Struggles are part of life’s journey

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Author Stephen Gabriel's new book, Catholic Controversies: Understanding Church Teachings and Events in History, features Rembrandt's painting "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee" on its cover. The miracle of Christ calming the turbulent waves from a boat filled with frightened apostles is depicted, a scene taken from the Gospel of St. Matthew.

The unpredictable waters are cleverly used by this son of a merchant sea captain to symbolize our journey through life, always navigated by the Master and His Church. It is the story of Gabriel's own life, as well, guided by his Catholic faith, staying on course.

Gabriel's publishing company, Moorings Press, through which his books are available, uses a nautical theme as its motto:

"One's moorings do not really constrain, rather they free us to serve as we are intended. Without moorings we drift aimlessly and are of no use to anyone."

As a senior financial analyst with the federal government, husband for 35 years, father of eight and grandfather of 14, Gabriel has learned how to balance his life, set priorities and carve out time for God. He humbly confesses that at work he is called an "expert," but at home, no one thinks this, especially himself. He admits his struggles and is always ready to share openly his faith journey with a spirit of generosity, all to help others, especially other fathers, as they traverse through life.

"People need to not be afraid to struggle," he said of his life experiences. "If you're not struggling, you're doing something wrong."

It is in our daily challenges that we are afforded the opportunities to grow in virtue, a topic that Gabriel stresses in his earlier books, Speaking to the Heart: A Father's Guide to Growth in Virtue (Our Sunday Visitor, 1999) and To Be a Father: 200 Promises That Will Transform You, Your Marriage and Your Family (Spence, 2006). His articles have been published in New Covenant magazine and Our Sunday Visitor and he has served as guest speaker at Catholic conferences throughout the country.

"The virtues are the habits we develop that enable us to live the kind of life God wants us to live," Gabriel said. "The primary job of parents is to instill virtues in their children. They see by our example our struggles and our failures."

Gabriel said his most important work is to serve as a father.

"We help our children grow. The most important thing is to teach them to be men and women of virtue. Then everything else falls into place," he said.

Gabriel's parents were his first role models in the Faith, teaching him and his five siblings the virtues by example in their daily lives.

"They made it clear that we were expected to be different," he said as he spoke of their message to be countercultural.

Born in Massachusetts, Gabriel moved as a child with his family to Florida and later to the Panama Canal Zone where he attended high school. His father served as a Panama Canal pilot steering ships through the canal.

Gabriel attended Loyola University of Chicago, earning a bachelor's in economics. He met his wife, Peggy, at the age of 21 and got married at 24.

"I was very blessed to meet Peggy," he said. "We were married in 1975 by her uncle, who was a priest."

Gabriel earned a master's in finance and a doctoral degree in agricultural economics from the University of Illinois. Upon completion, he accepted a teaching position in Puerto Rico, moving into faculty housing with his wife and three young children.

"I would walk half an hour to Mass on Sunday because we had no car," Gabriel said, explaining how they made it to Mass in shifts due to their small children. "I would take a cab back to the house and then Peggy would take a cab to Mass and back."

In 1980, a job opened up in Washington, D.C., in agricultural economics, and the Gabriel family moved to Falls Church, where they have stayed for the past 30 years. They are members of St. John the Beloved Parish in McLean. Stephen and Peggy's eight children, six girls and two boys, range in age from 22 to 34. Currently three children live at home.

"We have a revolving door," Gabriel laughed, adding that their children are always welcome.

Having a supernatural outlook on life, Stephen and Peggy have worked to develop a carefully charted spiritual plan of life centered on the Eucharist in daily Mass, frequent confession, daily rosary, prayer and Scripture reading, both serious about the universal call to holiness as a Catholic.

They are members of Opus Dei, Latin for "Work of God," a personal prelature of the Catholic Church founded by St. Josemaría Escrivá in 1928. With its opportunities for spiritual formation and apostolate, the organization teaches that ordinary life is the path to sanctity and that one finds God in daily life by joyful self-giving to God and neighbor.

Gabriel started writing out of a desire to share and help others with what he has learned over the years as a father. His articles appear on his website, mooringspress.com.

His latest book, Catholic Controversies, to be released this fall, was born out of his college-age children's questions from encounters with professors and their classmates about pertinent issues, Church teaching and the reasons behind these teachings. Written as a resource for parents, it is a collection of 26 topics ranging from issues pertaining to moral teachings of the Church, misunderstood Church doctrines, the Church in history, and the credibility of God, the Church and Scripture.

Gabriel offered a piece of advice for parents seeking to raise virtuous children.

"Parents should be tough and very affectionate. They are parents, not their buddies," he said. "They should have high expectations but lavish their children with affection."

Socarras is a freelance writer from Annandale.

Get the books

Go to mooringspress.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010