By Ricardo J. Márquez, PhD
The air was charged with emotion. We were gathered at a special Mass to remember and pray for those who have had a member of their family die by suicide. Each person carried to the altar, during the presentation of the gifts, a rose in memory of the loved one who had taken his or her life.
Suicide is a hard, devastating reality to face, full of emotions, such as rage, guilt, shame and profound sadness, accompanied by countless “whys,” which are left unanswered and only deepen the desperation.
The Gospel of the day certainly was good news, a balm for the heart: The parable of the shepherd who does not rest until finding his lost sheep. The power of the pastor’s homily resounded in my heart: “The Lord does not lose any of His sheep.” Leaving His 99 sheep behind, the Shepherd goes looking for the missing one and carries her home.
For those of us who have had a family member or friend die by suicide, these words were healing ones, confronting the language of damnation and judgment that have accompanied us and stigmatized suicide victims and their family members.
No human being, regardless of how educated he is, or thinks he is, in psychology or theological sciences, can claim to be an expert in the mystery of life and all its manifestations. One can find explanations and theories, but the internal mystery and the complexity of what happened in the mind of someone who decided — in desperation, pain or depression — to take his or her life can never be fully understood. That sacred territory is left to the intimate relationship between Creator and His tormented creature.
In those moments, fractions of seconds or long periods, the Shepherd tends to His “sheep.” Even if the person ends his life, in that singular encounter between Creator and creature, alchemy of the soul can occur, where light can emerge from darkness, where distance can fade to intimacy, because the Creator’s infinite love can transform all things and situations.
A woman in a wheelchair was among the participants in the Mass. Her facial expressions were the only way she could express her joy and pain. Her parents were by her side, and I noticed that each had their hand on each of her arms, caressing it, tenderly and gently. Seeing that, for me, was a revelation, a ray of light to my conscience of the power of simple love that accompanies, consoles and heals.
Those parents for me, at that moment, were a sign, a “sacrament” of love and its fruits. They reminded me of the promises that we make when we get married: “I will love you in health and in sickness, all the days of my life.” Their loving gesture invited me to look inward and ask myself: How do I express my love today? How can I be an instrument of consolation, a loving presence to those who need it, who feel rejected and alone?
If I practice it, if I ask for the grace to be an instrument of love and healing, I can possibly contribute to the rediscovery of a love of life among those who feel like they want to end it.
Ricardo J. Márquez, PhD, is associate director of the Diocese of San Diego’s Office for Family Life and Spirituality.