One of the privileges of being a friar is that, over the years, we hear the stories of people’s lives, the highs and the lows and everything in between. One of the most difficult pastoral issues we face as friars is that of suicide. We will sometimes have a funeral for a person who has died by suicide. The questions might be, can a person who has taken his or her own life have a funeral in the church? Or another question might be, is there any hope for this person with God? Has this person cut himself or herself off from a loving God? When I have met with families to plan a funeral for a suicide, these questions linger in the room, and the questions linger amid the overwhelming sense of grief and loss that the family is going through.
Sometimes the term “mortal sin” will come up. I never find this helpful in any way. People will say, in a hushed way, suicide is a mortal sin, isn’t it? I have found, at times, that people want or need to place something like suicide into a category of sin, and yet what seems of primary importance in a time like this is not how to categorize the act, but to consider the person’s life as a whole, to consider what was going on in that person’s life, and to reflect on the deep mercy and grace that Jesus, through his encounters with people all throughout the gospels, reveals.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is helpful here, as it states: “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. ..we should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. God can provide the opportunity for repentance.” (CCC 2282, 2283). The language of the catechism reminds us of the infinite mercy of a loving God.
These have been hot and humid summer days, days which have me dreaming of cool and dry autumn days, ideally on a mountain trail somewhere in New Hampshire. Summer is moving right along.
Blessings on your week!