Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
2 Peter 1:16-19
The death of Chester Bennington, lead singer for the popular group, Linkin Park, has stunned the music world. His alarming death by suicide follows that of another popular singer of his generation, Chris Cornell, who fronted the seminal grunge rock groups Soundgarden and Audioslave.
While such deaths have not been uncommon in the world of music, the suicides of the rich and famous shock us because we think they “have it all.” In fact, they only prove that success, money, fame, and power do not ultimately fulfill us and cannot shield us from life’s difficulties.
Sadly, these tragic deaths are not limited to the music and entertainment industry, but mirror an overall trend in society. People are taking their own lives at an alarming rate, contributing to the first overall decrease in life expectancy in the United States since 1993.
While the causes of this phenomenon are complex, one contributing factor is increased loneliness. With family units breaking down and spreading out over greater distances, people find themselves more isolated than ever. The lack of support makes it that much harder to deal with the challenges of daily life.
We also live in a culture that highly values success and pleasure. Those who sense that they are no longer contributing to society because of unemployment or sickness can begin to question their worth. This helps explain the appeal of physician assisted suicide and the fact that it is often chosen not because the patient is experiencing uncontrollable pain but because they fear the loss of autonomy.
These realities stem from and contribute to a general lack of hope. We can endure just about anything when we see a purpose to it. If we are convinced that our circumstances will improve, we can overcome just about any obstacle that stands in our way. However, when we do not see a point to our suffering, it is easy to fall into despair.
In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus leads Peter, James, and John up a mountain where he is transfigured before them, revealing to them his glory as the eternal Son of God. This follows his prophecy that he would suffer and die. By revealing his glory to them, he is preparing them to face the horror of his imminent crucifixion. He wants to give them hope that there is more going on than they can see. Though his death will be a crushing blow to them, he wants to burn into their minds his other prediction—that he will rise from the dead.
As believers, we have been given the mission of spreading hope to others. To those who are lonely, we offer friendship and community. To the sick, we often compassion and the promise that uniting their suffering to that of Jesus contributes to the salvation of the world. To those who have sinned, we offer reconciliation. To the young, we proclaim that life has purpose when it is spent in service to others.
Religious practice contributes greatly to a person’s overall sense of fulfillment and meaning. And so, when we propose Jesus Christ as the world’s hope, we are doing more than offering a slate of doctrines to profess or a schedule of rituals to attend. Rather, we are providing hope and meaning to a world that is becoming increasingly fractured and disintegrated. We hold out the truth of the Resurrection, especially when the cross seems heaviest.
(Many of the details of this article were suggested by Aaron Kheriaty’s article “Dying of Despair,” which appeared in First Things magazine.)
Doug Sousa, STL
Dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,
our world seeks meaning and purpose
in production and pleasure.
Suffering and pain
threaten not only our plans
but our very identity.
When life seems bleak
be our light.
When we see no purpose
keep us focused on you.
When we meet those who despair
give us words of hope.
May we persevere with courage
up to the day when we will see you face to face.