Pastor’s Keyboard: This weekend I had the type of funeral every priest dreads the most, the funeral of a young person, who has committed suicide. Vincent was a kid in my first parish, he was the type of kid that every teenage boy wishes he could be, athletic, strong, popular, funny, and everyone was just drawn to him. Vincent was very active in our parish’s youth group and could be found at church almost daily. He was adopted from South Korea by very loving parents who taught him about the love of Jesus by word and example. His two older siblings had been wild childs and Vincent was always determined to not follow their path. He worked hard in school and rarely got in trouble. He was not perfect, but he certainly strove to be good. After I transferred parishes Vincent’s parents moved to another area. Sadly, Vincent did not connect well with the parish in his new home and though his parents tried to keep him connected to our Lord, the lure of the world and its ways drew Vincent farther away from the path of the Lord.
Vincent’s older brother tracked me down around the time he was engaged. He had come back to the faith and now had a very deep and personal relationship with the Lord and the church. He wanted me to prepare him for marriage. He told me that Vincent had moved away from the faith and the whole family was praying for him. Later I would perform the baptisms for all five of Vincent’s nieces and nephews. Sadly, Vince did not attend them, and the rare times I did see him he seemed to stay away from me. I continued to pray for him and the family he would eventually start with his wife. A couple of months ago Vincent’s brother called me to give me the very sad news that in a moment of panic and despair Vincent had ended his life. I cannot express to you the deep sadness this caused all of us who love Vincent and desired to see him return to the Lord. The church teaches that this is one of the worst of sins, since it is the taking of a life, one of the most precious gifts that the Lord has given to us. Yet the church recognizes that people can reach a state where they do not use their reason to decide to end their lives. They can quite literally not be in complete control of themselves and therefore culpability can be reduced to such an extent that we can have hope that they are not doomed to hell but in purgatory being purified for heaven.
The hard part of this teaching is that in cases like Vincent we cannot be sure. We don’t know what was running through his head in that moment of panic. We can only have hope that he was not using his reason but that emotions and adrenaline took over and therefore it was not an act of the will. So, we pray for the repose of his soul, and we offer the greatest prayer we can for him, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I could never have imagined such a tragedy happening to Vincent’s family, yet we never know what will sadly come our way in the future. Vincent’s mom and dad and his older brother are people of strong faith and have just asked that people pray for Vincent. I too ask that you pray for him and for those who might be depressed and contemplating suicide today. Some of them might be among your family members or friends, your coworkers or fellow students. They may seem very happy, everything appears well, but behind the mask they are in a darkness that takes away their will to live. Let us pray that they reach out to us and most of all to God Himself. I’m sure that there is somebody reading this pastors column right now who finds themselves in this darkness. Know that there is Help and Hope, please please come and see me, you are not alone, and I know professional Christian councilors who can help you. Don’t wait! Don’t think you have to do it on your own! God had me share this deeply personal tragedy in my life to help you and others to recognize that this can happen to anyone, you are not alone!
Your Father and Brother in Christ,