On my mind and
in my heart I have been thinking a priest who died on 3 July at his own hand.
Father Paul Archambault, 42, priest of the Diocese of Springfield, MA, had his demons with which to struggle in this
life; his struggle is not unlike the rest of humanity, that is, a struggle to
live with great humanity tensions between grace and sin. I didn’t know Father
Paul; I am nonetheless moved by his hasty act and struck by his death at this
young age, one that I share with him. Father Paul’s desperate act of suicide is
bewildering and saddening. My reflections lead me to say that sometimes we are
consumed by sin (or some other weakness) and forget that there is Friendship
beyond all others really cares for us. Nevertheless, Christ is present to
sustain us when we can’t remember that He’s offered us the Hundredfold.
John Lessard, former pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Holyoke and
friend of Father Paul, delivered the words noted below at the funeral at Saint
Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Northampton on July 12.
What is our response to
this tragic end of a priest? First, I would suggest that we beg the Holy Spirit
to preserve us from nihilistic temptations. Suicide is a mis-understood act
that many are tempted, even priests. In a week’s time I know of one other
priest who attempted suicide and lived. And over the years, I have known four
priests to have committed suicide. Second, cast an eye of mercy on those who
struggle with the temptation to permanently end their pain and suffering. What
are the distinguishing characteristics of Christ’s presence in these events?
Third, pray for priests. Fourth, be a good friend to others, particularly
Let us help each other see the Face of Christ. Let us also pray for
each other, and at this time all those who mourn Father Paul Archambault. Also, I would also caution against defining a person exclusively by some of his or her actions. We are more than one or two actions.
are a few paragraphs. For the rest of Father Lessard’s address, you may read it
So, it is with the Sacrament of Holy Orders of the Priesthood. Grace. Not magic.
And a man who enters into this unique and tremendous Sacrament, much like
married people, does not become immune to anything but rather can count on his
troubles to increase as the evil enemy fights with all his might to take down a
priest. The Sacrament of Holy Orders does not prevent sickness or illness of
any kind, does not cure what was already there. And we must understand that
true sickness, whether it be of body or of mind is sickness; it is not
chosen. A couple of years ago, a dear friend was diagnosed with breast
cancer. Would it possibly ever cross one’s mind to blame her for her cancer? Of
course not. If we are to love one another, care for and about one another as
Christ not only asked us to do but commanded us to do and tells us our
salvation rests largely upon fulfilling that command, we must put aside any and
all silliness and ignorance that prevent us from seeing illness for what it is,
no matter what that illness is. Would we blame a man with Parkinson’s disease
for his chronic illness? Of course not. Do you blame the child who
develops leukemia? The thought is absurd and ludicrous, isn’t it? And as
with cancer or any other malady of the body, so with illness of the mind
sometimes treatments cure, sometimes they are very successful for a number of
years, sometimes they are partly and briefly successful, sometimes they fail
According to Fr. Paul himself, he struggled in his mind for years and years. He was the victim of terrible bullying all his life from his youth and into adulthood and it didn’t stop when he was ordained a priest. As a result, he struggled with bouts of deep clinical depression, he said he never felt like he fit in anywhere, like he never belonged anywhere, not accepted by people out there. When people are called names and mistreated so badly for so long, they sometimes come to believe the lies they are told about themselves. Fr. Paul had come to believe the lie that he was not accepted because he was in some way unacceptable. So often, he was seen as a nuisance and treated with expediency rather than care, with disrespect rather than dignity. What I want to assure all of you, however, especially Paul’s father and siblings and you boys, George’s boys, that despite his intense internal suffering, what you all saw of him, his love for you, his concern for you, his attention to you as he counseled you, heard your confession, gave you his shoulder, his reverence, his devotion, his enthusiasm, his passion for the Sacraments and the Word of God, his love for the God-given teachings of the One True Church, let me assure you, that was all true, that was all for real.
How could he be so much this way and so much that way at the same time? We can understand if we allow ourselves to see that illness of the mind is not much different from illness of the body. We see people racked with cancer who discover they can paint like the masters. We see people who lose their eyesight discover they can sing like angels. Any of us involved in pastoral ministry have encountered untold numbers of people who suffer greatly while reaching outside themselves in care for others, apart from themselves. We call such people, like Christ, “wounded healers,” people who are themselves suffering greatly, but do not let that impede their gifts, do not allow themselves to fall into the victim mentality, because Fr. Paul and those like him do not allow illness, physical or mental, to define them. What you saw of Fr. Paul was absolutely real, as real as it gets. His life was a terrible struggle, but he was not hiding from you, he was protecting his dignity, he was a wounded healer; There is no failure on the part of his family or loved ones. His was not a double-life, his love was not a lie, his priesthood was not an act. I know that; we discussed all of these things at great length, in-depth many times, and I heard his confessions. I’ve known very few people as solid, genuine and unpretentious as Fr. Paul. He was a proud priest of Jesus Christ and of the Roman Church, he was grace-filled by the power of Holy Orders. But it did not make him somehow magically immune to anything, and it did not change what God had allowed him to be by nature. Whatever any man was subject to, Fr. Paul was subject to, and more … once he received the Holy Orders of Priesthood. Not for a moment do I believe that Fr. Paul decided, with full free consent of his will and conscience after due deliberation to run away from life, to run away from us, to forget our love for him. He loved us too much for that, he fought and worked too hard for too long to get to the place in life he knew was his place, his niche that God had for him. No moralist aware of Fr. Paul’s condition would judge his state of mind to be truly free to make a full conscious decision, nor capable of due deliberation in this matter, therefore not morally responsible for his action. We know that; he was fully functional just hours before his death. I and my brother priests here have celebrated the funerals and attended to the deaths of many individuals who had taken their own lives. As for myself, I have never encountered anyone who has done such a thing in a clear and right mind, nor with reasonable and due deliberation. While I won’t state it outright because I have no authority to do so, in my own mind, I wonder if it’s even possible for someone to take his own life with full and free consent of the will and due deliberation.
God be merciful to all of us…