When we see things like, “All that matters in life is that you’re happy,” or “You deserve to be happy. You deserve to live a life you are excited about. Don’t let others make you forget that,” we may easily be taken in by the sentiment. Written in whimsical font, placed on a serene background, and it just seems right. Who could say no to these things? They’re the sort of quotes that help us through a bad day and give us the motivation to take on the world.

There’s only one problem: they’re completely baseless.

While a major user of social media platforms and a believer that they can be used for amazingly productive purposes (evangelization anyone?) I must admit that the ease at which misinformation and cheap philosophies are spread makes me grow quite weary from time to time. Do we really stop to think about the things that we are sharing? Do we ever think critically about the catchy phrase, inspirational quote, or feel-good proverb that immediately gets a share? Too often, what gets shared does not stand up to our Christian believes. Positive and encouraging, maybe, but hardly sentiments that we should be promoting.

I want to push back against that trend. I want to offer something a bit more substantial, a bit more meaningful. Although not as self-fullining or encouraging as the above lines, I think that the truth is far more satisfying and ultimately leads to a much more lasting sense of contentment: the measure of one’s life is not found in happiness but in love and sacrifice.

That is the topic of this week’s video reflection. If this topic resinates with you and you wish to promote more Christian-themed motivational posters on your social media platforms, I have created two for you use.

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Well, the tour rolls on, and what a stop this last week was! Despite getting to see much of the country over the past 7 years with the friars, one of the places that I have always wanted to go—and had yet to visit—was the Pacific Northwest. Northern California. Oregon. Washington.

Well, not any longer.

Making my second stop of the Called Mission Tour, I spent the week in the Portland, OR area and loved every second of it. What an interesting place! From the beautiful natural areas to the eclectic downtime vibe, Portland was truly a place unlike anything I had ever experienced!

Oh, and I guess I was there to do some work, too… The mission has been going really well. As the title of this week’s video indicates, I misjudged the amount of books that people would buy and ran out just after the last mass. This was great news until I realized that the next parish (where I am as I currently write this post) has about five times the number of families but was ordered the same number of books! Oops! I rush-ordered another shipment that more than doubled the original… and I sit here on Monday morning realizing that it wasn’t enough: we ran out even before the last mass. Man… people are great. And I’m terrible at estimating.

Oh well! Moral of the story is that things are going well and I’m enjoying my travels. I’m currently in Huntington Beach, CA where I will be until Friday. I hope to have another video for you soon enough!

From the start, back when Breaking In The Habit was just a little blog no one knew about, my goal was to share the real life of a Franciscan in the 21st century. Over my first two years, I did almost no teaching or preaching, just sharing stories about my journey as a Franciscan, recounting events, and informing the public on important information. More than evangelization in any specific sense, much more than catechesis, I just wanted people to know what our life was like. Even as the mission has grown and expanded to other forms of media, the essential focus remains at the fore of everything I do.

On the one hand, I am able to share more than ever before. Beyond just a few written posts a week as in the beginning, I can literally show people what our life is like. Through videos and pictures, I can invite people into our lives like never before, allowing for one to make their own interpretation rather than reading my own. Why read my words when you can use your own eyes and ears?

And while this is a major step forward and truly a good thing, it also has a danger to it: people might begin to believe that what I am sharing is the complete and unbiased picture of Franciscan life. This, quite obviously, can hardly be the truth. Simply from a philosophical sense, pure unbiased presentations do not exist; because it is impossible to share every experience of every day, there is always a decision of what to share and what to leave private, which introduces a level of subjectivity. In doing so, we are not necessarily being manipulative, but we must be conscious that the persona we present is far from the whole truth.

Such is the case with Breaking In The Habit: what I show is nowhere close to my full life, but rather snippets of what I find interesting, pieces put together to tell a story I want you to hear. And while I think it is probably well-known to everyone, it something that is worth reminding people about. As much as I make it my mission to share a lot about our life, much of what makes this life significant simply can’t be shared. Truly, what I show is nowhere close to the totality of my life. If it was, I don’t think I could do what I do or be as enthusiastic about it. Behind the camera and beyond the public’s eye is a life that is by no means secretive or scandalous, but nonetheless private in a way that no camera could capture. What we live, day in and day out, can be shared in a simple sense, but can only be truly understood by those who live it.

I hope that makes sense, and I hope you enjoy this video, as well as the others.

I had planned on using today’s post to advertise my most recent video, a look at the first stop on this summer’s mission tour in Cedar Lake, IN. If you are interested, you can check it out here. But that’s all I’ll say about that.

More immediate to my attention are the suicides of two prominent celebrities this week: fashion designer Kate Spade, 55, and television chef/travel guide Anthony Bourdain, 61. Admittedly, I did not know much about Spade, but Bourdain was a favorite of mine for many years and his death yesterday came with great surprise and sadness. When I heard the announcement on the radio, I audibly gasped.

Maybe the most tragic thing about their deaths is that such situations are far from rare. In fact, they are indicative of growing epidemic. As the CDC reports, suicides in America are up 30% over a 17 year period. In 2016, it claimed the lives of nearly 45,000 people. Those are staggering and somewhat demoralizing numbers that really need to be thought about to sink in.

30% increase over 17 years.

45,000 suicides in 2016.

For me, there is absolutely nothing more tragic than someone taking their own life and there has never been a time that I have heard that word or thought about it that I didn’t immediately produce a tear in my eye. To think that it occurs with such frequency—and is getting worse—saddens me to my core.

It is because of this that this weekend’s Gospel fills me with anxiety and worries about what homilies people might hear. The passage comes from the Gospel of Mark, and towards the end of the reading Jesus is quoted in saying: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” Given our history in the Church regarding suicide—and given what I have already seen in the past 24 hours on social media—I fear that some priests will equate the two together, exhorting their congregations to work to prevent suicide “because those who commit suicide go straight to hell.”

I have a sick feeling in my stomach just thinking about it.

Besides being pastorally inappropriate and potentially devastating to those affected by such a horrible event, it is absolutely wrong from a theological perspective. While some in the Church might have said this before, it is absolutely not the official teaching. Looking to the Catechism, two paragraphs are of great importance:

2282 (2) Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

Nowhere in our faith do we condemn anyone to hell; nowhere in our faith to we say that a sin is unforgivable. Everywhere in our faith do we say that our God is loving and merciful; everywhere in our faith do we say that our God knows the inner workings of our hearts and treats each one as s/he deserves. To judge someone on a single moment of their lives—a moment, not to mention, that is fraught with distress, pain, despair, and diminished freedom of will—is to forget the very essence of our faith: God’s hand is always open to those who need love and mercy.

And so should ours.

For me, one is too many suicides in a year. 45,000 is just unfathomable. As devastating as the deaths of two recent celebrities are, my hope is that their deaths may bring new life in those left behind. That from their tragedies, more will be awakened to the epidemic before us, moved with compassion to care for those who battle inner demons on a daily basis, and work to prevent every last case from happening.

If you know someone who needs help, let them know that you love them, and do not hesitate to step in and help. They may not know that they need help until it is too late.

For those who are having suicidal thoughts, feelings of despair, or struggling to find meaning in life, know that you are not alone and there are plenty of people who can help. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s website has plenty of great resources, and their free number (1-800-273-8255) is completely confidential.

Better late than never, right? With all of the chaos of starting the mission tour this week, I completely forgot to post this video to the blog. My apologies to all, hopefully you haven’t been waiting around to hear the decision!

Anyway, the vote passed among the six OFM provinces of the United States, and we’re looking forward to our future together. More details certainly to come, but thank you for your prayers and be sure to continue to pray for us!