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Can Suicides Receive a Catholic Funeral?

Standard Time talks about a Catholic view of suicide:

...A few days later, the owner of a prominent car dealership in my area had committed suicide.

Over coffee and sad eyes ever since, many folks have been discussing the man. Many of them had bought at least one car from him and his family over the years, my dad and myself included.

There was a lot of sympathy for him and his family. Everyone recognized this as a tragedy. Maybe they'd even spend a little more time with a loved one who is in a difficult period, to provide a hopeful word. That is my hope anyway.

The real questions and fodder for long conversations, however, was that the man received a Catholic funeral. Older Catholics thought that was improper, based on their understanding of Church teaching from their youth. Younger Catholics didn't see anything wrong with a Catholic funeral, but didn't know Church teaching precisely on the matter.
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Lee Gilbert said...

Matthew Gambino concludes his column with a pernicious quote from Ronald Rohlheiser:

"The Christian response to suicide should not be horror, fear for the person's eternal salvation, and anxious self-examination about we did or didn't do. Suicide is indeed a terrible way to die, but we must understand it for what it is, a sickness, and stop being anxious about both the person's eternal salvation and our less-than-perfect response to his or her illness.

"God redeems everything and, in the end, all manner of being will be well, beyond even suicide."

Some time ago there appeared a book called The Tragedy of American Compassion, but this essay demands another book, "The Tragedy of Catholic Compassion"

The entire essays sounds very loving and compassionate and even concludes with a few "merciful" and "compassionate" phrases that transcend even the mercy of God by raising the hope that in the end all of us will be saved, no matter what.

Jesus, on the other hand, presents a much starker view. One cannot listen to the the Gospel of Matthew without wondering whatever happened to Jesus meek and mild. Practically the entire premise of his teaching and especially of his death on the cross is that eternal punishment, Hell, is a very real possibility and that many people end up there.

With regard to suicide in particular, certainly Rohlheiser's approach would be very soothing to the survivors, but for would-be suicides, listening to Rohlheiser would be...suicide.

Shakespeare wrote, "To die, to sleep, to sleep perhaps to dream. What dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil? Ah, there's the respect that doth make cowards of us all."

But Rohlheiser and company supply courage to the suicide.

Is there anyone whose life has been so smooth that suicide has never even crossed their minds?

How helpful is it, really, in that situation to have absorbed the doctrine that suicide is the result of mental illness, and therefore not something that would result in eternal damnation?

I badly want to commit suicide. Therefore I must be mentally ill. But if I am mentally ill, then I am not fully responsible for my actions. And if I am not responsible for my actions, then I have need have no fear of actually pulling the trigger, because God is merciful.

I can think of a young man who in Spring of 1964 came close to committing suicide, but instead cried out to God for help, though for the previous several years he had been an atheist. That night he had several vivid dreams, one of which was that he was blowing his brains out forever...the Lord's way of letting him know what he had so narrowly avoided.

Rohlheiser and everyone like him is a false teacher and run the risk of having to answer to God for a great many suicides.

"Between the bridge and the water there is time for repentance," said St. John to a distraught wife. We should not despair of anyone's salvation, true.

Neither should we smooth the way for anyone's eternal damnation.

Suicide is a mortal sin, and all sermons and liturgies that throw that fact into sharp relief for everyone are the best possible preventitive.

From my point of view, pastors who refuse Catholic funeral and burial to suicides are heroes that should be applauded. They are a bastion against despair and death. They are lonely heroes whom we should console and encourage.

Anonymous said...

I do not think by calling suicide a "sickness" the author is diminishing the responsibility of anyone in any way. Our catechism says something similar, pointing out that there are circumstances that "diminish the responsibility" of ones committing suicide. By the same standards, wouldn't that phrase that also be "smoothing the way for eternal damnation"?

I think this author, and our catechism, teaches that there are mitigating circumstances for sin, but it is still a sin, and it still has consequences.

I think when one forbids someone to have a catholic funeral, he is making a statement that the deceased is outside of the bounds of Christ's mercy. I respectfully agree with Father Rollheiser, because while suicide is a GRAVE sin, and certainly the person who commits it is in danger of hell, refusing someone a catholic funeral is contrary to our belief that NO sin is outside of Christ's infinite mercy. Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

In my parish, a man under indictment for child porn killed himself and had eight priests on the altar for his funeral.

While acknowledging the family's pain, under the circumstances, perhaps a bit of discretion ....

Anonymous said...

I think when one forbids someone to have a catholic funeral, he is making a statement that the deceased is outside of the bounds of Christ's mercy.

No, because the Church in Her wisdom never forbade the offering of Masses for suicides but only public funeral rites.

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