A Soul Searching For A Home-Philip Seymour Hoffman
He prayed kneeling, from time to time pensively, alone in the back of the church, always in the same pew, always wearing shorts and a t-shirt, always waving his hand gently with a sad puppy dog look in his eyes.
Peace Be With You!"
By Noel Irwin Hentschel
He prayed kneeling, from time to time pensively, alone in the back of the church, always in the same pew, always wearing shorts and a t-shirt, always waving his hand gently with a sad puppy dog look in his eyes. He joined in with reverence acclaiming aloud the words of "The Lord's Prayer," and nodded with his thick red hair and schoolboy freckles to the few in the congregation at the Vigil Mass, mouthing the priest's call, "Peace be with you." Philip Seymour Hoffman evoked kinship and the feeling within one's heart that he needed a hug and some support. During these spiritually reflective moments the outwardly confident actor illustrated that his humble soul search for an interior life was not an act. Now it is evident that it was a cry out in the wilderness; a cry for a safe home.
Mother Teresa often spoke of the greatest human tragedy: loneliness, emanating from poverty of faith and the need for hope and love. Her mantra was that finding a personal relationship with Jesus and support from Holy Mother Mary was the answer to all afflictions. One day as we left the church at the same time, this kind mannered man suggested maybe we could go for coffee sometime and chat about the Gospel. That was the last time at our parish I saw the vulnerable man who on screen played the brilliant actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, but who in reality desired to be closer to God. We do not know his last act. It was not simply exiting stage left or right, it is between him and his Creator.
The tragic news of his sudden passing on Sunday February 2, the Solemn Feast Day of The Presentation of Jesus and The Purification of Mary in The Temple, made the lighting of a candle with a prayer for the repose of his soul especially significant. This holyday takes place 40 days after Christmas. Called "Candlemas," it symbolizes "The Light" coming into the world. It calls for unity. Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics share the deep theological meaning of the celebration. "Light, love, and life" including attaining eternal life, are the common vision and shared desire of this sacred time. A bright light with enormous talent was extinguished in our world on this meaningful day.
Paradoxically, after playing the part of a Catholic priest in 2008 he became, in his own way, an apologist for Christianity. Raised Catholic, his sister also introduced him to the Evangelical Church services which he found to be moving and uplifting. He passionately defended the goodness of practicing Christians as evidenced by his sister's illustration of living Christ's way, treating people with respect and love. He was upset with the mentality that mocked people for their expressed commitment to God. He actually called for someone in his field, from Hollywood to Broadway, to stand up and be counted as "Christian" and lead the way for others. He seemed to yearn to be that person, proclaiming "you can be liberal and Christian too". Perhaps he can still play a role that encourages that bravery through other celebrities by their recognizing his sentiments as valid and worthy of consideration.
It is not uncommon to share common experiences with famous people. After all, celebrities enjoy similar joyous moments and struggle with the same issues as the rest of the community. One could assert however, that they need God's grace more than most given the pressure to perform and the illusive chase for fame that entices good people to fall into the lonely trap of stardom with temptations sometimes beyond human strength. That is the reason that "Christian fellowship" can be a source of love and support offering greater fulfillment to those who desire a cup full of grace to offset a frequently hollow and harsh environment.
As someone who grew up in the entertainment industry as a child actor, I can attest it was the days we spent in the pews of Blessed Sacrament Church on Sunset Boulevard, after an audition or filming at Paramount, Samuel Goldwyn or Universal Studios that kept our feet on the ground, our heads bowed and helped us resist the temptations of the dark side in the business. For my sisters and me, our uncommon "after school" backyard scene was the Hollywood sets. We would also shuttle between the SAG offices and the Family Theatre Productions, just down the street, where we would pray the rosary with Father Peyton, Loretta Young and Irene Dunne. We girls would pray to get a part and our mother would pray for her five daughters to not succumb to life in the "fast lane" during the tumultuous sixties, seventies and beyond. Fortunately, her prayers abounded and we managed to stay away from drugs and alcohol. We also attribute our path being lit by the nuns who mentored us and held our feet above the fire, literally. They and other good role models deserve the credit. But we, like most, were not immune from experiencing the heartache and heartbreak of addiction within our family and friends families.
Addiction is a very painful and debilitating disease for the person battling it and for loved ones. We have extensive experience of trying to help families engulfed in it. The frustration is due to our current laws for mental health which hamper treatment and long term life success for those suffering from these growing disorders. The laws must be changed to allow families to help. The drug legalization debate should be discussed with full knowledge and consideration of the mental health ramifications.
Anyone who has dealt with substance abuse, depression and despair will inform that the "demons" Philip Seymour Hoffman and others attest to are real; they are not an act. In addition to physiological and psychological elements needing treatment and healing there is another "life or death" drama underway called "spiritual warfare" and substance abuse is a fertile battleground. It takes an enduring army comprised of medical, spiritual, family and community support to win the war. As stated in Scripture, Ephesians Chapter 6, "For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness. Therefore, put on the armor of God that you may be able to resist on the evil day. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of Spirit, which is the word of God (6:10-17)."
Philip Seymour Hoffman tried mightily to strengthen his gird and his will. For 20 years he managed to keep the relentless demons at bay and became a role model at AA. He helped others struggling with substance abuse. Although his body succumbed to the physical attraction of addiction, his heart and soul searched for a spiritual home, one of peace and mercy, with God's abundant grace he found it on February 2, 2014.
In farewell, let us celebrate with tears and smiles all the profound gifts and goodness he shared with us. May we learn from his life testimony and remember with love the devoted Father, Son, and Brother, Philip Seymour Hoffman. And to his beloved family, "Peace be with you," until you meet again.