It is at the confluence of hope and despair where the message of the cross shines the brightest, where the love of its Victim is seen in its fullest light. There, Jesus beckons us and at Calvary, he calls out and says, “I thirst” (John 19:28). What does he thirst for? He thirsts for souls, for you and I, because he loves us.
As a simple line from a children’s book tells us, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next” (Baltimore Catechism #150). If we lose this, there is nothing left. But imagine if we really believed this truth? Nothing, ultimately, could shake us.
Who in this world needs this message more than those contemplating suicide or facing death? I have been recently reflecting upon some of these things because of the reported suicide of Ariel Castro. His terrible crimes need no mention here, as that has been copiously covered elsewhere. I also do not want to in anyway diminish the sufferings borne by his victims, nor mitigate culpability for his crimes.
What I have wondered, though, is could his story, and many others who have also chosen that path, have ended in a different way? The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about suicide:
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 … to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God. (CCC #2281).
Yet, at the same time, the Catechism also mentions that God’s mercy is not necessarily denied towards those who do commit suicide:
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. 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. (CCC # 2282-2283).
For those who chose to intentionally end their lives, neither I, nor can any other person, presume to know the state of their souls. What we can do is pray for them and entrust them to God’s justice and mercy. But we must remember that for every sad, and tragic, and heartbreaking story, there are countless more testimonies that show us the power of grace and forgiveness, of repentance and healing:
We must not forget Alessandro Serenelli, a murderer forgiven by his victim, St. Maria Goretti, and her mother. We must not forget St. Dismas, the “Good” thief forgiven by our Lord and promised paradise while still on the cross. We must not forget Henri Pranzini, who was on death row, but was prayed for by St. Thérèse of Lisieux and found salvation before his execution. On one level, this is scandalous, but on another is this not amazing? Are these not miracles to see dead souls spring back to life?
Naturally, we also must not forget, if we are Christians, the story of our own lives and how our souls found God’s healing rays of mercy and forgiveness. No soul, I repeat, no soul is beyond the reach of God — yours included! For those burdened, for those anguished, for those sorrowed beyond all grief, Jesus opens wide his arms and says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Jesus was no fool, nor naïve, nor sentimental in his love for you and for I. From his earliest days, he was intimately aware of the depths of evil that the human heart was capable of. And yet he was faithful till the utter end. With his whole self he loved us. He saw us despairing and hopeless, and rather than staying far off, he came close to be and to suffer with us. His love is the fulcrum upon which we can begin to make sense of the great chasm between hope and despair, between justice and mercy, between faith and unbelief.
Love, it seems to me, is the only power in the entire universe that can respond adequately to the despairing soul. It is at the point of no return, it is at our darkest hour, when we have nothing else to cling to, when the only words are tears, when our souls are at the very brink, that is where we begin to realize that the only place we can find rest, and quietly be, and experience peace is in the arms of Jesus, in the arms of the Beloved. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (John 6:68).
In whatever way you struggle, even if it is with thoughts of suicide, I implore and beg you to consider this beautiful, precious truth that you are loved, really loved by the one who is Love. Your life has meaning. And it is good that you exist. Find good, solid help and support from those you can trust and then, hopefully just then, you’ll come to see this in the light of the Resurrection and find peace. Do not give ever up!
If instead someone close to you has committed suicide, you must not focus upon blaming yourself either but rather pray, and hope, and do not fall into despair. The Lord’s mercy is greater than we can ever know. One of my favorite quotes is from St. Faustina’s diary. It has helped me much in my own life. Regardless of what you have done or have failed to do, I think and hope it will encourage you too:
“My mercy is greater than your sins and those of the entire world. Who can measure the extent of my goodness? For you I descended from heaven to earth; for you I allowed myself to be nailed to the cross; for you I let me Sacred Heart be pierced with a lance, thus opening wide the source of mercy for you.
Come, then, with trust to draw graces from this fountain. I never reject a contrite heart. Your misery has disappeared in the depths of My mercy. Do not argue with Me about your wretchedness. You will give me pleasure if you hand over to me all your troubles and griefs. I shall heap upon you the treasures of My grace.” (Conversation of the Merciful God with a Sinful Soul, Diary of St. Faustina #1485).
Pope Francis, in recently announcing the date of Blessed John Paul II’s beatification, set it for Divine Mercy Sunday April 27th, 2014 and said, “This is the time for mercy.” Indeed it is! The world needs this message now more than ever. May God bless you!