I don’t usually have much to say when celebrities die. I think it’s sociologically interesting how pop culture celebrates their “martyrs,” these actors, comedians, and musicians who we allow to enter our lives without ever knowing who they really are (let alone they knowing who we are).
The recent suicide of Chester Bennington, lead singer of rock-alt’ band Linkin Park, has hit me differently. I find myself in a strange state of sadness for this stranger who has been a staple of my musical library since they blasted onto the stereo in 1999, praying for his soul and the children he left behind, and feeling of urgency that we need the Gospel of Christ now more than ever. Suicide continues to be a rising epidemic, especially among the young, and without faith in God and a sense of purpose, we are all susceptible to nihilistic despair. I want to briefly address how I’ve experienced the horror of suicide and draw upon the thought of Archbishop Fulton through his frequent appeal that “Life is Worth Living.”
I know nothing about any depression or addiction or darkness that plagued Chester at the time of his death, so I can’t and won’t comment there. I know that in his early life he did consume a plethora of drugs and was haunted by sexual abuse from his childhood. His lyrics often echoed the spirit of a man who had “been there, done that;” his angst came from somewhere deep.
Now I wasn’t necessarily a depressed, emo teenager. But my melancholic temperament and artistic side relished in the lyrics and instrumentation that Linkin Park brought to an overly poppy decade of music. Thankfully my mom wasn’t too concerned with me blasting their screamo music, and they’re still on my gym playlist today.
Fast forward to my first year of the seminary when my uncle committed suicide on the eve of Palm Sunday. My uncle—a musician himself and always the life of the party—hid a very crippling depression and abuse of alcohol from us all. I will never forget that night when my parents found him and my vocation director, who had just returned from a European flight, came over immediately despite his exhaustion. He was the priestly presence of Christ in the midst of that agony we all experienced. Family gatherings like Thanksgiving have never been the same.
Suicide has rippling effects that impact people far beyond the person making the decision. The national conversation continues thanks to programs like 13 Reasons Why on Netflix of the film Me Before You. The problem is that a culture that simultaneously tries to combat suicide but celebrates euthanasia can’t coherently give us a reason why life is actually worth living. Devoid of a meaningful discussion of our higher purpose or an intentionality to the universe or a personal Creator, we are all just random cells in a universe of chaos; why stay here any longer? Why suffer if you don’t need to? Why do you stay?
Life is Worth Living
Thankfully God is bigger than our darkness and doubt. His artistic brushstrokes are in every inch of nature and the cosmos, and, scandalously, this Artist decided to enter his canvas in such a unique and personal way through Jesus Christ that the entire recorded history changed around him. Death itself had no final power over this living God. It’s our task now to spread this “good news” for each new generation. Looking back one generation, we can learn much from one particular great communicator for the Lord: the Venerable Fulton Sheen.
Fulton Sheen was a teacher, a parish priest, bishop, and a masterful evangelizer of the American airwaves. He had a radio show for over twenty years and then a successful television program, (nationally aired on ABC), called “Life is Worth Living.” Sheen covered a host of cultural, moral, and religious topics on what is believed to be the most widely watched religious series in the history of television. His writings, books, recordings, and videos still inspire myself and countless others today. His fundamental message was simple: God is real and he loves you.
I think one of the fundamental messages our youth (and truly, everyone today) needs to hear and interiorize is simply the name of Sheen’s series: your life is worth living. How easy it is to float from day to day, purchase to purchase, commute to commute, never stopping to wonder and awe in your creation. How quickly we forget the amazing moments of experiencing God’s love on a retreat or mission trip, falling back into our own self-absorption and sloth. To lose sight of the divine footprints is a constant struggle on this side of heaven, but not an impossible one. To lose sight of God completely will result in being consumed by materialism, secularism, and eventually nihilism. We must keep the presence of God ever before us.
“God does not love us because we are valuable. We are valuable because God loves us.”
-Ven. Fulton Sheen
You Are Not An Accident
The darknesses of both our world and within our very selves can distort our comprehension of our self-worth and cloud our decision-making. We don’t know the limits of God’s mercy, especially upon those oppressed by addiction or depression. Christ walked into death itself to drill it into us that God himself will not abandon us, no matter the cost.
If you are a believing Christian, you can’t leave evangelization to “professionals” like Fulton Sheen or Bishop Robert Barron. You have a network and a reach that God has particularly given YOU and only you; who in your circle needs a kind smile, a listening ear, and the words that God loves them?
If you are suffering, reach out. Talk to family, friend, a counselor, a priest, anyone. Pray earnestly for God’s light to break through what you are experiencing.
If life is worth living, then you need to be here.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.
If you think you or a friend is struggling with suicidal thoughts, ask for help from someone you can trust and/or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (available 24 hours every day).