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Operating on Faith: The 35,000 Word “Thank You”

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Matt Weber talks with Aleteia about “A Painfully True Love Story”

By most measures, Matt Weber has led something of a “charmed” life: A great family, a good education, a job that seemed tailor-made for his quirky humor – and then he fell in love with a lovely Catholic girl, and they had a perfect wedding.

What happened almost immediately after is the stuff of nightmares, laced with hilarity. After reading about it in Weber’s new book, Operating on Faith, I came away with an improved perspective on both faith and marriage, but I may never look at a hotel ice bucket in quite the same way again. Matt was nice enough to chat with us about his experiences, and generous enough to share a chapter with us, as well.

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Unfortunately, your body decided to unfriend your stomach, as you put it. In a really painful way, too. What happened?

My illness was a cluster of many unusual, unexpected occurrences culminating in a perforated stomach, peptic ulcer disease, and the removal of the bottom 30% of my stomach — with a complete “gut renovation” of my internal plumbing.

That … sounds horrendous. What got you through it?

What got me through it? Love, faith, and grit are requirements to making meaning in a challenging world. They are interwoven and the thread that allows us to both celebrate and sooth our vulnerable moments in life. I find grit to be that bridge one needs to get to “hope” — and sustain it through life’s ups and downs.

You say in the book that “There is never a time when life is perfect, but there are occasionally times when it feels close.”  You were pretty much living the dream, right?  Even “occasionally recognized around Boston by a dedicated fanbase of female octogenarians” who knew you from Catholic TV.  Tell us about your life at that point.

Well, I had never really missed too many days of work my whole life — in fact, I had perfect attendance from K through 12 — so obviously, missing 40 days of work by either being in the hospital or at home was a change in how I spend my days. In many ways, the illness provided me with my first major speed bump — my life had been mostly charmed with few things to complain about — yet this challenging year gave me new perspective on the importance and value of good health, living life fully, reflecting on all that life throws at you — and most of all, appreciating the profound love of a caring wife in the early days of marriage. In many ways, this year of trauma and pain allowed for us to see a deeper love that perhaps isn’t typically present so early on in a marriage. After just a few months, I felt the kind of love and closeness one might experience decades into their marriage.

How did your health crisis affect your faith?

This was a question I asked myself often. One day I would feel bad for myself, the next I would realize so many people had it worse. I alternated between being mad at God to being curious about the role this experience plays in divine providence. In the end, we had a big fight, talked it out, and remain better friends because of it. In many ways, this book is the surprising byproduct of these fights, joys, jubilations, and despair that myself, God, and my wife experienced in 2013-14.Faith should always be evolving and tested for it to be solid and relevant — my faith became gritty and resilient in the process and provided me with a better way to interpret the myriad spectrum of life’s events. It was tested, knocked down, but in the end, my faith got back up.

You’re known for your humor as the host of Catholic TV’s The Lens and A Word with Weber. How important was humor in getting through this?

Humor is necessary medicine for both physical and emotional ailments — it provides the joy and light in any darkness or despair. I always valued humor prior to my challenging year and found it even more precious when laughter was sparse. The book has several examples of (potty) humor absolutely diffusing otherwise awful situations. It is important not just for yourself, but for those that care about you as well.

You were newlyweds. You wife, Nell, had just taken taken a vow of ‘in sickness and in health,’ and that got tested very quickly. What did that teach you?  How did it affect your relationship?

This whole book, at its core, is a love story — a 35,000-word public thank-you note to my wife for showing me a love I had yet to know before this emergency. My hope is that all those who read it can connect with this grandest theme of love — during times of need and attention, or simply in the day-to-day minutia or mundane. Love is transcendent, dear, and the most powerful memory of an otherwise challenging year. Nell (my wife) was my light, my joy, my darling steadfast love.

As a baseball fan, I have to ask about the Red Sox … how did they, or as a Yankee fan, I must rephrase that, how did BASEBALL help?

As for baseball (THE RED SOX) — their success and resilience was inspiring. I was the cliched “sick kid” in the hospital and the Red Sox were hitting home runs for me and they didn’t even know it!

Read a chapter of Operating on Faith here.

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