Subscribe via RSS Feed

Pro-Life Even When it’s Uncomfortable

February 4, AD2014 10 Comments

\"Michael

I was blessed a couple of weeks ago to chaperone a pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and to attend the National March for Life rally in Washington, D.C. This was a week of firsts for me. I met my first Nashville Dominican sisters, visited D.C. and several of its sites, such as the Holocaust Museum for the first time, and I experienced my first March for Life and all it offered. I originally intended for this post to discuss the many beautiful things I experienced, such as praying the Angelus outside the Shrine with a close friend and a Dominican sister in the blinding snow, the gorgeous and inspiring Basilica, and my own interior growth from this pilgrimage. Unfortunately, they will all have to wait, because I wish to write on one particular aspect of the Pro-Life movement I discussed with other young adults on the trip. That is the latter part of ‘from conception to natural death.’ Last week, I learned one of my fellow graduate students committed suicide unexpectedly. We were not close, but this news does not diminish the shock or dismay of hearing someone in the ‘prime of life’ made the choice to end their life.

First Responder

There are a limited number of responses to a tragedy such as the suicide of a loved one: grief and numbness. These may be quickly followed by questions of frustration and, possibly guilt. How could this have been prevented? Did I do or not do something to reach out to make the individual feel loved and welcomed? My friends who knew this individual asked these very questions. One of my first thoughts though was for the salvation of his soul. Then, while discussing the nature of suicide with a friend, I began to think of how Holy Mother Church approached such a grievous sin. In times of confusion and despair, the Church provides us a safe port in the storm. There is comfort in the Church\’s foundations in Jesus Christ, and 2000 years of continual guidance by the Holy Spirit. Knowledge of the \’what and why\’ of a teaching gives the faithful firm ground to stand upon.

The Church\’s teachings, however, is where I think we get into sticky territory. Like divorce or ‘leaving’ Catholicism, the Church’s teaching on suicide is one issue that most Catholics do not fully comprehend, and do not attempt to enlighten themselves. Instead, they look to secular answers to console their grief. First, some will say suicide is the right of the individual to end the life they own, and thus is not wrong. Second, suicide can never be a sin, because anyone who commits suicide is not in their right mind, and thus are not culpable for their actions. Third, saying suicide is wrong is callous and inconsiderate of the victim’s family.

I do believe that some sincerely offer these or similar consolations to families, because there is very little one can offer in those first moments of grief. Our good desire to help others feel better cannot come at the price of denying the reality of sin and its consequences. These sentiments are merely a part of our culture’s desire for an amoral world without consequences; a place where all things are possible and can be justified as a right, even a morbid one. St. Thomas Aquinas tackled similar statements in his Summa.

Guidance through the Fog

The Catechism explains very succinctly what suicide does to the individual and those around them. You may find suicide in the Catechism alongside euthanasia and abortion under the Fifth Commandment: You shall not kill. Paragraph 2280 states,

\”Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him … We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.\”

For anyone who has first-hand knowledge, it may seem obvious that suicide is wrong, but we live in a culture of death where a life is only worth as much as it gives. While on the March, I witness hundreds of thousands of people marching for those who do not have a voice. I believe those who commit suicide might feel something similar. For reasons known only to them, they feel no one finds them worth speaking up for. One of the speakers discussed the difference in being Pro-Life and living Pro-Life. The subtle difference is reaching out with love to all those around you rather than simply subscribing to a list of beliefs. In other words, living your Catholic faith rather than simply verbally claiming it when it is convenient.

The shock my fellow students felt is a part of suicide’s impact on those around the victim. The Church teaches, CCC paragraph 2281, that “[suicide] 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.” Sin weakens and warps the bonds we share, especially and most importantly with God. Think of the words of absolution from the priest in confession, “…I reconcile you to God and the Church…”.

It is natural to wonder how culpable an individual is who commits suicide. Whether a person is given reprieve is not for us to know. That is between the person and God. People are fearful for their loved ones, rightly so, because suicide is a mortal sin (a mortal sin is an action that is a grave matter committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent). However, CCC paragraph 2282 explains, “…Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.” And, in the spirit of hope, paragraph 2283 states “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.” This in no way says suicide is therefore acceptable or no longer a mortal sin. What it is saying is we should pray for those who have committed suicide, and those who might be considering it. There is a danger in claiming to know the destination of someone\’s soul, or anyone who is not a canonized saint. If they are in Heaven then they are not in need of our prayers, since they reside with God, and we risk forgetting them in our prayers. If we say they are in hell then we may despair unnecessarily, because we do not know for sure they are in hell. The judgment is not ours to make. Our choice to love them by keeping them in our prayers, or not.

Why is this important to talk about?

Sometimes, someone doesn’t know something until you outright spell it out for them. At least that’s my often used approach. Suicide is a grave sin, and it should be discussed as such. The Pro-Life movement promotes the dignity of each and every human life. Each of us is blessed with the gift of life from God. I titled this article Pro-Life Even When It’s Uncomfortable, because being outspoken about pro-life issues can be very uncomfortable. No one wants to give offense, either to those who suffered a loss due to suicide or those who perhaps attempted suicide, but not talking about a problem doesn’t make it go away. A simple extended hand of self-sacrificing love could make a radical difference in someone’s life. We have no idea what an outcome for someone contemplating suicide would be if we showed love more frequently. If we treat each person with the dignity he or she was created with, then the person can recognize it in himself. As St. Therese of Lisieux wrote in Story of Soul,

I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was burning with love. I understood that Love compromises all vocations, that love was everything, that it embraced all times and places, in a word, that it was eternal!…My vocation is Love.

Each of us is called to love first, and foremost even when we find it difficult or trying, and all else flows from that love. The Catechism mentions psychological conditions and their effects on an individual’s culpability. These can be difficult to face. I would like to recommend a book, though I have not yet finished it. I listened to the author speak on this book, and found it a fascinating combination of modern medicine and faith. This won\’t be a fix all, but it could help. The Catholic Guide to Depression: How the Saints, the Sacraments, and Psychiatry Can Help You Break Its Grip and Find Happiness Again by Aaron Kheriaty, MD. There is a section on suicide, and the author has intimate experience with suicide. The book is mainly for those suffering from depression, but it also gives insights to those who are trying to help a loved one with depression. So, if I should end on any note let it be of hope. Keep loving and keep praying, and remember that you are loved.

© 2014. Michael Lane. All rights reserved.

About the Author:

Michael is a Texan living in self-inflicted exile as he finishes his PhD. in the history of early modern Britain. After completing his undergraduate degree at Baylor (Sic 'em!!), he decided his faith life needed re-evaluating and reinvigorating. He quickly realized that spiritual growth is a life long affair and not a quick fix. This created a thirst for a deep knowledge of the faith and a desire to share every nugget with others who may benefit. Michael is addicted to movies and books and enjoys quality time with friends and family.

If you enjoyed this essay, subscribe below to receive a daily digest of all our essays.

Thank you for supporting us!

  • james

    All well said. I like to take an eastern deistic approach on suicide which although quite
    contrary is unambiguous and logical. God gives us what we want in many ways though we sometimes don’t recognize what it is we have been given. The promise that you will not get a stone if you ask the Father for bread doesn’t speak at all as to what kind of bread you will get or whether or not you will recognize it as such. Since you cannot kill the soul, only the body, it is reasoned that those who choose this path will become disembodied – a ghost – and the karma attached is that the soul must hang around to see the consequences on the lives of those so affected until such time as their penance is complete at which time they are again embodied to continue their earthly journey to find a better way.

    • Michael Lane

      Thank you for your comment!

  • Phil Dzialo

    One needs to truly understand suicide. Suicide is NOT a desire to die, it is a desire not to live this life….there is a place in the middle that exists in the self of the suicidal person. To even mention mortal sin in the same sentence as suicide is to portray a lack of compassion for anguish and that anguish is so deep, so very deep that all we should feel is shame that we did not care enough for the sufferer. The sin is ours not that of the person who could no longer live…one of us humans failed….that is the real sin!

    • Michael Lane

      Thanks for commenting. I have posted above if you’re interested.

  • Pingback: Pope on Marriage: Not Based on Emotional Satisfaction - BigPulpit.com

  • cmom

    Yes there are people who commit suicide out of spite, out of revenge but they are clearly in the minority. For many people in a depression, suicide seems a viable option because you just want the PAIN TO END, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual. You have tunnel vision and you can’t even see the people around you, you are in a mental fog. So parents, friends and relatives – pay attention to other people, notice what the people around you are saying and doing, because usually if suicidal they are signaling a need for help, in fact begging for help in some way. If a depressed person suddenly seems to improve, find out why. Once you decide to kill yourself, a decision has been made and there is a sense of relief. This is when the people around them falsely think everything is going to be OK, when in reality this is when people die. Telling them suicide is a sin etc doesn’t really help unless their fear of God is bigger than the need for relief, and sadly the here and now is far more important than a future possible.

    • Michael Lane

      Thank you. I have posted above if you’re interested.

  • Pingback: This Week's Best in Catholic Apologetics | DavidLGray.INFO

  • Michael Lane

    Thank you for reading the article! I appreciate all three of your comments and I will try to address them as best I can. My apologies for the delayed response.

    First, my comments are mainly in response to Phil and cmon since you both seem to be expressing similar ideas or approaches to the act of suicide. Suicide, the act not the individual person affected, cannot be grouped or defined in either of your categories for those who chose to commit suicide. Each of you describes only one possible reasoning or approach to suicide for an individual contemplating ending their life. I can think of several peoples and cultures in history that not only allowed suicide but even actively encouraged it in certain situations (the most obvious examples being Rome and Japan). So, that said, to state a suicidal individual is always supremely depressed is incorrect (cmon this isn’t your post I know). Similarly, it would be equally wrong to state each person who commits suicide was 100% sane. Do I think the vast majority are hurt in some way when they take their lives? Probably. But, that does not necessarily mean suicide is suddenly no longer a mortal sin. A part which I did not discussed, but is foundational to Catholic
    teachings, is the moral law, that which is inscribed on the human heart. No
    one can claim ignorance of this for it is a part of our creation. Additionally, to be ‘guilty’ of a mortal sin (see Catechism 1854-1864) before God requires three things (all must be present): a grave matter (those acts violating the Ten Commandments in some way), acted in full knowledge (in other words no ignorance), and with complete consent (you made the choice of your own free will). Ignorance, depression, being forced,etc mitigate or even relieve guilt. Whether this is true for an individual may only be completely known by God. It is not for us to speculate whether those who commit suicide are in Hell or Heaven. We pray and hope.

    We must not ignore the fact that killing oneself is a mortal sin, all things being equal. Why should we not change this? Simply put, to change this teaching or to ignore it would be to try to change God’s law out of a misguided but heartfelt desire to make someone feel better. Which, in reality, we are only saying to comfort those who suffered loss through suicide. If we do not state that suicide is wrong, for its offense to God and those around them, then that is one less barrier between that person and a terrible death. If suicide is not wrong then what is it? Is it right? Acceptable at individual discretion?

    Phil you said, “To even mention mortal sin in the same sentence as suicide is to portray a lack of compassion…” Again, you are making a blanket statement of suicide about individuals rather than the act. Are you aware of what family members or friends did in an attempt to save a life? No. Not every suicide was someone forgotten, not every one was resigned to death with blinders on, and not every suicide results from depression and being unloved, but each is a terrible loss because we intuitively sense a life ended in a way at odds with love and our God given nature. My experience with suicide has been their families and friends were shocked by the death rather than expected it. I must state you are categorically wrong if we are discussing the roles of friends and families. Fr. Barron said a good definition (he may have been quoting) of love: love is to will the good of another and then do something about it. If I didn’t care about someone then why would I not try to help, tell them killing themselves is wrong, and that they are loved? Substitute suicide for any life destroying addiction or other ‘clearly’ wrong act. Would I be a loving person if I did not try and help and tell them what they are doing is hurting themselves and those around them? What grounds do you have to assist them if suicide is not intrinsically wrong? If it is merely personal preference of sorts then there can be no failures of those around them because it was none of their business. If suicide is an individual decision without any moral or eternal consequences than frankly you cannot claim anything. How is it our failure if the act isn’t wrong? To state blame is to argue that a preventable wrong occurred and was not prevented.

    So, yes, we should be showering that person with love and doing our best to insure they feel apart of our family and community, but that does not include creating a culture where suicide is acceptable. As for the argument that it is our fault an individual committed suicide, again, blanket statement of individuals which is incorrect. Cmom you said, “Telling them suicide is a sin etc doesn’t really help unless their fear
    of God is bigger than the need for relief, and sadly the here and now is
    far more important than a future possible.” I would say there is some truth in what you said, namely that the present relief is most important to them. However, we still shouldn’t ignore the grave nature of sin or what suicide does to the individual’s relationship with God or the community. Part of telling and showing others they are loved is constantly reminding that their very creation was an act of love by God. While I have discussed “future possibilities” there is a present reality of love, both from God and those around them, which they would violate by committing suicide. They might need to be reminded of this though. We must not simply say suicide is wrong but throughly explain why with love as the center and driving force of our efforts.

    • cmom

      But all things are NOT equal, which is why some suicides do get Church funerals. I at least, also, didn’t say you can’t tell someone suicide isn’t a mortal sin, just understand in may be meaningless to them in their current state. Its like talking to someone underwater in a swimming pool, they can’t always hear you. What you should do is ask them what their intentions are.
      Surprisingly, many people will admit to being suicidal. Then you get on the phone and sit there until help arrives.

      It is indeed , a balancing act.
      “What are the 3 conditions of mortal sin? A. 1. They are:1. Grave matte, 2. Full knowledge, 3. Deliberate consent.
      For a sin to be a mortal sin, besides it being a grave matter, there is also a required full consciousness of the gravity of the matter, along with the deliberate will to commit the sin.” is balanced by ” “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide” (#2282). This qualification does not make suicide a right action in any circumstance; however, it does make us realize that the person may not be totally culpable for the action because of various circumstances or personal conditions.”