Homily Sun 10 Sept - Fr Richard Leonard SJ

Parish of Our lady of the Way – St Mary’s Church

Homily Sunday 10 September @ 9am Mass – Fr Richard Leonard SJ

Barry Larkin committed suicide in 1995. None of his family and friends knew he was chronically depressed. His son Gavin was so shocked by his much-loved father’s death that it eventually led him to co-found the R U OK? Movement.

On the second Thursday in September people are encouraged to contact someone they know who may be struggling and ask, “are you are okay?” The simplicity of the challenge combined with the complexity of our contemporary mental health culture has struck a chord. R U OK? has taken off, and not just on one day of the year.

Last year, as the promotion for this campaign ramped up, I called two friends, both aged under 30, who I knew were doing it tough, one through a bitter divorce, and the other with ill health. The friend battling cancer was in better spirits and had good family support. Within seconds of asking my friend going through the divorce if he was okay he burst into tears and sobbed. Only the thought of leaving his children fatherless was stopping him from ending his life. Though it was a good start, he didn’t need a phone call. He needed a lot of help.  

It is a shocking reality that the highest killer of young people under 30 in the OECD is not from the abuse of drugs or alcohol or misadventure, but from suicide. Young adults who live in the countries with the highest standards of living and have the greatest educational opportunities should be, in theory, have the most to live for. For a generation that is also the most socially connected, personal isolation appears to be pandemic. Many contemporary young people are not okay.

The reasons for this poor state of mental health, attempted suicides or ‘self-delivery’, as suicide is now sometimes called, are many and individual, but social researcher Hugh Mackay’s argues in “The Good Life” that happiness is now an industry that is selling all of us a lie. “I don’t mind people being happy - but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position - it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are… I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness’.”

Mackay is not on his own in his observations. I have lost count of the number of parents who say, “I don’t care what my kids do, as long as they’re happy.”  Although it may be just an unreflected throwaway line, it would appear a symptom of a greater anxiety. Why are we setting up our children for such failure? I wonder why Christian parents do not say that we want for our children is to be faithful, hopeful, loving, just and good. Living those virtues will not always lead to happiness but it should bring a tremendous amount of joy.

Joy is one the great themes in the teaching of Pope Francis. Christian joy is not secular happiness. Christian joy celebrates that we know where we have come from, why we are here and where we are going. It moves away from trying to find the easy side of easy to confront the inevitable tough moments in our lives, and to embrace suffering as an inescapable reality in the human condition. It seeks to be resilient in the face of adversity by embodying Jesus’ call to love God and our neighbor as we love ourselves. And it tells us that we are not meant to live isolated lives - Simon & Garfunkel spirituality – as “rocks and islands.” There was a good reason why Jesus sent out the disciples in twos.

Gavin Larkin’s wife, Maryanne, found out how tragic and unhappy life can truly be. Gavin died of lymphoma at the age of 42 in 2011. Their son, Gus, died from brain cancer at the age of 15 in 2013. I hope many people keep calling Maryanne to make sure she is okay. We need do the same for all we know who may be struggling, especially the young, because some of them have been sold a lie and  now that life is not as happy as it we promised, some find they have no hope for the future. Living Christian joy helps us to be more than okay.

Richard Leonard SJ is the author What does it all mean? (Paulist Press).