Priest shares his experience of loss and hope at the Purple Mass Nov. 28

During the Purple Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church on Nov. 28, Father Dustin Hungerford gave a deeply personal homily on losing two of his siblings to overdose. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

Father Dustin Hungerford has lost two siblings to overdoses.

He shared the story of his sister’s death in May 2020 and his younger brother’s passing just a few months ago during the Nov. 28 Purple Mass. The liturgy was celebrated at St. Francis of Assisi Church by Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre in memory of those who have died as a result of addiction.

Father Hungerford, who serves as associate pastor of St. Margaret Mary and St. William churches, offered a deeply personal homily.

He spoke of “enduring platitudes that do more harm than good — ‘She’s in a better place now.’ ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ ”

And he voiced the universal question: Why?

“Nothing to do but pray and ask why,” he told the congregation, which included families who have lost loved ones. “Why didn’t you knock away the needle? Why didn’t you cast away the pill?”

“We pray and ask why and the answer comes, silent at first but then clear and direct: ‘He wept,’ ” Father Hungerford said, quoting the day’s Gospel reading from John. “No long discourse. ‘Jesus wept.’ He wept with us; he wept for us. … Only deep love causes us to weep.”

He noted that many people who have lost a loved one to substance use dwell on “if.”

“If I had seen, if I had known,” Father Hungerford said, drawing again from the Gospel reading in which Lazarus’ sister Mary says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Sue and James Bowden, front row, attended the Purple Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church on Nov. 28 in memory of their grandson, Andrew Bowden, who died due to an overdose in October 2021. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

Most of his 45 or so listeners sniffled, cried and wiped their eyes. Father Hungerford’s voice broke.

“So where were you, Lord?”

And Father Hungerford told those gathered that the Lord was with them, assuring them with Jesus’ own words: “ ‘I was there,’ he said. ‘They were not alone.’ … ‘I am here, you are not alone.’ ”

Father Hungerford said that Jesus endures our losses with us and his “nail-pierced hands refuse to let us go.”

He also shared his source of hope and healing with his listeners, reminding the congregation that one day they will be “wrapped up together in the tear-stained love of God” and that Jesus’ tears “can water the ground again.

“They (Jesus’ tears) remind us, death does not have the final say.”

Before Mass ended, Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre thanked Father Hungerford for his candor and openness.

“You let us into your pain but you also let us into your hope and healing,” the archbishop said.

The Purple Mass drew people from around the archdiocese, including Sue and James Bowden.

The Bowdens, members of Our Lady and St. John Parish, attended the Mass in memory of their grandson, Andrew Bowden, who died in October 2021 of an overdose.

“It’s a very major problem present in so many people’s lives, not just two or three people,” Sue Bowden said. “We had no idea how many people had loves” who were affected by addiction.

According to a June 2022 report from the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center, 2,251 Kentucky residents died from a drug overdose in 2021. That was up more than 14% from the 1,965 drug overdose deaths among Kentucky residents in 2020.

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