Hi everyone - for those who listened to the Catholic Guy Show on Friday - as it turned out, in a bit of a fluke, I actually wasn't assigned to celebrate Mass at any of the parishes where I usually help out on the weekends (it's a fluke since there are weekends I have 4 Masses but for some reason, this weekend, I had none) In any event, I know that I had shared some thoughts on Friday's show about possible homily ideas for this weekends readings, but praying with them today and at Mass tonight, I had a different thought... so here it is. The readings for today's readings can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/061018.cfm
Thanks as always for reading, sharing this blog on your social media and for your feedback and comments. Have a great week - God Bless - Fr Jim
The suicidal deaths this week of two celebrities - Kate Spade who has been called a legend in the fashion industry on Tuesday and then Anthony Bourdain who was a chef, author, travel documentarian and television personality on Friday morning - have unnerved great numbers of people all around the world. For those of us who've lost someone we loved from a suicide, that's not particularly surprising. The inexplicable pain, the disbelief, the confusion, the anger for the families and friends of the deceased -- not that we should ever compare one persons painful situation to another -- but in the instances of suicide, they are often some of the most painful, most difficult to endure.
To have two high profile people, who have achieved what so many of us tell ourselves is the most important thing in this world - fame, wealth - succumb to the mental agony, breakdown that results in the taking of their lives - it doesn't compute. It reveals to the millions who only know these people as "celebrities" the truth that things like fame and wealth probably aren't worthy of the amount of desire so many of us apply to them... while at the same time they add layers upon layers of additional pain and stress for the families of these two victims - where media and "fans" pry, speculate, and amplify unfair and disgustingly horrific theories as to the "cause" of this person's succumbing to this illness... (I won't even share a few of those terrible examples that I saw throughout the week)
As someone who still grieves friends who've committed suicide - As a priest who's ministered to families who've had their worlds upended with a suicidal death, I recognize my limitations in speaking into this tragic, mysterious illness of depression that in instances like this are fatal. And that is really what we have to always remember and view and approach this as - a tragic, mysterious illness. Someone pointed out to me that we often put the impetus on the person who's suicidal to "not suffer alone... to reach out for help" - but perhaps even that's unfair on our part. So many who are suffering that they get to this point aren't able to ask for help or even recognize how distorted there logic and reasoning has become. Perhaps it's something more that all of us need to do a better job at. To not simply accept "I'm fine" as an answer to "How you doing?" - but to love deeper, to probe in a loving and sincere way and ask - no really... how are you, really?
One thing that hit me and that stayed with me Friday and Saturday probably unsurprisingly occurred on social media. I had posted the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (on the feast day which was this past Friday) where I simply wrote how hearing and seeing so much sadness in our own personal lives, and then hearing and seeing them with these celebrity deaths, we can't forget the infinite love that the Sacred Heart of Jesus beats for each and everyone of us. There were hundreds and hundreds of people who liked, shared and commented on it... but sadly a couple offered comments that unnerved me and kind of shocked me. They were along the lines of, sadly, what was many people's belief and thought about suicide just a few decades ago - including many in the church. Where a person who had committed suicide was judged and labeled by those who remained in some pretty harsh terms - and determinations about the state of their soul for all eternity - which we're forbidden to offer as none of us are God - were made without any compassion, thoughtfulness or any truth for that matter. Charitably, I want to believe that this was out of a grossly misguided but well-intentioned desire to discourage anyone from committing suicide. But it was grossly misguided - and the harm those words had on the families of those left behind remain for decades later. I remember one woman sharing how her father had committed suicide in the 1940's and that they weren't even able to offer a funeral mass for him at that time - and how all these years later, that was still a wound. Here at the moment when this daughter and her family needed Jesus needed His Church the most.
Which gets me to the point of today's Gospel. In it we hear about what is often called the "unforgivable" sin. To hear those words from Jesus in that passage
But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit
will never have forgiveness,
but is guilty of an everlasting sin.
They seem so out of place coming from Jesus. We see Him as the personification of Love. We Hope in His Divine Mercy - and have heard over and over and over that He simply loves and wants to forgive anyone who turns to Him. How could there ever be anything unforgiveable? People rightly are disturbed by these words. But in short, we have to look at the context of the passage.
Jesus had just performed miraculous healings - on the Sabbath no less - which shook the religious leaders of the day to their core (He's working on the Sabbath - He's violating the commandment to keep holy the sabbath - ergo - He's satan... never mind the fact that he has just cured someone) Because Jesus was not conforming to their image of God, their understanding of Divine Mercy - they started accusing Jesus of being Satan - of his works being evil. So when we look at that context, we look at what was being said and Jesus' response - we understand that when people attribute the goodness, the love, the mercy of Jesus as anything but good, loving, merciful - that is the blasphemy. And what in effect makes it unforgiveable is the paradox of that person's judgment. If you've just accused Jesus of being satanic and evil, then you yourself wouldn't be open to freely receiving his generous gift of His goodness, love and mercy. We're talking about something that is pretty narrow and specific, and I would hope rarely - if ever - committed.
If anything, the good news so often gets overlooked in this passage. The verse right before it gets to the heart of who Jesus is... what is His mercy: Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them.
Jesus has come to free us from the darkness, the desolation, the isolation we feel when we've failed, when we've given into temptation, when we've made bad choices.
He has come to heal us of the pain and the brokenness and the effects of sin.
He has come to teach us how to love, how to forgive, how to be merciful ourselves.
I don't know - nor does any other human being - know the heart and soul of Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain - or any one else for that matter. To be brutally honest, I know how hard it is to know my own heart and soul - to reflect on my motivations, my sins, my successes, my failures... and ultimately those self-reflections put me squarely on my knees beneath the foot of the cross, looking at that supreme act of love of Jesus for me - and you - and all humanity as I pray - Jesus, Son of the Living God, Have Mercy on me a sinner. I can do that because whatever doubts I have of myself, is the complete opposite of what I know of Jesus. That He has made that sacrifice, that He desires each and everyone of us to experience forgiveness of all sins - that He wants us to pray for His mercy for ourselves and one another and share this good news. That I am certain of. That is what each and everyone of us is called to proclaim as Jesus' disciples - to a world that can often seem bleak where there is far too much sadness, desperation and hopelessness
And if I were to dismiss Jesus' love and mercy for myself or for any other human being - that would be unforgiveable.