Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We still live in a society full of stigmas. Although many things came to light, and acceptance and tolerance to taboos have grown tremendously, there are still other issues that people don’t feel comfortable talking about. There are many variations, but the main problem is how to cope with suffering. Unfortunately, addiction is still one of the most common ways to deal with problems. Regardless of what kind of addiction, whether something public or not, it is still not healthy and it really does not help us with our problem. Some are indeed very harmful to us and those around us, like alcohol. Still others are even a danger to ourselves, like drug addiction. Next week, we observe the International Overdose Day.
The problem of suffering has been a topic since ancient philosophers and many people have said many things about it. Even though there could be one clear answer, it is still difficult to deal with it. I can even say based on my own experience of being a priest for 9 years, and having a serious life of prayer and having read much about the topic, it is still very difficult to go through tribulation and sufferings, regardless if it is something personal or unrelated to me. Imagine how much more difficult it is for anyone who does not have a balanced life, a loving family environment growing up, struggles with their faith. The common denominator is always flight and alienation in front of pain. We either run away from that situation, or we do something else and “pretend” that nothing is happening. Consequently, not only the problem remains the same, but it actually gets worse. And as the problem grows worse, the solution seems more impossible and life becomes unbearable. In front of what appears to be a dead end, the only mitigation is to numb the pain temporarily. That works for some time, but when the person feels the weight on their shoulders becoming unbearable, then they will start taking refuge in alcohol or drugs…and both lead to substance abuse and a worse deterioration of their lives…and it seems that there is no way out of it.
Jesus Christ left us a mandate that is the core of Christianity, that is, love of God and of neighbor (Mt 22 37-40). Then He goes on to explain how we should love our neighbor, “love one another, AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.” Now we would need to stop and see how Christ has loved us, especially when we were troubled, did something wrong, “did not follow the rules of society.” We know from Luke 15 and John 10 that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He “lays down his life for his sheep” and who goes out to look for the lost sheep, and finding it, “He sets it on his shoulders with great joy” and throws a banquet! He does not shun the lost sheep, or give her a lecture, or anything like that. So should we do to anyone who is lost. Any person who is suffering addiction has a greater suffering in their lives. As Christ goes out looking for that person and approaches with tenderness and love, so we are called to do the same. In another parable when Jesus explains how to love our neighbor, He speaks of the parable of the Good Samaritan, who shows compassion to a stranger (technically someone despicable and unfriendly).
There are MANY, MANY, MANY people out there who need our help. Whether they are poor and homeless, suffer from any addiction, are lonely and depressed…etc…Maybe we cannot help the whole world, but we can help 1 person at a time. Desmond Doss, whose story was portrayed by Mel Gibson in the movie “Hacksaw Ridge,” believed this. He enlisted himself to help at the war to help people. By helping one at a time, he saved 75 soldiers from the battlefield and provided comfort to many more who he was not able to save and died in his hands. This week we have a great opportunity to help those who struggle with opiod addiction and those who mourn for their loved ones who died from overdose. We will be hosting the yearly Candlelight Vigil for the International Overdose Awareness Day in Marlboro here at IC. It will be this Thursday, Aug 31st, at 7pm. We will light candles as we say their names and remember our loved ones with music, poems and guest speakers. It is not a matter of judgement, frowning, but loving and supporting, just like Jesus commanded us.
If someone who is reading this letter, or there is someone that you know, please be aware that you are not alone! You are not invisible. We are here to love you, walk along with you, and pray for you. There was one flyer for another event of Overdose awareness day, that said, “no one is invisible.” Although we can feel that way, it is not true. God loves you, and He is not indifferent to your sufferings. We love you, and we are not indifferent to your sufferings. Regardless whose guilt it is, we are here to love and to be loved. Please be assured of my personal prayers for you.
One last thing, please also consider joining us for the labor day parade to share this same love now with the whole city of Marlboro.
God Bless, Fr. Steven
Father Steven Clemence