I often talk about cafeteria Catholics, those who call themselves Catholics and then proceed to pick and choose what parts of the faith they will follow. “Let’s see, I’ll go to Mass every Sunday but it is okay if I have an extra-marital affair.” “I can take communion but I don’t feel I need to go to confession, God already knows what I did wrong.” “Personally, I am against abortion but everyone should have the right to choose.” Do any of these sound familiar?
I can understand this way of thinking, I was guilty of it myself for a long time. There has been a severe lack of catechesis over the past 40 or so years. I thought it was perfectly okay to be pro-choice even though I would never choose it. I never understood why it was wrong. God has made us all and it is wrong to take a human life. We are not God and hence cannot decide who lives and dies.
Just today I learned that one of my cousins committed suicide a few weeks ago. We weren’t close and I have very little information on what was going on in his life so I won’t even dare to form an opinion on why he did. When I was growing up, we were always told that suicide was a mortal sin and if you did it you would go directly to Hell. You would not pass go. (This is not necessarily so as I will explain later) I was never taught why it was a mortal sin, just that it was. I now know that just like killing an unborn child, the person who commits suicide is playing God. He or she is deciding whether they live or die. Only God has the right to do this.
Tonight I have been reading what the Catechism has to say about suicide. Yes, it affirms that it is wrong and could be a mortal sin, but there is an exception of sorts.
2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 550). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.
This is where we learn it is a sin. It is “contrary to love for the living God” who wants us to live. However,
Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. 2282Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 550). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.
We don’t know what has happened or is happening in a person’s life to make them take their own life. This is certainly the case with my cousin. I have no idea what was going on in his life or why he felt he needed to end it. But here is what we need to remember:
2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 550). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.
We don’t know what God is going to do with the person who takes their own life. Only God knows what is going on in this person’s life. And because of this God can forgive the person.
The biggest issue I have with suicide is the deceased gets to leave his problems behind. But those of us left behind have to deal with the loss, hurt and in some cases guilt. My aunt now has to deal with the pain of losing a child, even though my cousin was past 60, a child is not supposed to die before their mother. An accident is bad enough, but when it is because of suicide it has to be twice as hard.
I know he has children and I believe grandchildren, this will be hard for them to understand as well. I have no idea about their religious beliefs or even if they have any, but I pray it doesn’t turn them away from God. (And yes, this does open up the whole “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” argument) As a Catholic, I believe it is morally wrong to take any life, even one’s own. I truly believe that with God’s help, any problems we have can be worked out. It may not seem so at the time, but He can and will help us if we ask Him to. I know, I wasn’t too far from making the same choice at one time in my life.
So tonight when I say my Rosary, my intentions will be for my cousin and his family, especially for my aunt. I pray they will have the strength and the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ to get through this. They will never understand it, it probably will not make any sense to them, but they need to keep on living, to keep going on with their lives. I pray they will.