I had planned on using today’s post to advertise my most recent video, a look at the first stop on this summer’s mission tour in Cedar Lake, IN. If you are interested, you can check it out here. But that’s all I’ll say about that.
More immediate to my attention are the suicides of two prominent celebrities this week: fashion designer Kate Spade, 55, and television chef/travel guide Anthony Bourdain, 61. Admittedly, I did not know much about Spade, but Bourdain was a favorite of mine for many years and his death yesterday came with great surprise and sadness. When I heard the announcement on the radio, I audibly gasped.
Maybe the most tragic thing about their deaths is that such situations are far from rare. In fact, they are indicative of growing epidemic. As the CDC reports, suicides in America are up 30% over a 17 year period. In 2016, it claimed the lives of nearly 45,000 people. Those are staggering and somewhat demoralizing numbers that really need to be thought about to sink in.
30% increase over 17 years.
45,000 suicides in 2016.
For me, there is absolutely nothing more tragic than someone taking their own life and there has never been a time that I have heard that word or thought about it that I didn’t immediately produce a tear in my eye. To think that it occurs with such frequency—and is getting worse—saddens me to my core.
It is because of this that this weekend’s Gospel fills me with anxiety and worries about what homilies people might hear. The passage comes from the Gospel of Mark, and towards the end of the reading Jesus is quoted in saying: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” Given our history in the Church regarding suicide—and given what I have already seen in the past 24 hours on social media—I fear that some priests will equate the two together, exhorting their congregations to work to prevent suicide “because those who commit suicide go straight to hell.”
I have a sick feeling in my stomach just thinking about it.
Besides being pastorally inappropriate and potentially devastating to those affected by such a horrible event, it is absolutely wrong from a theological perspective. While some in the Church might have said this before, it is absolutely not the official teaching. Looking to the Catechism, two paragraphs are of great importance:
2282 (2) Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.
2283 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.
Nowhere in our faith do we condemn anyone to hell; nowhere in our faith to we say that a sin is unforgivable. Everywhere in our faith do we say that our God is loving and merciful; everywhere in our faith do we say that our God knows the inner workings of our hearts and treats each one as s/he deserves. To judge someone on a single moment of their lives—a moment, not to mention, that is fraught with distress, pain, despair, and diminished freedom of will—is to forget the very essence of our faith: God’s hand is always open to those who need love and mercy.
And so should ours.
For me, one is too many suicides in a year. 45,000 is just unfathomable. As devastating as the deaths of two recent celebrities are, my hope is that their deaths may bring new life in those left behind. That from their tragedies, more will be awakened to the epidemic before us, moved with compassion to care for those who battle inner demons on a daily basis, and work to prevent every last case from happening.
If you know someone who needs help, let them know that you love them, and do not hesitate to step in and help. They may not know that they need help until it is too late.
For those who are having suicidal thoughts, feelings of despair, or struggling to find meaning in life, know that you are not alone and there are plenty of people who can help. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s website has plenty of great resources, and their free number (1-800-273-8255) is completely confidential.