Sunday, February 21, 2010


Meditating on the Holy Gospel for this First Sunday of Lent I was struck as never before how through the various temptations satan tried with which to seduce Jesus, the temptations appear related to a concession of power, that is satan’s over God’s.

Which power, which will, is the choice Jesus is faced with: satan’s, which is limited by what God permits, or God’s which is the infinite power of love?

I also see something deeper: an invitation to suicide and, for many who chose suicide, for them perhaps unspoken, here clearly worded in the hiss of satan, the ultimate tempting of the all-merciful God.

Jesus, had He stepped off the precipice not only in defiance of the law of gravity but ultimately in defiance of the Will of His Father, the suicide would have been a killing, were that possible, of their unique relationship which exists as Love.

Remember the “MASH” TV series and the theme song?

I bet most people have never looked at exactly what those lyrics say.

The lead line in the chorus is: “That suicide is painless.”

That is a great lie, and distortions of truth, outright lies, are the persistent pitfalls for souls, the great snare of satan, known in modern parlance as: relativism.

Fundamentally, in each of the temptations, satan was proposing a variation on that lie theme to Jesus, prefaced with the snare of ‘if only’.

Most priests I know, both those rightly accused of any crime/sin/lie which discovered means prison or dismissal from the priestly state, as well as those falsely accused and in most cases also dismissed or at least exiled from an active and visible priestly life, isolated from their bishop-father, priest-brothers, have talked openly with me about suicide.

None who have spoken with me have taken their own lives, though many priests throughout the current crisis have and undoubtedly many more will.

In my years working in Child Welfare as an investigator the youngest person I knew to have taken their own life was a five year old boy.

Interviews with the older children revealed he believed if he was not around his parents would not divorce, the family would remain intact.

Most of us know either within our own families, circle of friends, parish, places of work, someone who has taken their own life.

We know suicide is NOT painless; rather it opens a floodgate of pain which ripples forward sometimes for generations.

Times of high stress or demands or raising the personal expectation bar, or the bar of our expectations of God too high, can overwhelm, because sooner or later we will be confronted with our limitations and experience the harsh reality that we are not all—powerful!

I was in a restaurant the other day with family and at a table on the other side a child was in full rebellion mode at a very high pitch, while the three little ones at our table were, in the proverbial expression: “good as gold.”

I turned to the young mother and said: “It must be a relief when someone else’s child is carrying on like that!”

She simply smiled. A smile I might add of both relief and compassion for the other family.

Powerlessness sometimes appears before us in the person of a three year old in full tantrum mode in a place where they well understand our being embarrassed figures more into the situation than focusing on whatever is disturbing the child, on the child themselves, and we tend to move into ‘control’ mode rather than seeking to understand cause and effect.

Power versus compassion; me versus other kicks in whenever we feel powerless, threatened, embarrassed, or simply overwhelmed – as Jesus must often have felt, and yet time and again, even on the Cross Jesus puts other first with compassion and understanding, love and truth: “Forgive them Father for they don’t know what they are doing!”

Suicide can be triggered by someone making it always all about them – primacy of “I” - to such an extent others become more and more neglected, frustrated, hurt and so forth.

When this happens and the person increasingly isolated is elderly the impact is particularly devastating, for like small children the elderly, the infirm, the lonely are among the most vulnerable.

When this happens – the primacy of “I” - within a marriage the act of suicide is commonly called divorce, but it is ultimately the choice to take the life of the marriage.

Prime too among Lenten dangers is the narrow ‘sacrifice/giving something up for Lent’ mindset, risking here too making it the primacy of “I”, which can lead to such a turning inward towards ourselves we completely forget the prime purpose of Lent is a return to looking into the Face of Jesus, a return to Jesus.

Now some who figure that out still miss the point and increase participation in Holy Mass either on a daily basis or at least every Sunday and/or increase other pious practices.

Laudable and blessed as those are, it is still too much about the ‘I’ and not really a return to Jesus.

Yes Jesus IS to be found and encountered in prayer, the sacraments, especially Holy Mass and Holy Communion, Confession – but He is expecting our return to Him in other places where He waits for us.

It is very easy to find Him through a few simple, and answered honestly, questions which are akin to directions on a map:

1] For whom am I of primary importance in their lives and how long has it been since I have made their need more important than mine?

There, within them, Jesus awaits our return.

2] What particular need has my parish or family for married people, expressed as being important? [Think about it, it will be obvious] then ask: Why am I so resistant to give of my time? {Mostly we can come up with logical reasons why we simply do not have the time, indeed to make the effort may be as painful as picking up the Cross.}

There, within that need, Jesus awaits our return.

3] Which race, religion, person, group, indeed in the present climate in the Church we need all to also ask which bishop, priest – in a word whom do I, if unable to admit I hate them, at least admit they are the one[s] who causes my blood to boil?

This is perhaps the greatest Lenten danger of all: remaining steadfast in a refusal to love and forgive – yet – no matter the sin of the other etc., etc., it is within precisely that person, that group, Jesus is waiting, expecting, yearning, for our return.

Lent is a time to turn away from what is NOT of the Gospel and to return to Gospel fidelity wherein Jesus says the “I was” words, stressing He is to be found in serving those human beings who are in any need.

Most people to arrive at the tipping point where they believe the lie that ‘suicide is painless’ feel utterly alone, unheard in their pain by any human being, even unheard by God.

What greater Lenten gift can we possibly give the lonely Jesus than to be His voice and through our presence to another speak the truth that we all have been created by Love to be loved, to love and bring His love to them?

If we return to Jesus this Lent where He is to be found, love, served, then we will avoid all Lenten dangers!

1 comment:

Adoro said...

Father, many years ago I nearly took my own life. I can't explain why I didn't, only that God intervened. I was going to do it, had a plan, and made sure no one knew about it.

It's an old post, one that needs editing for grammar and readability, but...I still ponder the experience.

I truly did think that no one cared, and more importantly...that GOD didn't care, that HE wasn't there, that HE didn't exist. From the very beginning, I looked to Him, and in my suffering, if I couldn't see that He was presnt, then I thought that He wasn't at all.

Over the years since I've come to recognize where God was present in my life. There was a biggie, actually: I somehow got the idea to pick up the Bible and read the Psalms. No one told me this, but I read them, I paged through and looked for what I was experiencing or what I wanted to have happen. I found my humanity in the Psalms.

In looking back, I see that now as God drawing me to Himself, through His own suffering, for...well, how often did I read Psalm 22 in those years? How often did I read Psalm 57?

When I became a cop, years later, I read Psalm 91 every day before work.

And now I regularly pray the Liturgy of the Hours which is, what....the PSALMS!

God is soo good, He is so present, he never gives up, even when we want to.

Even when we can't see any other way out....that's where Jesus waits to embrace us.