Gone too soon

“In their distress they cried to the Lord, who saved them in their distress. He brought them forth from darkness and the shadow of death and burst their chains apart.” (Ps. 107: 13-14)

You all? I try to keep it sunny in this little spot of the internet. Today, that feels incredibly inauthentic, yet I know I am called to chat you up all the same. So, I’d like to tell you about my week and ask for your prayers. Please let me know how I can speak to Jesus for you too, because I love you people…every last one of you. Sorry about your luck, ha?

There were six priests and a deacon present for the funeral mass I attended this morning. Cheryl Ayers was the matriarch of a beautiful, large Catholic family which included 8 children and I think 18 grandchildren. She was a vibrant 72-year old who had been arm-wrestling some of those grandkids at Thanksgiving this year, so the subsequent lung cancer diagnosis and her very quick decline were tough to take. The mass was beautiful, despite the ample scaffolding present in the building and it was clear Cheryl leaves a strong legacy of faith and love in her wake. That said, The thoughts in my mind aren’t super coherent this day, but the theme of my week is definitely “gone too soon.” I am praying for her soul today and the peace of mind and heart of all who loved her.

There’s another OLMC parish family in deep grief this week as they lost their 22 year old under tragic circumstances. He was a young man named Will who loved rugby, golf and time at the lake with his family among other things. He’s the same age as my oldest son, Nick, and they graduated high school the same year, though at different schools. I didn’t know him, but the community around me is in deep grief over his loss, including (among many others) the pastor we both shared, as well as his parents and 5 siblings. It’s tough to watch, and it makes my stomach hurt.

Also today, a faith filled woman in my circle asked me to pray for her friend and this friend’s parish, St. James Catholic Church, in St. Joseph, Missouri, as they are dealing with the death by suicide of their pastor, Fr. Evan Harkins. He was a young priest, ordained at age 24, just 10 years ago. My friend described him as humble, quiet, and joyful. It’s heartbreaking. Sometimes, it’s like we expect these guys in collars to wear capes, but they are mere mortals. May his soul find rest in the arms of the Lord.

Then, just a few minutes ago, a woman of faith I deeply respect asked for prayers for yet another local family who just a few days ago also lost their 22 year old son. He was in his senior year of college, just like my Nick Fred, and he graduated from nearby Westfield High School. His parents are understandably distraught. I promised I would pray, and I will.

Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and 7 other souls perished this week too, in a tragic helicopter crash out in California. These shocking deaths served to underscore for me the somber backdrop of the week. Kobe, who was bigger than life, of course, has been eulogized in the media all week. I admit that even for me who is a very casual observer of the NBA, his death at the age of 41 feels somewhat jarring.

Another friend reached out this week to chat saying in one breath “all is well” but admitting in another that there have been moments where the thought of driving a car off the road seemed like not a terrible idea. Insisting it was just a passing thought, this beautiful human felt seeking out serious help was too drastic a step to consider. I disagreed vehemently.

Here’s what I feel compelled to say today.

Human beings need emotional support. It’s just how we’re wired.

Some, especially men, seem to believe they shouldn’t need it. That’s a false and dangerous narrative.

If you are someone who is hiding your deep sadness, forsaking all help because you tell yourself “it will be fine” or “I should just count my blessings”, by all means count them. But hey, YOU, count them aloud with another human, or better yet find a professional who can help you turn the ship around. PLEASE. If you don’t know how to get help, let me know and we’ll figure it out together. There is always hope, even in the midst of the greatest darkness. You are the beloved child of the Most High God and your life matters. TRUTH.

The death of Fr. Evan Harkins who was, by all reports, a holy and prayerful man reminds me how very hard it can be for those who are called upon to support others to seek help and support themselves. Pray for our priests. Love our priests…I beg you.

Finally, for the young friend troubled by the scourge of suicides around him who asked me about the souls of those who have died by suicide, I have your answer. First, allow me to say again, sweet boy, that I am not a theologian. However, I do believe in a merciful God who is love itself. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “voluntary cooperation in suicide is contrary to the moral law” but also it says “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for people who have taken their own lives.”

Please join me today in praying for eternal rest for Cheryl, Will, Fr. Evan, Jordan, Kobe, Gianna, John, Keri, Alyssa, Christina, Ara, Sarah, and Payton.

ETERNAL REST GRANT UNTO THEM, O LORD, AND LET PERPETUAL LIGHT SHINE UPON THEM. MAY THEY REST IN PEACE.

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