My soul is shut out from peace; I have forgotten happiness. And now I say, ‘My strength is gone, that hope which came from the Lord.’ This is what I shall tell my heart, and so recover hope: the favours of the Lord are not all past, his kindnesses are not exhausted; every morning they are renewed; great is his faithfulness. It is good to wait in silence for the Lord to save. (Lamentations 3 – First Reading)
November 15, 2015
Only for God and good people there have been many days in my life when I couldn’t see how I would make it from morning through to day’s end. And only for God alone there have been long nights that I might not have survived. It strikes me now that those nights were possibly the most sacred because of their aloneness and togetherness – God and I alone, God and I together in a way that is not possible at any other time. There are still such days and nights but not as many. Not for such prolonged, drawn-out periods.
I’m thinking these thoughts because yesterday I celebrated the funeral Mass of a man who took his own life. Married with three children and a beautiful wife. They were inseparable.
I have often wanted my life to end. Seriously. But I never thought of taking it myself because I have a solid conviction that all life belongs to God and only He has the right to take it.
I have not contemplated committing suicide but I understand the dark forces that can drive a person to it.
The dead man’s mother has changed her mind about suicide. She used to think it was selfish but now she realizes that something in him must have snapped to make him do what he did. In his right mind he would not even dream of leaving his family behind, of hurting them in the way that they are hurt now.
Only a few days ago I was talking to someone about suicide and whether it’s a selfish act or not. We concluded that it’s not. Something too powerful must overwhelm the person who does it.
Whatever the motive, whatever the unfathomable darkness that stirs within the man, there is no doubting the catastrophic effect on the family left behind. The questions that cannot be answered, the guilt, the anger, the disintegration, destruction – there are not enough words to say how awful it is. They will never fully recover, though we hope for some level of healing.
The life and death of each of us has its influence on others; if we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord, so that alive or dead we belong to the Lord. (Romans 14 – Second Reading)
As I stood at the entrance of the church yesterday waiting for the hearse to arrive, I could feel myself absorbing all the distress of this ordeal – the crowd filling the church to overflowing, the crowd outside in the torrential rain. I wonder what can I say to all these people to help make sense of it. So many young people here. I have words prepared but they escape and all I can feel is the fretful distress growing inside, filling every fibre of my being. Not just my own distress but that of all the people, not to mention what will arrive in the immediate family for whom we wait in the cold, wet silence.
Prayer brings me to that place within myself where I go in search of God only to discover that He is searching for me as He searched for Adam and Eve in Eden. He searches in the places where I hide – from Him and from myself. Sometimes the confusion, the disturbance, the inner distress comes from this fact of God searching for me, a searching in which He turns my inner space upside down so that He can uncover me.
“When a man thus enters his interior house in search of God, he finds it all turned upside down, for God it is who is seeking him; and God acts like a man who throws one thing this side and another that side looking for what he has lost. This is what happens in the interior life whena man seeks God there, for there he finds God seeking him…” (Fr. John Tauler OP, 14th centuary)
This is where I find blessing in the deepest confusion of my life and I feel for anyone who cannot make this connection between God and one’s own deepest distress.
This is the spirit in which I celebrate the funeral Mass – in a great silence in which even the crying of the mourners is soundless. Wife, children, parents, sisters, brothers. Friends. All heart broken like the body of Jesus. And I remember my own cousin and his family.
I say to men especially – try to talk about what’s bothering you inside. Women have a natural way of unburdening themselves and maybe this is why 6 out of 7 suicides are men. I know at times that I can’t put words on what I’m feeling but it’s important to try for your own sake and for the sake of those who love you.
It’s important also to find things that give you a connection with the one who has died. At the offertory they bring two kinds of connections – physical and spiritual. The Man united jersey and football boots are physical connections. He has worn these, they have the touch and the smell of him in them. Touching them and smelling them for a while will help the grieving process.
The spiritual connection comes in the form of bread and wine that become the body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion. When we are connected with Jesus we also have the strongest and most lasting connection with our loved ones who have died, the strongest and most lasting connection with life itself, the life that we are called to live right now. Part of the connection in the Eucharist is with Jesus’ own experience of desolation – the cry “my God, my God why have you forsaken me?” He utters that cry in us in our desolation and he also utters the cry of surrender “into your hands I commend my spirit.”
The cemetery is utterly miserable with rain and every other misery you could think of. It’s as if creation itself groans and cries in mourning. And tired, everyone seems so tired. His wife holding their baby who happily knows nothing of what is taking place. But he has a connection with his Dad, a lovely connection from the moment he was born and the nurse placed him under his Dad’s shirt for warmth. The picture of his little head sticking out under his father’s chin. Something in him will miss and ache for this connection but hopefully the power of the connection will sustain him as he grows up.
The mother of the deceased comes to thank me. She and her husband are battered and bruised by this experience, her husband looks broken. She has a strength that shines through, a thoughtfulness and a generosity in which she says to me “I will pray for you.”
At home I take off my muddied shoes and wet socks. Hot water eases the strain on my face. I know I will be rattled by this for a while but the family will live it constantly for a long time to come and even forever. God help them.
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still and trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house; if there were not I should have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am you may be too. (Gospel of John 14)
Scripture readings quoted above were chosen by the family for the funeral Mass