The body of actor Andrew Koenig was found in Vancouver’s Stanley Park yesterday. His father, Walter Koenig, said that his son “took his own life, and was in a lot of pain.” Like most of my generation, I grew up with Walter Koenig as Chekhov on Star Trek, and he played a superb villain much later, on Babylon 5. Until his press conference yesterday, I didn’t realize he was a man of such incredible strength and dignity. He asked for his family to be left in peace to mourn their loss. I hope he won’t mind if I take this sad occasion to address others who might be following the road that ended in Stanley Park for Andrew. No matter how far you have gone down that road, there is always a path that leads away. I could offer no greater tribute to Andrew and his family than trying to help you take it, or at least see it.Amen.
You won’t find the beginning of that path in your house, or your room, or any other private place where you torment yourself, and wonder why a world you’re hiding from can no longer see you. You’ll have to step outside, and take a walk through your town. You’ll pass hospitals where the gift of life is unwrapped and presented to the universe. In another wing, life is held as precious treasure by families gathered around quiet beds, surrounded by tireless machines and their tired, but determined, keepers. Perhaps you’ll find a hospice, where the dying embrace their last opportunity to share their lives with all who receive the blessing of a seat beside them. You’ll pass churches and temples, filled with the sworn enemies of despair.
You may find yourself wishing you could give the unwanted years of your future to the clients of those hospitals and hospices. I did, years ago, when I stood where you are standing now. I was on my knees at the time, offering that trade with all my heart. It doesn’t work that way. Those who tend the hospices can tell you why, and the people in the churches and temples can explain why it shouldn’t.
Stroll past your local police station, where the noble calling to risk your life in the service of others is answered… and the worship of death as a solution to problems meets its humiliating end. Maybe you’ll spot a recruiting station, where men and women who love their friends and families accept a duty that could take them away forever… because they know others love their families too, and there is no safe way to build and protect the future for them.
If your walk takes you past sunset, watch the cars rolling into the driveways of apartments and houses. If you walk from night into morning, watch the people reluctantly leaving their homes, to provide for their families. Those people are not wasting their lives, but fulfilling them. They return home to enjoy their reward, and renew their inspiration. Every day, they write new pages in the human story. None of us will see the end of that tale… but I know you share my appetite to read another chapter, and then one more after that. You may have convinced yourself to ignore it, but it’s still there.
Step into a convenience store for a cup of coffee or chocolate, and take a look at the newspapers. They are filled with pleas for help that you could answer. From the inner cities of America, to the broken streets of Haiti, and around the world, there are places where the clocks are filled with nothing but desperate hours. Another pair of hands, or another few dollars of support, are always needed. The years ahead, which you regard as a painful burden, can be given to them. It will take effort, and courage… but along the way, I can promise that your life would stop feeling like a burden.
You may view suicide as your last chance to shake the pillars of a world that has turned its back on you. The world doesn’t need any more shaking. If you’ve been telling yourself that no one will miss you when you’re gone, you are wrong. Your suicide would tear a hole through the future, and nothing could ever fill the space where you used to be. You might think you’re alone, but you don’t have to walk more than a couple of miles from your house to see a building full of people who would be delighted to meet you. There are places like Suicide Hotlines, staffed by men and women who have spent their entire lives preparing to hear the sound of your voice, and greet every day hoping to learn your name.
You may be afraid to face the years ahead. You’re not the only one, and if you extinguish the light of your faith and wisdom, you consign others to darkness. You might see death by your own hand as the end of unbearable pain… but I ask you to think about Walter Koenig, facing a wall of cameras with quiet grace in the hours after finding his son’s body, and understand that it’s only the beginning of agony.
You might have decided your fellow men are rotten to the core, and you’re weary of their company. Listen to the music of Mozart, or look upon the work of Michelangelo, and consider the argument of those who profoundly disagree. Maybe part of your problem is that you’ve been listening to the wrong music, or looking at the wrong pictures. Dark waters are easy to drown in. The judgment of the human race will not lack witnesses for the defense, and they will make their case to you, if you give them a chance.
Now, take the last few steps back to your home, and set aside one sorrow or terror with every footfall, until your mind is clear. If you’re thinking of incinerating the remaining years of your life, surely you can spare a few minutes for quiet reflection, and hear this prayer from the living world:
Please don’t leave us. We need you.
It is a quiet prayer, spoken in a soft voice, but it’s never too late to listen.
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010
On the day of your baptism, an assault was made on the dominion of Satan. At the very beginning of your Christian life, on the day you ceased to be a pagan, you were claimed for Christ our Savior by the sign of the Cross. In the waters of baptism, you were born again in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, so that as St. Paul says, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20). Your identity as a Christian is specific and definite. You are a temple of the living God and a dwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Satan is the world’s first identity thief. From the first temptation in the garden of Eden, to his temptation of our Lord, to his whispers in our own ears, Satan is a thief. The temptations both of today’s gospel and of our own day appear to be focused on sensual pleasures but that would underestimate Satan’s malice and deviation.
On the outside, Satan’s temptations are sensual: food, power, and glory but if we look beyond the flash we find the substance that he is striking at: Jesus’ own identity. How did this Gospel passage start? "Jesus returned from the Jordan." We heard a few weeks ago what happened at the Jordan- Jesus received the baptism of John and as He rose from the water a voice was heard: "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." Publicly and specifically Jesus' identity is revealed; He is the beloved son of the Father. How does Satan tempt Jesus? Satan tempts Jesus to step out from his identity and act on His own. We can certainly imagine the subtle dig in Satan's voice: "If you are the Son of God..."
Satan acts no different to Jesus than he did in to Adam and Eve: did God really say that you couldn't eat of any of the trees in the Garden? Throughout the Old Testament, the greatest sin of the house of Israel is forgetfulness. Our reading from Deuteronomy combats the same sin. Notice how Moses has them recite the wonders God has done for them, do they recite these wonders for the sake of God? No, it is for their own sake. It has barely been forty years since God led the Jewish people out form Egypt, barely forty years since God led them across the Red Sea on dry ground and yet they are forgetting.
Our Sunday Mass is structured in the same way: so that we do not forget what God has done for us. You might be tempted to think that you could spend your Sunday with God in your own way: with a bible or some Christian music but you would miss God's great gift. We do the same thing each Sunday, not because we are unimaginative but because we are forgetful. We NEED to hear the saving actions of Jesus Christ, we NEED to say the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ has risen Christ will come again. We need to receive the salvation of God as a son or daughter of God.
How did Jesus fight temptation? By His own strength and might in a way that we cannot? No! Jesus fights by remaining as a Son, waiting for the Father to provide. The battle of Lent is the struggle to remain as a daughter or son. Your own strength of will, when left to itself, will fail. In your baptism, you are a daughter or son of the Father, you are a brother or sister to Jesus Christ.
h/t American Papist
Of all lenten hymns and prayers, one short prayer can be termed the lenten prayer. Tradition ascribes it to one of the great teachers of spiritual life - St. Ephrem the Syrian. Here is its text:
O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother; For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen
Why does this short and simple prayer occupy such an important position in the entire lenten worship? Because it enumerates in a unique way all the "negative" and "positive" elements of repentance and constitutes, so to speak, a "check list" for our individual lenten effort. This effort is aimed first at our liberation from some fundamental spiritual diseases which shape our life and make it virtually impossible for us even to start turning ourselves to God.
The basic disease is sloth. It is that strange laziness and passivity of our entire being which always pushes us "down" rather than "up" -- which constantly convinces us that no change is possible and therefore desirable. It is in fact a deeply rooted cynicism which to every spiritual challenge responds "what for?" and makes our life one tremendous spiritual waste. It is the root of all sin because it poisons the spiritual energy at its very source.
The result of sloth is faint-heartedness. It is the state of despondency which all spiritual Fathers considered the greatest danger...
Do read it all!