The pastor of the Catholic parish a block down the street from my house committed suicide this past weekend. Two members of the staff found his body just before holy Mass was to begin Sunday morning. The priest’s suicide left the entire congregation in shock, and shocked me, too, even though I’m not a member of that parish.
I heard the ambulance siren that morning as I was dressing for Mass and thinking, “Oh, so sad. Someone is sick on a Sunday morning and might not get to go to church today.” Later, when I heard the news of the suicide, I thought back to the Sunday morning siren and realized, “Holy mackerel, that was him!”
That’s got me doing a lot of thinking, especially since the rectory is on my usual walking route.
The Church teaches that, “Suicide is seriously contrary to justice, hope, and charity. It is forbidden by the fifth commandment.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2325) The fifth commandment is, “You shall not kill.” Killing (with the exception of that which takes place during legitimate defense by military force), is a mortal sin, and mortal sin, if not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, can lead to eternal damnation.
We cannot and must not judge the state of anyone’s soul – that is for God alone – and so I want to be very clear that I’m not judging this priest; that is not my right.
What struck me about this priest’s suicide is this: In the past, whenever I heard about a suicide, I felt great pity for the person and wondered how in the world things could have gotten to that extreme. I would think, “Well, it must be that that person didn’t know God.” Or, if it was someone in the Catholic Church, I would think, “Well, it must be that they drifted away from the sacraments, since, if one clings to the sacraments one would never be tempted to suicide.”
But here…here was a person, a priest, who daily had the sacraments right at his disposal, who held the Eucharist right in his own hands! How could that suicide have possibly happened? I don’t know, and I never will know. Only the Almighty has the entire scoop on this.
What I DO know is that no one is immune from losing hope, even to the point of taking one’s own life. The priest that committed suicide was actively involved in his parish and known by his parishioners for his kindness and humility. He was loving and lovable. Yet, for whatever reason, he was unable to hang in there. The same could happen to any of us, if we aren’t vigilant. It’s not what we do on the outside; it’s what we do on the inside that makes the difference.
I invite you to join me in praying for the repose of this priest’s soul, and for the souls of all those who have committed suicide. I also invite you to frequently make an Act of Hope, so as to fortify yourself and your loved ones against despair.
Act of Hope
Oh my God, relying on your infinite mercy and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of your grace, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer. Amen.
Prayer for People Who Have Committed Suicide
Almighty God, Our Heavenly Father, we understand that Thy fifth commandment, “Thou shalt do no murder,” includes self murder. But in Thy divine mercy, we beg Thy forgiveness especially for (name), who have been so confounded by the pressures of this life that they felt there was no way they could continue. Grant, we beseech Thee, that they be forgiven their terrible sin and accepted into Thy divine providence, and that they may come to understand Thy ways and Thy nature. We ask this in Jesus Christ’s name. Amen.