A Sorrow-laced Season of Joy

I really thought I would survive 2020 unscathed.

No matter what lunacy or travesty this cursed year brought, they proved no more than a nuisance. The nettlesome news from the pandemic front never did more than scratch the surface of my stoic’s disdain for all the hysteria produced 24/7 by so-called experts with mega corporate megaphones. All they could get from me was the occasional roll of the eyes and shake of the head. I summarily dismissed every update of deaths and new cases of the Wuflu as fake news. I was impervious to the propaganda.

I would not panic. I would not fear. And I thought I would know nothing of the despair they were so desperately trying to push.

But then our parish priest committed suicide.

A pall fell over me, leaden with despondency. 2020 finally breached my defenses, finally wounded me.

The first sign that something was wrong was when Father Michel Bineen Mukad didn’t show up for the Mass on Wednesday, the Mass celebrating the Immaculate Conception. The priest who showed up in his place told us that Father Michel was self-quarantined at the rectory. He had gone to the hospital the day before, complaining of fatigue. He had tested positive for the Wuflu and was sent home because his symptoms were mild. Father Michel left us a message, advising those who had close contact with him to get themselves tested and assured us all that he would see us again on Christmas Eve.

Later that evening, the news spread like wildfire that Father Michel was dead. Everyone was saying our priest had died of Covid. The news was stunning and gravid with panic. “No,” I said. “That’s not possible. Nobody as young (he was 38 years old) and as seemingly healthy as Father Michel dies of Covid-19. He had to have had some unknown and underlining medical condition that we were not aware of.” I had until that point only referred to the virus as the Wuflu or the Kung flu whenever I was feeling particularly contemptuous of the panic mongers. In retrospect, using the politically correct term was the first crack in my defenses.

I offered up my evening rosary for the soul of my priest and after much tossing and turning finally fell asleep, still certain that he could not have died of the virus.

The next morning I would deeply regret being correct. It was shortly after rising that I learned the police had ruled the priest’s death a suicide. Father Michel Bineen Mukad had slit his own throat and bled out. If the news of his death was stunning, the news of his suicide was shocking in ways I have not the words to describe.

Our bishop’s letter to our parish said in part:

It is with great sorrow that I must notify you that police have informed us Father Mukad
ended his own life at the young age of 38. While we do not know the exact circumstances
surrounding this tragic event, we do know that he struggled greatly due to the pandemic.
Like many of us, the isolation and anxiety of the modern world can be an unbearable
challenge. For some people these feelings and the isolation they bring can become
overwhelming…

I find that as difficult to believe as I did the initial assertions that he died of the Wuhan virus. It’s not that I have any evidence for any other reason that would have led our priest to kill himself. I don’t. It’s just that my mind recoils in horror at the notion that someone, and a priest in particular, could get suicidally depressed about a sickness which is survived by 99% of the people who contract it. But again, I do not know that this wasn’t exactly the case. It may very well have been. He could’ve had a history of depression that made him especially vulnerable. The doom-peddling has been incessant, and who am I to know the hearts and minds of anyone?

I could have a better understanding of the tragedy if I knew the man, but I didn’t know him at all. Father Michel only began serving at our parish this past August. Were we living in normal times, the parish would have held a welcome lunch or dinner to properly greet our new priest. We would have several post-Mass coffee and donuts sessions and KoC-sponsored breakfasts to have gotten to better know him. And he, us. But these are not normal times. The pandemic protocols have not allowed for any of it. Our parish hall collects dust. We file out after every Mass exchanging little more than fist bumps and nods and ‘see-you-next-weeks,’ before we get into our cars and scatter to the four winds.

The parish is atomizing right under our masked noses.

Despite not knowing the man, Father Michel’s death hit me hard. The waste of a life, the possible loss of a soul; the gravity of the tragedy seemed to draw every wrong and evil of 2020 to it until it all loomed as one dark, oppressive shadow. I’ve spent the last few days under that shadow, listless and yes, despondent, that is, when I wasn’t wanting to weep or suffering a spell of inchoate anger at the world at large.

Now, on the evening of Gaudete Sunday, I confess I feel no joy, but the gloom is thinning. The way is always clear if you will travel by faith and not by sight. The way is always onward and forward and upward. So, I shall, once more, offer up my evening rosary for God’s mercy on the soul of Father Michel. If you, dear reader, be so inclined, I ask that you offer up a prayer for our priest and for our parish, Saint Mary’s Our Lady of Ransom, as we move forward through this dark time.

Thank you and God Bless us all.

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