The Mitigating Circumstances Gamble

My primary job as a parent is to help my children get to Heaven.  Their spiritual being comes even before their physical well-being (not that we don’t strive for both).  Our priests also share in this duty. It’s why Christ gave them to us.  If my child were to take his/her life by suicide, heaven forbid, I would want everyone who comes to their funeral to know of the tragedy and pray for their eternal soul to be at rest in Heaven.  So, when I see tweets like this, I get furious.

suicidemartinsmall

Unlike Fr. Martin, I actually waited for the homily to be posted before diving into it, because there’s always another side to a story. Fr. Martin could have chosen the high-road in this case, but he does what he always does, he pits people against our faithful priests. Let’s look at what Fr. Martin calls a “pastoral disaster.”

Before I do, I do not blame Maison’s parents for any of this. Clearly, many priests and religious teachers along the way failed them. Their understanding of death, everlasting life, funerals, etc., are contrary to the reality that the Church teaches. While it may seem life Fr. Martin is my favorite whipping boy, I only use him since he’s the biggest mouthpiece for misguiding the faithful and attacking priests who do not. He can’t help but comment on everything. He’s constantly putting people’s spiritual AND physical well-being at risk, and here he’s doing it once again.

This is Fr. LaCuesta’s homily from young Maison’s funeral.

My heart goes out to you, Mr. & Mrs. [REDACTED], and to you [REDACTED]’s siblings: [REDACTED], to Grandma [REDACTED], to [REDCATED]’s many aunts & uncles & cousins. It is with great difficulty that I stand before you knowing the pain and anguish you are going through. But I am aware, as well, that I am only a humble, unworthy mouthpiece. I ask God to use my words to bring the light, comfort and healing you need.

Is there any hope to offer in this moment? Must we only speak of our profound grief, our indescribable sorrow, even our anger and confusion at how such a thing could have happened? Is there any word from God that might break into our darkness like a ray of light?

Yes, yes, a thousand times. If we Christians are right in believing that salvation belongs to Jesus Christ, that it does not come from us–and that our hand cannot stop what God allows for us, then yes, there is hope in eternity even for those who take their own lives.”

Uh, what part of this doesn’t express hope and mercy???

Having said that, I think that we must not call what is bad good, what is wrong right. Because we are Christians, we must say what we know is the truth – that taking your own life is against God who made us and against everyone who loves us. Our lives are not our own. They are not ours to do with as we please. God gave us life, and we are to be good stewards of that gift for as long as God permits.

The finality of suicide makes this all the worse. You cannot make things right again. Neither can [REDACTED]. And this is much of the pain of it all. Things are left unresolved, even if it felt to [REDACTED] like this was the only way to resolve things. You want to turn the clock back and say, “Please don’t give up. We can work through this pain together. ” But now you will have to work through this pain by yourselves, or with those close to you now who will need to lean on you even as you lean on them.

Is any of this not true??? If you know ANYTHING about suicide, especially the suicide of teens, you can see that it can often be infectious.  You’d also know if you pay attention to pop culture that it’s being glamorized in shows like “13 Reasons”, which I find demonic.  This is EXACTLY the homily I’d want my surviving children to hear. First, they need to understand that suicide doesn’t make the pain stop. It results from the lack of belief and understanding that God can help us. Yes, there can be mitigating circumstances, BUT Fr. Martin goes down a dangerous road to suggest that one is off the hook from culpability because they are depressed, mentally ill, suffered some trauma, or really any other thing. We simply don’t know, and to say that is a fact is claiming to know the mind of God.  We have the Ten Commandments. We don’t have the Thousands of Mitigating Circumstances. We only know what we know, and we have to beg for God’s mercy on the rest. Fr. Martin’s comment just makes it all the easier to embrace suicide.

How do I know this? I’ve had friends who have been suicidal. THE ONE THING that kept them from going through with it, despite bi-polar disorder, depression, trauma, etc., was their desire to go to Heaven and not hell. If they had thought for a moment, “Oh, I’ve been through x,y,z in my life, God will forgive me”, they very likely would have gone through with it. Despite all their perceived insurmountable odds, they didn’t want to gamble away eternal life with God by killing themselves. They didn’t thwart all of their hope like Judas. How many times have theologians stated that the ultimate condemnation of Judas wasn’t from handing Jesus over, it was because he refused to believe he could be forgiven and saved? This knowledge helped them continue bearing their many crosses. Thankfully, some have gotten through their “dark night.” I wish Maison understood that. I’m just guessing he didn’t, because his parents don’t seem like they understood, either.

On most people’s mind, however, especially of us who call ourselves Christians, on our minds as we sit in this place is: Can God forgive and heal this? Yes, God CAN forgive even the taking of one’s own life. In fact, God awaits us with his mercy, with ever open arms. Sacred Scripture says clearly: God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). God’s abiding mercy is what sets us to ask for it. Although God doesn’t dangle his mercy like a carrot, waiting for us to ask for it in order to receive it, we do have to believe in our hearts, express with our words, and show in our actions – that it is always there. God wants nothing but our salvation but he will never force himself on us, he will not save us without us. That’s how much he loves us. Because of the all-embracing sacrifice of Christ on the cross God can have mercy on any sin. Yes, because of his mercy, God can forgive suicide and heal what has been broken.

Again, if I were a parent at this funeral, this is EXACTLY what I’d want my kids to hear.  We need to avail ourselves of God’s mercy, and we need to pray for those who are having or who have had trouble doing so themselves. This is the Body of Christ, people! When people are weak and screw up even unto death, we pray for them and we learn from it.

Because God is merciful he makes allowance for the spiritual, mental, and emotional despair that leads to suicide. God is able to read the heart, to know the whole truth of a person’s life, and thereby to pass sentence with mercy. God knows something we must discipline ourselves to do in these moments – he knows not to judge a person’s entire life on the basis of the worst and last choice the person made. God can look at the totality of a human being’s life and celebrate all the good that came from it, even while taking seriously the tragic choice that ended everything. And then he shows his mercy and love in ways beyond our limited understanding.

FR. MARTIN! Why is it OK for you to say this but not Fr. LaCuesta??? This isn’t something new to priests who actually follow the teachings of the Church. Like I said, maybe you should check your tongue. The difference is Fr. LaCuesta tells us why we don’t give up hope and we don’t stop praying for young Maison. We must avail ourselves of God’s endless mercy, but Fr. Martin insinuates that all is good and that all we need to do is comfort those grieving. How does that motivate anyone to pray regularly for this boy? How does this keep anyone from thinking of doing the same thing?

Nothing can separate us from the love of God, the great St. Paul assures us (in that Reading we just listened to). Nothing – including suicide.

Who will bring any charge against God’s chosen ones? St. Paul asks. It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn? Christ Jesus sits at the right hand of God even now, interceding for this one who could not stand before God on his/her own. Truly, none of us can stand before God on our own. We all need Christ to intercede for us, to plead our case. And here’s the good news: Christ has never lost a case!

What will separate us from the love of Christ? St. Paul answers that question with a display of words that cover everything he can think of in so little space. Not death or life, not angels or principalities, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth or any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What did St. Paul leave out of that list? Nothing. He did not list suicide, but he did not list murder or gossip or greed either. He covered all of those things in the final flurry of words that includes anything else in all creation. No deed is too evil to be beyond the forgiveness of Christ. No tragedy is too great to separate us from the love of God.

So Maison is not out of God’s saving grace. What parent could have a problem with this message? It’s quite clear that Mr. and Mrs. Hullibarger have been taught so little about the Faith that they didn’t understand what a funeral is for. In fact, the Hillibargers didn’t even tell Fr. LaCuesta that Maison had committed suicide! Again, I don’t blame them, but to tear down Fr. LaCuesta isn’t right. He’s clearly the one who is putting the spiritual health and well-being of Maison’s friends and family first. This isn’t done by simply going over all the highs in Maison’s life. This is about getting people to pray for his eternal soul, to keep further people from following down his path of despair (maybe his family and friends), and to get people to avail themselves of God’s mercy.

If that is so, if the Scriptures can be believed, if God can be trusted even in this, then it gives us hope and guidance for how to manage our sorrow and anger and loss. We give it all to God. We hope…we can only hope. We do not carry it ourselves. We try to give thanks for the blessings of life we knew and shared with [REDACTED], with this child of God. And we remind ourselves that he is not lost to God who seeks to save all of his children.

And we see the good father offers more words of wisdom and comfort.

And so, we take great comfort and consolation in all this. Nothing-not even suicide-can separate us from the unconditional love of God. It is to this all- merciful love that we, through our prayers, entrust and continue to entrust the soul of [REDACTED]. Let us not deny him now of the help he needs most-our love expressed through our trusting prayers.

My dear friends, today, and in the difficult days to come, when darkness threatens to envelop and darken our hearts, let us raise high the bright light of our Redeemer and proclaim his saving mercy: Praised be Jesus Christ, now and for ever!

And more words of hope!

So, again, I ask Fr. Martin where this priest went wrong? This homily is precisely what it should be. I know priests who have given just about the exact same homily in the same circumstances! Parishioners should be lucky to have this priest do their funerals. People might actually avail themselves of God’s mercy! Sad the diocese pulled him from funeral services simply because of years of poor catechesis, and let’s just ignore people like me who would want a similar homily, too, since I’m quite convinced I’m not going straight to Heaven if I make it at all. I want lots of prayers. Sounds like the diocese goes along with this Fr. Martin comment:

“The purpose of the homily in the funeral rite is to speak about not only the person’s life but the resurrection and the promise of new life of that person,” he said. “It’s to offer consolation and hope to the family of the deceased.”

Actually, Fr. Martin, wrong! The entire funeral is to intercede for the dead (no matter how they died) as the Body of Christ and to comfort the grieving. Homilies are always supposed to be used to catechize and, in case of funerals, to teach people that as the Body of Christ we believe in hope and redemption and we can pray for this as the Body of Christ. What in the world could offer more comfort that??? Heaven is not promised to us unconditionally, and Fr. Martin acting as if this is so doesn’t help us to avail ourselves of God’s mercy. To do this, we need to understand that we NEED God’s mercy.

One last thing I’d like to touch on again is Fr. Martin and friends’ attempts to get the faithful to rely on mitigating circumstances in all facets of sin, not just suicide. It’s a toe–the-line way of living out the Faith and it’s incredibly dangerous to souls. We’re supposed to stay as far away from the line of sin as possible, yet Fr. Martin encourages people to dangle their toes over the line and, if they should lose their balance and cross it, well, mitigating circumstances, you know. It’s terrifying to see people encouraged to live the Faith this way.

Please join me in praying for young Maison’s soul and for the comfort and hope of his family and friends as well as the rest of the Body of Christ. And, if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please read Fr. LaCuesta’s homily and contact your local priest or National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).