My purpose in these posts is to bring a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.
If you are reading this blog - perhaps for the first time (welcome!) - it's probably because you really enjoyed watching this intrepid globe trotting explorer and adventurer chef and his uniquely human approach to strangers and to the foods and traditions and kitchens of other nations.
Like You, I really enjoyed watching his creative shows, exploration and discoveries, and the human approach he took to people, so respectful and genuinely interested in others; even to the point of advocating for people enduring difficult or unjust working conditions. He was a real "mensch", a true manly man, and a good man.
Media reports seem to agree that Anthony Bourdain "took his own life" or, to be more exact, "put an end to his own life". Out of respect for him, many I think will avoid asking the obvious question: "Why?" It is a very human question to ask, and one that we do ask so very often in our lives.
I honestly believe there was nothing wrong with the work he did or how he did it. He is reported to have had many reasons to go on living, including a new love interest. So I don't think we could find fault with any of the circumstances of his life. Check out this CNN report on the occasion of his death dated June 8th, 2018.
This CNN piece was respectfully and tastefully written and it recalls how in his youth he took drugs and found himself addicted to heroin but later recovered. I doubt that this old wound would have caused him to now take his life, or rather, put an end to it. He admitted that he could very well have died in that addicted season of his life, perhaps even should have died. Thankfully, he lived and had the satisfaction of having successfully freed himself or gotten free of this addiction.
In its place, he widened his horizons to truly enjoy the good things of life and, better still, to enjoy them in the company of other lively human beings, acquaintances, and friends. It is undoubtedly true that his past remained present to him, but generally when people overcome their trials they emerge stronger, better, for the experience. So why the suicide? Why not confide in someone?
I am a man of faith, but perhaps you may be a woman or man with no interest in faith, any faith, or on the other hand, you may have some degree of interest in faith in a god, or specifically in the supreme Being generally referred to as God. Whether or not faith means anything to you, with all due respect to you and for your own convictions; I invite you to stay with me for a moment as we reflect on our common interest, Anthony Bourdain, his life and his death.
It is fair to say that "we" people of faith throughout the generations, times, and places - due to our human failings - have given or created a "bad reputation" for God, probably, but most certainly also for his Church. This is true despite the heroines and heroes members of the same Church who did great deeds and left a wonderful legacy to humanity: think of Abraham, Moses. King Solomon, King David, Jesus himself, Augustine of Hippo, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Sienna, Thérèse of Lisieux, Dorothy Day, Catherine Doherty, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Jean Vanier.... That God and religion have a bad rep is, I believe, a great sadness and tragedy.
There is no escaping the all too human dimensions of the Christian faith in general, and in my case of the Roman Catholic Church in particular. There is no denying the human limits and wrongs at the hands of both leaders and members of our Roman Catholic faith tradition and all other Christian faith traditions. None of them have escaped being identified as "all too human" in their clergy, in their members, in their buildings and institutions. So, sadly I say, many people have turned off or turned away from all that can be summed up as "religion", by their own choice of course, but at least in part due to the aforementioned "bad reputation" attributed to God or to his Church.
I say sadly because unlike other great religions in which human beings try to reach the infinite, in the unique case of the Jewish faith and, by extension (because of Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish carpenter who had such a decisive impact on human history) the Christian faith as well - both of these faiths are in existence and continue to draw new adherents to this day because God himself took the initiative to begin revealing himself to humanity and never gave up on us until now. No other religions claim to have such clear revelations from God, or if they do, they don't have as credible and scientifically authenticated independent corroborating evidence as do the Jewish and Christian Sacred Scriptures.
The one clear message in all of this "divine revelation" as attested in the Jewish and Christian Sacred Scriptures is that God loves us and never gives up offering us a true friendship, a genuine bond of family, perfect selfless love, if only we might be willing to put our trust in him. But there's the rub. Since the dawn of time, human beings stopped trusting in God and preferred to trust in themselves, which is of itself a good thing, but by also turning away from our Creator and the love he offers us, we found ourselves isolated and, in a sense, abandoned. We feel abandoned in some deep human way, without realizing that it is we who have abandoned our Creator God. To modify Shakespeare's word, "To trust or not to trust in God's love... that is the question."
Jews and Christians can put a lot of effort in following faithfully the precepts of their faith and yet still not really know God personally or have any love for him because, quite simply, they have not had any real experience of God's love for them. Saul of Tarsus was a prime example of one who was an exceptionally fervent Jew but who knew the God in whom he believed so little that he did not understand he was working against his God in his enthusiastic and fanatical persecution of disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. He would never have changed had not this same Jesus, risen from the dead, made himself manifest to Saul in a life changing experience of the living God.
Saul had this personal experience of God and realized that Jesus was the Son of God who had accepted to die and then rise from the dead in order to reveal to humanity how far God is willing to go to demonstrate his love for us, for every human being. Saul's encounter with the Risen Christ dramatically changed his life.
It continues to be practically true today that we human beings don't change much until we have a personal experience of the living God and know for certain that we are loved by God. It is also true that this can and does happen in a hidden way. The human being who searches for truth, goodness, and beauty and serves these transcendental values in their own life and in the lives of others become "great hearted" human beings. If they did not know God in this life; they will be pleasantly surprised to realize that they know him after their death for the simple reason that without realizing that they revered God himself, they did so in his transcendental characteristics of truth, goodness, and beauty.
Jesus made this claim when he declared "I am the truth, the way, and the life." (John 14:6) Jesus claimed to be the Son of God who had taken on a human nature in order to make the invisible God visible. Being the Son of God, the living Word of God, Jesus could truly claim to be "the truth". In his goodness and mercy - which he abundantly demonstrated in his treatment of sinners and those who suffered from any ailment or trouble - Jesus showed himself to be "goodness" in person. Jesus claimed to offer life in abundance to all who come to him in faith and to offer himself as food for eternal life. Christians hold to Jesus' claims with faith, believing that he is indeed "the life".
People who discover the love of God for them and are changed by his love and live a life of love for others are like those who have found the transcendental values they desire and who in similar ways put themselves at the service of those values in their neighbor. Then, like Saul who changed his name to Paul, there is nothing we are not willing to do in order to please God and to share the good news of his love with others or to share with others those transcendental values.
The one who makes olympic efforts to follow religious and ritual rules and "do" religion perfectly but without knowing personally the love of God still doesn't get the point; whereas the one who becomes a friend of God is highly motivated to love more perfectly. It is the love that motivates the perfection because perfection can never deserve the love. The point of true religion is - according to the root of the word - to re-tie or re-connect with God and accept the friendship and new life of love which he offers. The one who only follows rules and practices without the experience and love of God is still a slave, who may have hope, but won't realize that hope without God's intervention.
Getting back to our reflection on the life and death of Anthony Bourdain, we can say then that it is essentially a good thing that a human being grows up from youth and develops self-confidence and, by successfully accomplishing many things, further develops self-esteem, and by caring for oneself as well as for others, develops true selfless love of self, the kind of love of self that opens one up to selflessly loving and caring for others in addition to oneself, and in doing so paying attention and giving consideration especially those most helpless and in need.
What the Creator offers us in no way diminishes our capacity to stand on our own two feet; on the contrary. God never wants us to suspend the use of our reason; in fact, when we employ our reason to its fullest extent, we discover that it is actually quite reasonable to believe in a good and just God. Once we reach this degree of intellectual integrity - as many atheist or agnostic scientists have done - it is a small step to experience personally with awe and wonder the incredibly intelligent design of all that surrounds us, the sheer abundance, goodness, and beauty of the world and universe of which we are an integral part, and to open one's heart as well to make a"leap of faith" to believe that there must be an intelligence which designed Creation and that it is benevolent, that is, wants our ultimate good.
The moment we begin to trust in God is the very same moment in which our tragic human isolation is broken, and we enter into an experience of connection with God, with others, with all of humanity, with all living things, and with all of Creation, the whole universe.... Knowing that we have come into contact with the meaning and purpose of life in the discovery of truth, goodness, and beauty; a human being breaks through the isolation and loneliness that clings to our human nature like the ball and chain around a prisoner's ankle. Trust in a being greater than ourselves allows human beings to put down deep roots into the soil of reality and to find their a strong anchor for life.
Such an experience of God's love, or alternatively of the trio made up of truth, goodness, and beauty, this life changing spiritual experience dispels the dark depressing shadows of the night that cause many sensitive souls to despair and to hasten their departure from this troubled and often troubling world and bring to a premature end their life in it.
When we look around us at the drama of human existence in the great variation of circumstances and conditions in which human beings find themselves - often despite their best and often heroic efforts - there is no denying how formidable those haunting shadows of isolation and loneliness are; which seem to cause even happily married people to feel lonely in their intimate marriage bed and even cause very lively people to feel lonely in a crowd of close friends and acquaintances.
It is pertinently true in our day as we continue to witness an ever lengthening list of wonderful human beings, as well as others who more manifestly show signs of personal trouble, who have put an end or are putting an end - a premature end - to their life on Earth. Clearly, their continued existence in this life had become unbearable, which explains their drastic action upon their mortal existence. What is so sad and tragic is that none of it has to be this way. It is an illusion that our life is unbearable - even in the most dire of circumstances - as countless heroines and heroes have demonstrated by clinging to life and insisting on making a difference even under acute pain and suffering.
I firmly believe what the Roman Catholic Church teaches that in all likelihood those who, in any circumstance, put an end to their own life are undoubtedly suffering some form of dis-ease, a real ailment separating them from their best self, dragging them down into the dark shadows of human isolation, loneliness, and despair.
However it remains true that they are responsible for their own destruction to the extent that they neglected to help themselves or refused the light, love, peace, forgiveness, mercy, and help offered to them within their spirit by the Spirit of the living God who knows each one of us human beings better than we know ourselves, and who knows and loves us on the inside. This is not to be interpreted as taking lightly the issue of suicide... it is very dangerous to risk locking oneself for all eternity in the very darkness of isolation and loneliness from which a suicide is trying to escape!
After all, no human being in their right mind, heart, or spirit would refuse a life rich with abundant access to truth, goodness, and beauty, or would refuse to be the object and recipient of perfect love, unmerited and freely given. Only the darkest and most perverse of human beings would see the face of true and perfect love and would spit at it and send it on its way with curses. Anthony Bourdain showed no such signs of hatred or vindictiveness or railing against life, the world, of God....
Still, we must encourage one another to stay clear of ending our life, but instead, to seek any and all helps to better face our demons and dark emotions such as isolation and loneliness.... We can ask God to help us be more sensitive and alert to such suffering in ourselves as well as in our neighbor and to do all we can to help one another and to appeal to God for his powerful aid, He who loves us so much as he demonstrated in his Son Jesus Christ.
So, dear reader, if the sudden and unexpected death of Anthony Bourdain - or for that matter of anyone known or close to you personally - has affected you, please accept my sympathies for your loss, and my simple assurances of human love and understanding in the midst of our shared human condition; even though we may not know one another.... Though far apart, in God we are never separated, not really, because of his Spirit who brings us together in our common humanity, our common origin in our Creator, and our common destiny in God's eternity.... Those of us who believe that we are all connected in God can pray humble and fervent prayers to the God of all mercy that he may show mercy to Anthony's soul, now that he has for a time left behind his earthly tent which was his mortal body; while we all wait for the resurrection of the dead and the final judgement at the hands of the Divine Mercy itself, our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
© 2004-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal QC
© 2004-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC
+ + + + + + + + + + + +