Wednesday, December 21, 2005

May God have mercy

I’ve been in Catholic education for 21 years now. A few days ago, I attended the funeral for a former student who committed suicide. It was my fourth such funeral.

The first student was a son of a doctor, who killed himself in the early 1990’s, while a sophomore in college. The second was a most troubled young man, even in high school, who ended his life at the age of 28 about five years ago. The third was a 1991 graduate of Catholic High, a priest and our chaplain, who died this July at 32 years. In this latest case, we buried the only son of a female faculty member, who killed himself at the age of 34.

Interestingly, all were young men. I know each of these families well, and I cannot deduce any common denominator beyond that, except that they all came from loving families, contrary to what one might think. Two were raised by single mothers, two were part of in tact families. Two were only children, whereas two were from larger families. One was intelligent, the other three were average in academic abilities. With the exception of the second student, nothing about their lives in high school “red-flagged” them as suicide risks. Life treated them poorly after graduation.

Still, I am angry. Suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness. If that sounds too harsh, one need only attend any of these four funerals and witness first hand the anguish and guilt that the mother, father, sisters, aunts, grandparents, cousins, teachers, friends and ministers felt on that occasion. They are haunted by the questions "What more could I have done?" and "Why?" For these families, everything in their lives came to a crashing halt for several weeks, assuming that they are able to resume some sort of normalcy in that length of time. Some will never recover entirely.

One image I cannot shake from this recent funeral is that of the broken mother, a colleague of mine and a woman full of spirit and strength on every other occasion that I have known her. God, I weep for her! There can be no greater hurt than this.

The Catechism has it right when it says:

“(Suicide ) offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.” (2281)

Yet we also know that while objectively these young men have committed an act of supreme selfishness, subjectively, because of their overwhelming mental anguish, their guilt is lessened. For this reason, the Cathechism also says:

”Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.” (2282)

Because we believe in a loving and forgiving God, we know that God will forgive each of my former students. Despite whatever crosses they carried, there will be a resurrection, for God will have mercy on them.

My prayers are for the tormented families who remain behind. May God have mercy on THEIR souls most of all.