A few years back while I was on retreat, I received an emergency phone call. A teenage girl who volunteered with us had committed suicide while at home. I had to ask twice, Are you sure? She was vivacious. Pretty. Friendly. Intelligent. Loved. At the funeral, we learned from her parents that their daughter struggled for years with depression and had attempted to take her own life several times before. This time she succeeded, and the parents were left with unanswered questions. They tried therapy of all sorts to help her, and although she seemed to love life, when not with her friends, the darkness would overwhelm her. But why? What could cause her to want to take her own life?
It isn’t the last time I have been called and asked to pray for a young person and their family in a crisis such as this, and my heart aches for them, the unanswerable questions added to the burden of their loss. One question often asked, “Will my child/spouse/nephew/cousin/mom go to hell?”
We can take consolation in the words of Saint Benedict from his Rule, chapter 4 (73), “Never despair of God’s mercy.”
What is the expanse of God’s mercy? The scriptures remind us:
- “Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” (Joel 2:13)
- “Let us fall by the hand of God, for he is most merciful.” (2 Samuel 24:14)
- “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ.” (Ephesians 2:4-5)
- “…not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy…” (Titus 3:5).
The Old Testament gives hope to those suffering from the weight of sin, reminding us of God’s mercy and calls us to trust in Him. Jesus summarizes the mercy of God in the parable of the prodigal son. Blessed John Paul II explains this loving mercy, “This love is able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, and above all to every form of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and “restored to value” (Dives in Miserdicordia, Bl. John Paul II, Ch. 4).
Yes, the Catechism of the Church does speak of suicide and its consequences. We know that to take one’s own life is wrong. We were all given life by God, and thus we are responsible for our lives before God who has given it to us. We are stewards, not owners of the life we are given (2280). When one commits suicide she contradicts the natural inclination to preserve her life…it goes against a just self-love and, likewise departs from a love of neighbor as the act cuts those bonds of solidarity to which a person still has obligations. It also is contrary to love for the living God (2281). It is also a grave sin if one would take their own life with the intention of leading others to do the same (creating scandal) (2282). And yet, can we dare to hope that:
“God is greater than our hearts.” 1 John 3:20
The Catechism also states how, “…in cases of grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide” (2282).
Therefore, we should not despair of eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to God alone, He can provide the opportunity for repentance. We as a Church must pray for such persons who have taken their own lives (2283).
We have lived a Lent, walking in the shadows of the desert with Jesus, confronting the sin in our lives. If we are honest with ourselves, we know just how difficult that battle can be. Yet, Easter comes. We find in the suffering at the Cross the hope of the Resurrection. The paschal Christ, in Blessed John Paul II’s words, is the “definitive incarnation of mercy…as sung in the Psalm 89 (88): Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo.”
It is no wonder the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday on the second Sunday of Easter. We are given the opportunity to reflect on God’s mercy through the lens of the Paschal mystery. As we pray for souls who have taken their own lives, let us reflect on the words of Jesus, as given to Saint Faustina:
My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of My most tender mercy. Every soul in its relation to Me will contemplate My love and mercy throughout eternity. The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy. (Diary of St. Faustina Kowalska, # 699)
From the Divine Mercy Chaplet:
Eternal Father, I offer you, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ. In atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.
For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may Your perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.