On Friday, I received one of those phone calls no one ever want to receive. A friend called me with the tragic news that our former associate pastor, Father Quintin Heck had died, and even more sadly, that he died of suicide. I spent much of the weekend trying to make sense out of it all, struggling with my own feelings of shock and wrestling with unanswerable questions.
Father Quintin and I had what you might call a “multilayered” relationship: we worked together closely for the three years he was the associate pastor here. I can’t begin to count the number of funerals, weddings, anointings and home visits I assisted him with. He called so often that, for years, he had a special ring tone on my cell phone. He was a frequent visitor for dinner with my family, and was the priest who baptized my husband, and my two older children. He was the coworker and priest with whom I would regularly joke, tease and laugh. With new ministries for him, and a new baby (well, not so new anymore) for me, life took us in different directions, and I didn’t see him much in recent years. I know that he suffered terribly from health problems, which continued to worsen over time.
As I’m wrestling with my own feelings, and all those unanswered questions, I’m also praying about where I find God’s presence, God’s grace, in moments of tragedy.
Father Ron Rolheiser, a noted author, has written regularly about suicide and faith. He says:
The death of someone we love is always difficult, but in situations like this, the pain is compounded. Everything that Jesus reveals about God assures us that God’s hands are much gentler and safer than our own. In the end, nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from God’s love and forgiveness.
We are, in this life and the next, in hands far safer and gentler than our own. Where we stand helpless, God’s compassion can still reach through. God’s love can breathe peace and reconciliation into anger, and fear. God’s hands are gentler than ours, God’s compassion is wider than ours, and God’s understanding infinitely surpasses our own. Our wounded loved ones who fall victim to suicide are safe in God’s hands, safer by far than they are in the judgments that flow from our own limited understanding.
I remember, a number of years ago, hearing Father Dave preach at a particularly sad and painful funeral Mass. At that time, he spoke about how none of us are ever a finished product, and like the image of the potter and the clay in Jeremiah, God is always forming and shaping and molding us. He spoke eloquently of how none of us is ever completely defined by one hurtful decision or action. The sum of our lives is always greater than any one moment, and God’s love and mercy are always greater than the limitations of my human understanding and experience. This has stuck with me for a long, long time.
May Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, bring peace and rest to Father Quintin.
Into your hands, Father of mercies,
we commend our brother, Father Quintin
in the sure and certain hope
that, together with all who have died in Christ,
he will rise with him on the last day.
We give thanks to you for the blessings
which you bestowed upon Father Quintin in this life:
they are signs to us of your goodness
and of our fellowship with the saints in Christ.
Merciful Lord, turn toward us, and listen to our prayers:
open the gates of paradise to your servant
and help us who remain to comfort one another with assurances of faith,
until we all meet in Christ
and are with you and with our brother forever.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Eternal rest grant unto Father Quintin, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace. Amen.
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.