For Fr. Paul Archambault, July 12, 2011
Editor’s note: The following is the eulogy given by Father John Lessard, former pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Holyoke. He delivered these words at the funeral of Father Paul Archambault at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Northampton on July 12. Father Lessard also was a close friend of Father Archambault, who committed suicide and was found dead on Sunday, July 3 at Our Lady of Sacred Heart Rectory in Springfield. Click on the following link to read the full story. (http://www.iobserve.org/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=981&cntnt01returnid=66
My name is Fr. John Lessard, and Fr. Paul was my very dear friend. I knew him briefly after his ordination in 2005 but we didn’t have much of a chance to get close. But it was at that time that I discovered in my genealogy that my parents’ families, Lessard and Thibodeau, crossed with his parents’ families, Archambault and Rochon, at least 7 times since they came to North America about 4 centuries ago and we began to call each-other cousin, for we certainly are. Then he left the area for a stint with the Franciscans for a while and we lost contact. I am forever grateful to my dear friends Lucy and Randy Bianchi of St. Mary’s in Hampden for letting me know when he resurfaced in the area a few years ago. From that point on, we spent a lot of time together talking. And walking. Some said to me yesterday that they didn’t recognize me. That’s because I’ve lost almost 140 pounds, thanks to Fr. Paul who, for a long time, would come over daily and force me to go walking with him at a nearby track.
I’ve always been afraid of very large animals, especially elephants, so I don’t ignore one when it’s in the room. Thanks to the mixed blessing and curse of instant communications, we all know that our friend and brother Fr. Paul took his own life. Why? How could anyone do this to himself? How could a priest do this to himself? Especially, how could our dear Fr. Paul do this, with his deep faith, his devotion to the Holy Eucharist, our Blessed Mother Mary, ourHolyMotherChurchand God’s people? These are fair and reasonable questions we ask. It’s not supposed to be this way.
A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. Grace. Grace is a sharing in the wealth of the life of God Himself as in each Sacrament He gives us Christ’s presence in a unique way, in a way that cannot be obtained or experienced otherwise. The Sacraments give us God’s grace. Not magic. Grace. Not magic. Grace. Not magic. Couples who are married at some point came to know that when they exchanged their vows and entered into the mystery of the Sacrament of Matrimony, it wasn’t a magic act. Those who unfortunately experienced failed marriages because they had the thought that “once we get married, everything will change,” know that perhaps the best. Christ is there in the Sacrament, nourishing, sustaining, saving, but he’s not a magician. Grace builds on nature and thus enhances and elevates our souls, given what we are to begin with and what we are to begin with is always there. Married people know that when they entered into the Sacrament, they did not suddenly become immune to anything. They did not magically never catch a cold or get sick again. They did not magically stop having temptations and attractions outside their marriage. In fact, the opposite is true. Once one enters into the Sacraments, one becomes a bigger, more valuable target for the wickedness and snares of the devil.
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 outright.
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 theOne 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.
What I’m getting at is echoing what Fr. Rick said so clearly and beautifully last evening:
we need not fear for Fr. Paul’s soul. He’s either already now in permanent ecstasy in the presence Eucharist that Fr. Paul made present for us so beautifully, prayerfully and reverently, countless times, that we entrust our brother and friend.
Don’t be angry with God or with Fr. Paul. Don’t be afraid for him. Don’t be scandalized by him. Rather, pray for him, for one-another and learn. God has placed it in our hands to seek and to make present something good from tragedy. For the mystery of Christ’s resurrection is always with us, that mystery that took death and twisted it so far from itself that it became life, new life, eternal life. If you can take anything from this situation to twist into life for the benefit of life, start by praying for Fr. Paul and his grief-stricken family, pray for people like Fr. Paul, for all priests, for those who suffer with illness, sickness, disease of mind or body or heart or soul and those who care for them and about them. Pay a little more attention to each other in the family, among friends, the people who are in your life but are on the outskirts, like coworkers and neighbors and those whom you know have no one or are lonesome. Listen a little more attentively to your children, check in on each-other a bit more frequently, read between the lines. Always tell those whom you love, “I love you.” As we hear in terms of national security, “If you see something, say something.”
If you do or don’t know what to say, or if you need guidance, call Fr. Paul in prayer. I just bet, because of his suffering and his experience, our Lord will let our Blessed Mother channel some of His grace through her to Fr. Paul, for him to distribute here on earth as he did so reverently, beautifully and faithfully with the grace of the Sacraments he celebrated and brought to us in the all-too-brief but blessed time he was among us. Christ is here. He’s suffering with us. And perfect big brother that He is. He’s reaching out and offering healing and strength. He is suffering and saving. He is our perfect Wounded Healer who understands us more than we understand ourselves.
Just like his stature, Fr. Paul’s priesthood was short but strong. And like his voice, his presence inspiring and soothing. May his humanity be joined to Divinity. May his priesthood become one eternally with the Sacrifice of the Lamb of God. May his voice be blended with the choirs of Heaven.
Eternal Father, we offer Thee the body and blood, soul and divinity of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. And Fr. Paul and of all the faithful departed.
Ormeus pro invicem, (Let us pray for each other) beloved brother, dear friend, cousin. May you and your beautiful mother rest in eternal peace. Amen.