BY WILLIAM J. BYRON SJ
No one can appreciate the unimaginable pain that is the ultimate explanation for such a tragic action. No one, therefore, can judge a person whose choice we cannot fathom, whose life we can remember, but cannot restore, and whose pain we cannot understand. This is how the Church tends to look upon suicide today.
The Church teaches that suicide is wrong; it is contrary to the Fifth Commandment. It is an action that runs counter to the proper love of self, as well as love for God, the giver of life. We are stewards of our lives, not owners. The person who takes his or her own life also wrongs others — those who remain experience loss, bewilderment, and grief. You won’t find anything in that teaching about going to hell.
Pity, not condemnation, is the response of the Church. Prayers are offered for the deceased. Mass is celebrated. Burial with dignity, in consecrated ground, is provided for one who dies this way. Not that long ago, Christian burial was denied to those who took their own lives. There may have been another denial at work in those days, too — denial of our inability to understand the pain. We assumed that those who chose to take their own lives were acting freely and under no psychological distress or illness. Or worse, there may have been a denial of responsibility to try to understand the pain. As your son said in the note he left behind, he just didn’t know what else to do.
So for those of us who remain, the Church encourages paying attention to the pain that produced the action. Then, look forward, not back, to pain within ourselves and pain in others, especially when we see no signs and hear no calls for help.
Do people who commit suicide go to hell? (William J. Byron SJ / Catholic Digest)