By now you know the tragic story of this young priest’s suicide.
Bishop James Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph preached the homily at the funeral Saturday, which he has since posted on the diocesan website.
Father Evan Harkins was consistent as a joyful, faith-filled, hopeful, dedicated priest. He never experienced depression or despair. As the old country song would say, he walked on the “sunny side” of life.
And so, part of our anguish these past days is this paradox. How could this have happened? How could Father Harkins have died like this?
While we will never know everything this side of heaven, there are some things that can help.
Just a month ago, at the start of the New Year, Father began to experience some serious deterioration of his health that scared him. His stomach and gastrointestinal tract stopped working and he could not take in food. He would go days without any nourishment and become so weak that he needed to go to the hospital. This was accompanied by extreme anxiety, and it was such that he didn’t know if the anxiety was from the stomach problem or if the anxiety was the source of the stomach problem. He was given a prescription drug to deal with the anxiety and was experiencing some of the extreme negative side effects of this drug including terrible nightmares, among other things.
I share this with you all, with the permission of his family, because I do not believe Father Harkins was in possession of a sound mind when he died earlier this week. His parents and his friends noticed in the weeks leading up to his death that things were not right, that he was not himself, and something was seriously wrong.
This is important for you to know, because it is easy to jump to other conclusions without knowing these facts. It does not take away our grief at his terrible loss, but it does help us to see this in a different light.
‘It is easy to jump to conclusions without knowing these facts. It does not take away our grief at his terrible loss, but it does help us to see this in a different light.’
I’ve spoken much about Father Evan and our love for him, but I now speak of the person that brings us together today: Jesus Christ. Without Christ, Father Harkins would not have been a priest, and further, without Christ, Father Harkins would not have even been born. Without Christ, none of us would be here.
Christ is the one we turn to now because it is He who saves us.
Christ is the one who puts us in relationship with His Father and Our Father: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” (Jn. 14:2)
Christ is the one we turn to now because He reassures us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” (Jn. 14:1)
Christ is the one who is the way home to heaven: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes the Father except through me.” (Jn. 14:6)
We now go “through, with and in Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to the Father” in this Eucharist to offer the supreme sacrifice for sins for Father Evan, confident in the saving power of Christ’s sacrifice. We use the chalice that Father Harkins used when he offered this sacrifice himself as a priest for the salvation of his parish and the entire world.
We do this with confidence because we know that “God is for us.” And, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31)
We do this with confidence because, “It is God who acquits us.” (Rom. 8:33) We do this filled with hope because, it is Christ “who indeed intercedes for us.” (Rom. 8:34)
We do this with faith because we know that no created thing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:39)
So, let us speak of Christ, the crucified and risen one, the “firstborn from the dead.” (Col. 1:18) It is He to whom Father Evan was united in baptism. It was He who nourished Father Evan with the divine life of grace in the Holy Eucharist. It was He to whom Evan was configured as a priest forever through sacred orders.
Our hope for Father Evan is in Christ. Our hope for ourselves is in Christ. We trust in the awesome gift of God’s Divine Mercy that comes to us through the pierced Heart of Christ, a devotion that was central to Father Harkins’ spiritual life. And so we can all say with confidence, “Jesus, I trust in You” and commend Father Evan to the merciful embrace of Christ.
Father Harkins also loved the Blessed Mother. Along with his earthly mother, Allyson, Mary was his Mother too, and a source of great strength and help to him his entire life. Evan even penned several sonnets to the Blessed Mother in his youth that are quite beautiful.
Like Mary, Father Evan’s earthly mom has had her heart pierced with a sword of sorrow, not of the same spiritual intensity, but real nonetheless and something only a mother can receive. And like no one else on earth, Father Evan’s mother kept certain things in her heart, and so I conclude with words from the mother of Father Evan Harkins, the priest we commend to God today:
“I have tried in these last few hard days to think what Father Evan would say to us. There have been moments through the years when I shared with him a deep pain or a burden I was facing and his words to me were always the same: Don’t give in to those dark thoughts. Jesus loves you so, so much. You are his beloved child. You must keep that in your heart and in the front of your mind.
Two verses of Scripture to hang on to: Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” and Lamentations 3:22-23 “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.”
Father was known for giving his parishioners a weekly assignment at the end of his homily every Sunday. If he were here, he would give us an assignment. So for your assignment this week: Give thanks to God for the wonderful gift Father Evan was and is. Share a precious, a profound or a funny memory of Father Evan with someone. Extend to those you encounter the acceptance, and the peace, and the quiet love that Father Evan always communicated to each of us.” (Allyson Harkins)