The week before last I got a late-night phone call from a friar I know in Durham and the news he shared left me stunned. A woman I knew well from my time at the parish in Durham had died that day, had taken her own life. How could this be? I had seen her last about a year ago, had been in touch with her since I left the parish in Durham four years ago. I went to the house the next day. A lot of people gathered, a lot of people I knew from my time there. We stood outside in the driveway, all of us stunned.
The funeral was this past week and the friar who preached the homily addressed the issue of mental illness and depression. Afterwards, a few of us talked about how there is often a stigma attached to these issues; they simply can’t be talked about. A friend of mine who was there, who herself has lost family members to suicide, said she hoped that one day these issues could be spoken about in the same way as any other illness, without any sense of shame or hiding. We were left shaken – if this could happen to her, then who else? This has stayed with me ever since.
The friar who preached the homily did a magnificent job. He spoke about the mystery of death. It seems to be so final, nothing but an end. Then he spoke about the mystery of the human person, each person – how each of us is so much more than the sum total of atoms or molecules, that there is something transcendent about each of us, something lasting, something grounded in a loving Creator, and therefore how can it be that we are not destined for life with God? Then he spoke about the early apostles’ experience of the crucifixion of Jesus. All seemed lost and abandoned, just another good man who died. But it was the experience of the empty tomb a few days later that changed them. Even amid a powerful sense of loss, God raised Jesus up. Love is more powerful than death.
A few years ago this woman sent me a text message from a church in Siena, Italy, “In Siena right now. At San Domenica. Just said a prayer for you and lit a candle. Hope all is well with you.” The funeral mass last week felt like its own lit candle, our own offering of this woman’s life, her kindness and generosity, offered back to a God of deep mercy. May she rest in peace.
This weekend of course is Fr. Bill’s final weekend with us before he departs for a new assignment in Durham. I will miss having him around even though he’ll be close by in Durham. As he packs his things, we find things such as this left on the kitchen counter: “maximum energy, intense focus, amplified endurance, explosive power, zero-crash, zero-sugar, multi strength fast-acting pre-workout energy drink: fruit punch flavor.” With things like that going to Durham, it will now be easier to find my jar of Jif creamy peanut butter in the morning. I know that many people here will miss him greatly. We are all grateful for all the good things Bill has brought to St. Francis over the years. This weekend, after the 11:30 mass, we will have a reception for Bill, in Clare Fellowship Hall. All are invited.
Blessings on your week!