's asking the opposite. He he's saying no, no, like look to me and you'll get all these other things, you'll get the security you're looking for only in me. Um And so life is for life is sometimes this constant struggle between like self reliance and God reliance and the catechism. That line I it uh uh a Marian priest pointed this out to me. He said that his favorite line in the catechisms was, was paragraph 3 98. It's talking about the original sin of Adam and Eve and it says all subsequent sin would be disobedience to God and a lack of trust in his goodness. And for me, that's the line that I thought my self reliance is almost always rooted in. Yeah. But what if you don't like want for me? Like what's really good? What if you don't really want, you know, like let me get this stuff, then I'll follow you, you know, instead of being like, no, you are good. And if I follow you, I'll get the good things.

Yeah. Funny. We think we're in control. We're never in control. We're not in control of anything. Like, even with the good stuff that happens, like, we think you, like, you get a windfall or you see a long lost friend or something and you're like, oh, it came out of nowhere. But the same thing is with the bad stuff too. We're not in any control. It's a complete lie to think that the illusion of control can drive us.

And, and the problem with control is the more we try to control, the smaller our world gets, it has to because I, I know I can only control a limited number of things. So my, my world gets smaller and smaller and narrower and narrower and I get more and more anxious because I'm trying to hold all of these pieces and they all rely upon me. And so life when you're grasping at control is incredibly anxiety and anger provoking and it's narrow.

This is one of the things that I really that struck me in your book, you were talking about this very thing. We tend to control the situations we're in, particularly when we've been wounded a particular way and we know that a certain kind of situation is going to trigger some kind of reaction inside of us. And so we start to manage our lives in such a way so that we're never exposed to that situation and we remain unhurt, right?

Saint Paul, I think is um sort of the antidote to this, right? You know, Paul says, oh, I have this thorn in my flesh three times. I ask the Lord to remove it and God doesn't remove it, the Lord doesn't remove it. And so we're left with this tension, which is like, so does the Lord leave St. Paul unhealed? I don't quite want to say that. But then, then what would healing mean in Paul's case? And so I think healing means having the freedom to go wherever God calls you and to bring your suffering with you. Or, or maybe another way of saying it is healing is to be able to suffer well, to not be reactive to the prospect of suffering. Um What I did for a lot of my life is I had all these hurts and wounds and so I would try to navigate life to not have to feel those hurts and wounds. So I feel insecure about my intelligence. Well, then I'm gonna go to a top 25 college, right? And I'm gonna be able to say like I went to this particular college and I'm gonna work really hard to get high SAT scores. So I can always hide behind my SAT scores. Um I'm gonna put myself in positions where people have to listen to me, right? I'm navigating and orchestrating my life, not based on what I think God wants me to do, but based on what will give me that sense of uh security, not having to feel the pain of my wounds or my hurts. Um I don't feel attractive, so I'm gonna find all these ways to get this, um this, this wound of not feeling attractive man. I don't feel man enough. I'm gonna think about all these things that cause us to say, well, here's what I'm gonna do to not have to feel that pain or suffering again. The problem is life gets really hard to then start to orchestrate it not to touch our thorns. Like if life is about not having our thorns touched, you can do it but you're not free. In that case, you're a slave to your, your thorns, you're a slave to your wounds. And Saint Paul isn't Saint Paul has the freedom to go where God calls him.

So what's the fine line here then between embracing our suffering, which is a very Catholic notion, you know, so we embrace our suffering and on the other hand, we want healing, right? So, so how do you navigate that?

Yeah. So in some ways I think of um my hope with my book is that my book allows you to get back to just good old Catholic suffering, right? I want people to just get back to suffering. Um And, and here's how I delineate that. So I try to, I try to in my book, make a distinction between what I call primary wounds and secondary wounds. And so primary wounds are when somebody's hurt you. Um And, and for, for a wound, for me, a wound arises when you're not loved, the way you were created to be loved wounds arise when we're not loved, the way we're created to be loved. Um Or when we're actually blocked from loving, the way we were created to love. But sort of the one that often times resonates the most is I wasn't loved the way I was created to be love. So I have a wound, OK? The result of a wound is suffering, it's suffering, that's inevitable. That's what we got to get back to, to doing it, just picking up that cross of suffering from these primary wounds and learn to hold them or carry them. But here's what oftentimes happens when we get hurt. When we start suffering, suffering is unpleasant. And so we say I want to avoid that in the future. So we turn to self reliance or self protection. And then what happens is I end up because of my self reliance and self protection. I end up putting myself in a position to be hurt and harmed by the world and others even more. And this is the suffering that can be avoided. The prim like the suffering that comes from primary wounds can't be voided. It, it, that's just the suffering of life. But it turns out most of the suffering in my life, most of the suffering is actually of my own making. Um when I think about, uh you know, when I started at Franciscan and, you know, I won't use names but, but I, I was coming from a place of insecurity and so I really wanted, I needed certain people to like me um to see my value. I was in total self protection mode when I got here. And so I'm gonna work super hard and I'm gonna publish lights out and I'm gonna, I'm gonna do all these studies and publish and because I need to impress so and so so that so and so will see my value and validate me because I don't want to feel insecure. I don't wanna feel like I'm not worthy or valuable or I'm acting from a total place of self protection. So I set about and I publish right, a bunch of articles and I, and this person doesn't give me the validation that I've been working for and now I'm resentful anger, angry and bitter. And I'm going, like I say to my wife, can you believe so? And so can you believe like, man, they don't even know what they're doing. They, how do they even, they don't belong in that position? How could they get there? They don't even, I'm assassinating their character. But like at the end of the day, didn't, I really set myself up because if I was acting from a place of freedom. If I was doing what I thought God wanted me to do their response or lack of response, their action or reaction that doesn't affect me when I'm acting from God's will. Like I'm content to be doing God's will. I don't do God's will for your reaction. I do God's will because that's what I'm supposed to be doing. And when I'm in God's will, I'm OK with you. But when I'm in self will I need you to react and respond to me certain ways. And when you don't, I get hurt. And so to be honest, Matt, I think most of the, the, the suffering in my life these days and most of our lives is actually caused by subtle ways that we're acting out of self protection and the world and the people in it in it hurt us. They don't react the way we need them or want them to respond. And so we get hurt, we suffer, that's suffering. We should get rid of. I call those secondary wounds. We want to get rid of the suffering of our own creation so we can get back to the suffering of the cross. That is, that is sort of inevitable in our life.

OK. So tied to that. Yeah, let me pose kind of a twofold question. Where then does the notion of it's somewhat obvious, but you tell us, I mean, where forgiveness comes into play in your relationship with someone else who has caused you a primary wound, like maybe they did not love you the way that you were created to be loved, they cause a primary wound. And then in another part, you know, further on back in your book and the steps for practically dealing with wounds that you have, which is one of the things that's fantastic about your book. Um You talk about the necessity to whatever degree possible to righting the wrongs of, of what took place. Like, how do you undo that harm? And there are all kinds of different situations that people find themselves and maybe you're cut off from that person, maybe they're deceased, you know, but do you have forgiveness playing in here and, and maybe I'm assuming like every one of us has all kinds of baggage in our lives, right? Like John Henry Newman has this beautiful term, like our antecedent considerations. It just basically needs baggage, right? Just a nice way of saying. Right. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But we all have these wounds and baggage and so it, it, it actually plays into the way we might or might not be able to actually reconcile with someone in a particular situation. What do you do with that?

Ok. So that's why I think it's important to sort of approach it in a systematic way. Um There's a real temptation when we recognize that we've heard people to just run back and want to ask for forgiveness when we're still acting out of insecurity or self protection or self reliance and we can do more harm. Um I think we need to sort of go through and identify and recognize all the ways that we're acting out of self reliance and self protection. Um You know, a fancy way of saying that is like, you know, essentially sin. Uh because any time I'm acting out of self reliance and self protection, I'm acting out of self, my will not God's will. It's just sin like, but to the degree that we can recognize that and ask God to remove that and act contrary to self protection and self reliance and act out of God's will, then we can actually go back um and amend the harms we've caused with the right disposition toward the other. But, but let me say this about forgiveness. I think forgiveness is incredibly hard unless I first look at myself because what I realize is all the ways I've hurt people. Um I've been acting from this place of self protection, self reliance and very often even many of the situations where I've been hurt by others. I've put myself in that position because of self reliance and self protection. When I realized that truth about myself, it makes it much easier to look at somebody who's hurt me and say, I don't like the way they've hurt me. But man, do I understand it? Because when I've heard other people. It's because I'm spiritually sick. I mean, that's language. I sort of like that resonates with me is when I'm acting out of self reliance, I'm spiritually sick because I'm not, I don't have this channel of grace with God. I'm blocking that grace through self reliance. No, thanks God. I got this. And so when I'm self reliant, I'm spiritually sick and I hurt people when I'm spiritually sick. And so it turns out the people that hurt me hurt me because they're spiritually sick too spiritually. Well, people don't go around hurting other people. People that are connected to the grace of God and his love, his mercy, his compassion, his charity, they're not going around hurting and harming others. At least not to the degree and extent that um we do when we're in self reliance. And so when somebody hurts me, I can say that's spiritual sickness. I don't like it. I don't like the way it's manifesting. I don't like what it does to me. But man, I understand it and I actually start to have compassion for them as somebody who's sick. Like if I think that the person who hurt me is whole healthy and happy, I'm like pretty dang, resentful and hurt. But I, when I realize it's, it's the gasping and grasping of somebody who's spiritually sick. Um I was driving down the road a couple of months back and I accidentally cut some guy off and man, he gave me the finger immediately. Boom. Like that's not a guy who's happy. That's not, that's, that's not somebody who's like walking in the sunlight of the Holy Spirit, that somebody who was unhappy and that gives me a little bit of compassion for him. Now, I don't like having the finger thrown at me. But, you know, but I'm, I understand it and I'm more able to forgive when I see, see it for what it is. Spiritual sickness.

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I think one of the ways to help deal with these kinds of situations and help maybe refocus how it is. We view the people who have wounded us is to recognize that God allowed that to happen. Like it's part of his permissive will. So he's not causing evil. He can never be the origin of evil, but he allows evil to happen. Why? Because He knows he can bring a greater good out of it. And so when you can see it through that lens and recognize that God allowed this particular person to wound me in this way because He knows that He can use it for my eternal well-being. Now I can begin to heal by looking at that situation, not with bitterness anymore, but as a ok, God, I might not understand it and it really stunk to go through and maybe I'm still going through it. But thank you, right? Because you're my perfect father and you know what you're doing in order to get me to heaven.

Yeah, 2 things about that. Uh The first is that does partially rely upon having the right image of God because if you think that God is a loving father, then you approach life, you approach the things in life with a certain curiosity, with a certain openness. Um Like, what does my good father have in store for me? And if, if something bad happens, I say like, ok, then what is my good father doing? What what's happening? Um If you think that God is, if you have a distorted image of God, all of a sudden, life is life is approached with apprehension, it's approached with fear. It's approached with um a sense of, well, you must be punishing me then or you must be it like my image of God actually really disposes me first and foremost to how I think about my suffering, um is my suffering viewed as a punishment or is it something to be curious about? Like, what is God doing here? So I think how our initial gut reaction to suffering tells us something about our image of God and very often that image of God, that's my second step. It needs to be rehabilitated. Many of us know the right answer of who God is. But like here we don't. Oh yeah, he's a good, good father. He's, he's, he's merciful. He's kind, he's compassionate. And if I could crack your chest open and look at your heart, you're terrified of God. And you think he's waiting with his finger over the s my button to quash you like, I think that's the, the reality of how most of us feel versus sort of what we've been categorized to know and suffering acts as a really nice um like Rorschach test. It's like we get this suffering. It's like, oh, what does that mean to you? I must have angered God. Oh, well, that tells me something about your image of God, right? Um So, so to that point first, yeah, if I can, if I really think God is good, that disposes me to view my suffering in a particular way. But to, to that, the deeper point there, I do think you're right. Um But in my experience, very often people come to it that, that appreciation later, once they've seen how their own wounded, this also brings about uh good in others. And so it's when I see it, it's, and I call this in the book a redemptive healing. When I see God use my wounds and past hurts to bring about hope and health and healing to others. I go now I see there's a way that it doesn't make sense to me until I see God shine through it. And, and that's oftentimes in this new, I think to be healed. Matt, I think to be healed, we have to become of radical service to God every day. I say my life is yours. And then I mean it, and the only thing I want to do today, God is what you want me to do. And when I live from that disposition, I start to see how God uses my past um in his service. And then all of a sudden my past has meaning and purpose and value the hurts. I've experienced the sufferings, I've experienced the pain, it's not just like God, you allowed them to happen. And I know up here you only, it's like I see II, I experience it, my past becomes a vehicle of healing for others. I think this is probably especially true for Catholics when we view each other in terms of the mystical body of Jesus Christ, like we're all unified in Christ. And so we, we should desire not just our own healing, right? But the healing of the person who primarily wounded us right from that primary wound. And, and it's not just good for them in a solitary way. It's good for the mystical body of Christ, of which we are a part which of what you know, the sacrament of penance is all about. I mean, it's not just bringing, we call it a sacrament of healing because it's not just our healing, it's the healing of the entire body.

And actually, you know, bringing that up, it's interesting because like what's the role of the church in, in regard to this? Because we have these sacraments of healing, right? Confession, annoying the sick is it that we're not opening ourselves enough to the grace that's flowing through those sacraments is that the problem with us on a personal level?

I think. So, I mean, this is a great, this is sort of a conundrum for me because I look at these people who have gone to daily mass, daily mass for decades and they're just like miserable SOBs and we all know them like you know that person who's, you see them at mass all the time and you're like, this person is like, miserable, like miserable. So, what is that? Um, how can I receive Jesus Christ body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist? How can I go to confession? You know, every other week and still be so wretched. And I think it's because, um, it's something akin to, like, trying to have a marital embrace, like, like to have to have a marital embrace with your spouse wearing a snowsuit or like, you know, wearing a life jacket or something like this. It's like we're in self protection mode and I approach the sacraments with full on self protection mode. I haven't identified any of the ways that I'm acting out of self will and self seeking. Um I approach God with that disposition. Um And, and it's not that it, it's a, it's just a barrier to grace. Um, the analogy II, I think of is like a, a greenhouse. And so you have the sun, the sunlight shining into the greenhouse and the plants thrive. But imagine each one of our self protection strategies. Each one of our self preservation strategies, our self reliance, it's like moss or algae growing on the, on the greenhouse. Over time, the, the sunlight is blotted out and the plants die inside, but it's not that the sun has gone anywhere. The sun is still there. It's that it's blocked out and we approach the sacraments like this. Um And I think particularly with, with confession, with pennant, we often confess the wrong things. We confess the fruit of our self reliance, not the self reliance itself. And so I'll go to confession and say, I'm I lost my patience with my kids. I yelled at my kids confessed that for years, yelled at my kids lost my patience.

I never confessed that.

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, this is hypothetical I've never asked. But like so, ok, Lord, why am I not getting better? I confess this every two weeks. Why am I not getting better? Well, here's why because while it is true that yelling at my kids and my impatience is a sin that needs to be confessed. I'm yelling at my kids and I'm impatient because primarily I'm rooted in fear. 99.9% of the time when I yell at my kids, it's because I'm afraid that they're going to make me look bad in front of someone or in some scenario or in some or they're going to make my life harder in some way. And so when we're out in public, don't, you know, you're supposed to be, I'm a Catholic psychologist. Like I, I have a prominent place in this community. You need to represent me. Well, I'm acting out of fear and that means my kids can't be kids, right? It's not them. That's the problem. It's me acting out of fear. And self reliance. And when I yell at them at the house, it's almost always because I want me time now or I want one room to be clean so that I can feel peace and relaxation and, and I just, my mind goes to like, I'm never going to be able to be happy if this room isn't clean. I keep, I keep confessing the yelling and the impatience and not the self selfish fears, not the, not the um, excessive need to be esteemed by others. That's what's driving my impatience with my kids. Um My fear that when they get to college in 10 years, they're gonna make me look bad because they can't do math quick. I'm like that, that honestly, that is the stuff that I look like. So when my son says, I say, hey, how, how was school today? Oh, I didn't finish everything. I get angry. I'm not angry out of his genuine good. I'm angry because I imagine him at Franciscan with my colleagues not being able to write. Well, and me being embarrassed, total self, dude, self. Well, here's the scary thing about that though, Matt is that ok? You're the dad in this situation and the wounds, you know, that, that you're acting out of now the wounds that I act out of and every other man and woman, a lot of it has to do with how it is. We were raised and the relationships that we had with our fallen parents, which is, I mean, if we're watching society like collapse all around us as the family breaks down and there has to be a psyc, something that breaks the cycle on what's happening here. Part of it is Matt when I, you know, so I had a um a good friend, a former student, um who was, who was staying with us during a transition over the summer. And um this person drew a picture of what they thought trauma looked like and it was a parent handing a broken heart to their child. And that, that is a powerful image man because um it resonates with me like I take my bro. So, so I grew up in a family Matt that, that values education um too much and, and they value education too much. Precisely because, you know, just two generations ago, there was no opportunity for education and education was the only way to pull themselves out of like dire poverty. And so the pendulum swung really hard. But all of a sudden education for me is like, is where your value is. And so now I have a kid who likes mechanics and I'm like, oh, you want to be a mechanical engineer? And he's like, no, no, no. Like I want to be a mechanic like he likes engines, not the math and not the theory. He likes engines. And I feel fear rise in my body and I feel myself subtly trying to convince him that that's not really what he likes and that what he, what he needs is exposure to, to higher level math and mechanic, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then when he doesn't follow, I try to push harder and I pathologize him instead of realizing that that's a wound in me and to the degree that I can recognize that wounded me and give it to the Father. And, and here's, here's the deal. It, it sounds transactional. But I say to God every day God, here are the wounds that I um have experienced. And more importantly, I say, here are the self protection strategies that I recognize in myself today. Here they are. And I name them specifically. And I say those are the things that get in my way of doing your will. Those are the things that get in my way of doing your will remove them to the extent that they prevent me from doing what you would have me do. So, and I don't know what Father wouldn't like. When I say God, I want to do your will just take away the things that block me from doing it. My experience is that God does. So he wants me to be a certain kind of dad to the degree that I'm willing to be the kind of dad that I think God wants me to be. He, he removes that selfish fear that intelligence is what gives everyone value like, but the deal is to the degree that that's removed. I have to be willing to act the way I think you would want me to act not to be like, ok, good. Now I can get you into an Ivy League. No, it's like now I can love you for the kid who wants to be a mechanic and be ok with that and lean into those things with you and go out into the garage and get dirty and get it's I don't get set free from those things to pursue my will. I get set for, set free from those things to do what God would have me do. How does God want me to love that kid? So we got to deal with ourselves first, obviously, always.

And you have this line in chapter three of your book where you say we are only as sick as our secrets. What does that mean?

Yeah, I think a lot of us um have experienced a lot of hurt and pain and suffering. Um And there's tremendous shame, tremendous shame and guilt around some of these things. And I think we, we spend a lot of effort and energy trying to prevent those things from coming to the surface um from seeing the light of day either. Not only, not only so others don't see it, but so that we don't have to experience the pain and shame and guilt associated with it. And the problem with that is that means that there's always part of myself that I'm cutting off from myself and from others and what I want and what I've experienced by going through these steps in the book. And man, I wrote, I mean, Matt, I wrote out everything I illuminated every nook and cranny of my past and particularly the things that I felt the most ashamed of and embarrassed about. I put them on paper and I admitted them to somebody. And after I did that, that was the first time that I felt free. Like I'm not pretending anymore. I'm not pretending until I, until I acknowledge those deep dark secrets. I'm pretending, I'm not being like authentically me. And that means that I can't have an authentic relationship with you or with God because there's always some part of me that's doing impression management for the first time in my life. And I did it in the sacrament of confession. And I actually, I happen to be in a foreign country. I happen to be in Central America, which is good, right? So this person never has to see me again and I don't have to see them. But there is one human being on this planet who knows everything. And for the first time there I am in black and white, honest, honest, like this is Matt Bruer for better or for worse, this is who I am. This is what I've done this is what's been done to me and it's like I could breathe. There was a tremendous weight taken on my shoulder. I don't have to pretend anymore. I just don't have to pretend like I, I know who I am now. From top to bottom at depth. I know who I am and from this place I can move forward. Now, I'm not saying go blab your stuff to everyone. It has to be the right person. It has to be somebody who can receive it and hold it and honor it the way it might need to be honored. Somebody who's not gonna freak out somebody who's not gonna, it's gotta be the right person. But man, it needs to be someone. It's not just enough to do it in our heads. I need to bring it into the light with another human being. And I think the sacrament of confession here, a good general confession, find a confessor who you like and, and just say, hey, do you have three hours? Um Because I'm gonna hit you with this list of things and um some of them are painful and embarrassing and, and, and this is, these are the things that we, we just try to keep outside of our consciousness. I don't want to admit that I've said or done that. I don't want to admit that I've thought that I don't want to admit that I've like, we've all got them. Not all that's not true. There are, there are some people who have, like, sort of these preserving graces. You occasionally meet people who..

I hate those people.

Yeah. Yeah. Like, it's, let me just say the majority, the overwhelming majority of us. Despite the impression management we do. When you crack beneath that surface man, there is, there's stuff we've done as kids that we've tried to just push away or, oh, that, that's just kid. Stuff like we need to take the things that keep us feeling embarrassed, ashamed less than like, and we need to bring them into the light and then we're free. So can you experience that freedom in Christ and still carry those wounds around? Yeah. I mean, that's, I think that's what Saint Paul does. Saint Paul is the image of that God doesn't take his thorn. And you know, if you've ever had a thorn, they're painful. God doesn't take it away. He doesn't remove it. God says my grace is sufficient for you, right? My strength is made perfect in your weakness. My power is made perfect. Yeah. And that weakness is knowing. I have a thorn that's like I know that I'm wounded. I know that I tend toward insecurity or um excessive, you know, excessively needing to be validated by others. I know my weaknesses and the fact that I can show up to life and be a dad and be a husband and be a professional is only a testament to God's power. Because I know my weaknesses and I know when I'm disconnected from God, what I fall back to almost immediately, almost immediately. And so some of these wounds get removed, they just get removed, never to come back. But some of these wounds sort of remain and God shines through them and that's this Pauline healing, like I can still have an excessive need to be like to be validated by others. And when I'm acting out of that place, it's unpleasant for me and everyone around me. But when I'm living this sort of new pattern or way of life, I know that that temptation is there. I can feel it sometimes and yet I feel the grace and strength to go where God is calling me and to bring that wound with me. And so look, I bring my, I bring a lot of thorns with me. There are thorns I bring with me today and they don't cause me a problem to the extent that I have this sort of uh contact this daily moment by moment, contact with God. They don't cause me problems. But when I turn to self reliance, they come roaring back, roaring back. And I think that's a, a, a huge point that has to be made. You can't hope to experience uh any kind of a healing without. And we already mentioned this before, this deeply interior relationship with our Lord. And I think a lot of us think we have that but we really don't know. You know, and, and it takes, it's a day after day, you know, grinding it out almost. I mean, it's not supposed to be like, the spiritual life is not supposed to be a grind, but it's our humanity, we're fighting against here. And so we have to make that act of the will to love God even. We don't feel like doing it and you gotta show up for prayer. You got to get to the sacraments as often as you can. The spiritual life isn't rocket science, right? I mean, it, but, but we just, we make it more complicated in a lot of ways than it has to be. And there are things we need to learn and know about, but it's really just about making yourself available to the Lord so that he can heal you. Really dude, you know, you mentioned Alcoholics and Alcoholics Anonymous before. I mean, I took tremendous inspiration from those steps for this. I will tell you some of the, some of the holiest, I mean, this, some of the holiest people I've ever met in my life. And I've done a lot of work with substance abusers and treatment courts and some of the holiest people I've ever met in my life come out of the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. I mean, and Narcotics Anonymous. The these are men and women who have been in the gutters of life. Um you know, drinking themselves into insane asylums, leaving families, stealing from corporations shooting heroin prostituting themselves. Right. And now they are the most humble of service people you've ever met. And they are so sure of God's goodness and power in their life. There, there is, there is a, it's just like, um, it's a humble confidence but they just know like, oh, yeah, God's in my life. God works in my life every morning. I wake up and I talk to him. I tap in and I asked him to guide and direct my day and, and you hear them talk about it with, in some sense simplicity, this tremendous simplicity, I tap in and I make myself available and I say God direct my footsteps and they mean it. I think sometimes the temptation in the church is for us to be like God. I want to do your will and then to go and do what we want to do. Now, I want a nice house. I want a big car. I want like these people in a a when they say I want to do God's will, they mean it. Um and it's not, it's not, it doesn't get mixed with politics, it doesn't get mixed with impression management. It's like this humble service to God. And that's the, you feel it, you feel it, you, you, they radiate it. And if we in the church could recognize that we have something even greater at our disposal. I think one of the reasons they radiated is because they've developed this relationship.

Right? And, and we talk about wanting to do the will of the Lord and we always think it's something that's gonna be painful or it's gonna be like not what I want. The beautiful thing about the interior life is the closer you get to the Lord, the more his desires become your desires. And so you end up wanting what he wants anyway. And then everything is smooth sailing. If we would just do that, we wouldn't have the problems we have.

And what, what an image of God too, like we think it's going to be all hard. And like, I mean, as a dad being a dad for me has been such a gift in the sense that Matt, like I have these moments where I look at my kids and I really like, I feel like my heart is going to explode. I'm just like, and I can't communicate that adequately to them. And I'll never be able to like, adequately communicate that. But like to think that um God, the father in his fatherhood, like somehow I'm more loving than God the father like I know what I want for my kids and I never want them to hurt or suffer just for the sake of it. Now, there's times when I'm like, hey, yeah, you can't have chocolate chips at seven in the morning. Um And it's like, because there's a good for you. I see here but like the good is always a genuine good. And I think sometimes we have this weird image in the church that God does hard things just because they're hard and because he wants us to suffer and like, no, like God's heart bursts with love for it. Like he delights in us. He, I mean, it, it's like we have to get back to that. And I, and I think the beauty of people in a a is they meet God at their lowest. And so they're not convinced that God loves them for anything other than like some like an intrinsic value. They have like they experienced God's love at the lowest. And so, but I think for some of us, we think that maybe God loves us for the things we do or for the, and that God wants to quash our desires and He wants to, does he want to transform our desire? Sure. But can he also handle our desires? Like, yeah, like we don't scandalize God. I don't, I don't know. I, I like, I think so many of us have a really distorted image of God, the Father in particular because of how we were raised, right? And uh you're right, we we he he shapes our desires. He molds them closer and closer to his. But that's also done in and through like playfulness and gentleness and compassion and love and Him giving us a whole bunch of good things and like he's not waiting just to, he's not waiting just to get us.

There's so much more we could talk about on all of this and, and I know I don't want to take away from your time as a father because I know you've got to go.

I gotta take my kids fishing, man.

That's awesome. Um, I just heard mine go out to the pool. Um, not my pool. I don't have one. I was like, I'm switching jobs immediately then. OK, they went to the public pool, ok. Um In Toronto, Toronto as we call it. Uh But for those of you who would like to really dive more into this uh And I would love to have Matt back on the program again because there's, this is been a fascinating conversation I think really helpful for a lot of people but you know, go grab this book. It really is. I, I really am enjoying it. It's opened my eyes to a lot of things even in my own life. Uh finding freedom in Christ, healing life's hurts. You can find that I'm sure wherever books are sold.

So and Matt go ahead just to say like building that, that second set, we, we've been talking a lot about this image of God and I recently developed a program. I don't know if I have, I don't have a copy of it maybe. Oh, here I, I actually do hold on, um, it is a 12 week program, right. It's called Known: Embraced by the Heart of the Father. And, um, right now we've been doing a cohort model. We run groups, but it's a 12 week program aimed at helping us rediscover our identity as beloved sons and daughters of the father. Um, and someday I'd love to talk more about that because I know you, you met your background with, with the saints and with mystical theology and spiritual theology, I think dovetail so nicely with this, like coming to know the heart of the father. And that's something that for me, this book opened up for me is that we, we need to in some ways just get back to like the heart of the father. Um And so many of us struggle with that and in some ways, prayer is like this ability to move beyond our human hurts and wounds and to be vulnerable to the father as the father is and to know the father's heart as the. And so I'd love to sometime maybe talk and hear how your stuff dovetails with like we want to be known, we want to be seen, we want to be, I'd love to, to come back.

Absolutely. I would love it. Where can people find known right now? So you can go, um, you can go to, to the website, um, www.knownbythefather.com, but the way we've been doing it is we run cohorts, 12 week cohorts that are coached. And so, um, right now we're in the middle of a cohort. So we're not gonna run another cohort cohort until probably December. Um, but just so it's on people's radar. If you stay tuned, you can sign up for updates. But, um, the fruits of that have been, you know, you develop something and you think, oh, this is good and like, I hope it, you know, it seems good. But um the fruits of that have been really beautiful to watch. But that to me is where my, my interest lies now so much. Is this like the healing love of the father that when we're seen by the father, when we're embraced, the way the prodigal son embraces is embraced by his father. That that's so crucial I think in, in healing um to know that we're loved by the father.

So I think that we can see the love of the Father coming through you and the stuff that you're producing. Matthew and people don't, I didn't mention this in your bio, but you have a master's in theology as well, right from Ave Maria, my old stomping grounds.

Just enough to be dangerous man.

So, Matt, thank you so much and I'll put links uh you know, in the uh in the show notes so people can find this stuff and I would love to have you back on. So thank you very much and God bless you. Thanks, man. I hope you guys enjoyed that conversation with Doctor Breuninger. Uh He's fantastic. I thought it was a really powerful conversation and a lot of the, the healing and things that we were talking about obviously happened through the grace of God. In fact, you know, one of the, one of the truisms of the Catholic faith is that nothing happens without the grace of God. You can't blink your eyes without the grace of God. It's literally the catalyst for our entry into the life of God, both here on earth and for all eternity. The problem is that a lot of Catholics don't really understand the life of grace. You know, we've heard about it. Uh It, it's in our prayers hail Mary Full of Grace. We might have heard of sanctifying grace and actual grace, but we don't really know how they work. We don't really understand what's going on in the life of grace. We can't explain them. Uh And, and maybe we've never even heard of part of it, like operating verse, uh operating grace versus cooperating grace. So there's all kinds of nuances and aspects of how grace works in our lives. And while it sounds a little bit deep and maybe, you know, a little woo, woo, uh it really isn't and all you really need is a clear explanation for what grace is and how exactly it works in our lives. And that's exactly the point of the very first course in the Science of Sainthood called Catholic Mysticism and the Beautiful Life of Grace. And here's the thing. Uh You guys can get access to it totally free for a couple of weeks at Science of Sainthood dot com. You don't have to put a credit card in. There is no cancellation. No nothing. You just sign up and watch the series and start to grow in your life of Grace. Uh It's a fundamental part uh of your understanding of how Christ moves in your life, particularly with regard to healing because again, we need his grace for everything. Uh And also uh just as a reminder of talking about Jesus Christ, uh that I have a five star pilgrimage going to the land of Jesus Christ, the holy land. We're gonna go in April of 2024. Uh And it is a trip that is unlike anything else, you will never experience anything like going to the holy land and it will change the way that you practice your Catholic faith for the rest of your life. Uh It'll be my fourth time there and it's just, it's crazy on this pilgrimage, we're going to spend three nights uh in a beautiful hotel on the very tranquil shores of the Sea of Galilee. And we'll hit all the major spots up in the northern part of Israel, like Nazareth and Mount Tabor and can as well. And then we're gonna head right into the holy city kind of follow the same path of Jesus Christ. And we're gonna go to Jerusalem. You know where everything kind of culminated in, in our faith. You have Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives, the upper room. Uh where Jesus died, you can touch the rock where Jesus died and just a short distance away uh is his tomb as well and we'll have mass right in front of it. And the Via Dolorosa uh is uh we, we will walk that path toward Golgotha and toward the tomb. But we'll also go to Bethlehem. We'll see the location of the dead sea scrolls. We'll swim in the dead sea for crying out loud if you want to. And there's a whole lot more and we'll do it all from the, the comfort of a five star hotel. We shouldn't even call it a pilgrimage. Uh But the travel itself presents its own challenges. And so we want to make sure that it's comfortable, but we'll have private coaches, uh daily, private masses, great food and just memories that uh will last with you forever. Uh to learn more about it, go to scienceofsainthood.com/pilgrimage or look for a link down below. So that's it for now. Um One last thing that I think is particularly apropos given the conversation with Doctor Breuninger is that the basis of the Catholic life, the, the basis of everything is love and why? Well, because God is love, right? Uh It's love that keeps us from wounding others. And it's through love that all the wounds that we carry around are actually healed. So perhaps one of the things that we can do on a, uh, you know, on a regular basis when you're waking up in the morning. And you know, Matt was talking about how he tells the Lord the various things that, that are going to keep him kind of bound up on a daily basis and he, he voices them. And in addition to doing that, think of the words and ponder and meditate on the words of Saint Augustine who just kind of summed up the whole spiritual life when he said love and do what you will, that's it, love and do what you will. And if you can ponder on that meditate, I think it will change our actions and the way we live. Uh because if we're fundamentally driven by the love of God, it's gonna change the way, not just we view God and relate to God, but also the way that we view and relate, relate to other people, particularly those people who have wounded us and someone who knew and practiced that uh very deeply. Matt mentioned him in the interview several different times is Saint Paul. So let's wrap up like we always do with the words from Romans 12:12, which is the mantra of the art of Catholic podcast. Say it with me, rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.

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