A Christian response to suicide
Suicides that hogged the headlines this year remind me of a time when a dear friend allegedly committed suicide. I remember that the incident weighed me down with guilt and unanswered questions.
I felt guilty because my wife told me she had received a call from my friend, who was seemingly anxious and had hinted of a desire to talk with me just a week prior to the incident. As a trained counselor, I should have gotten in touch with her soonest. But I did not. I dismissed it as nonurgent and one that could wait. I did not suspect anything.
And then it happened not long after the call. I thought if only I had given her priority, maybe, just maybe….
Questions begging for answers also beset me. If she really committed suicide, what had driven her to it? Why she, of all people? She was such a gentle soul and a compassionate person. How could she have done it? And the chilling question I am
often asked in grief counseling: Was her soul damned because of it?
Today, the same questions still bug me whenever I hear or read cases of suicide, whether by a celebrity or noncelebrity, young or old, known to me or not. I also feel for those left behind, struggling with feelings of guilt and trying hard to make sense of the suicide of a loved one.
I searched for answers in my readings and discovered Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, a well-respected Catholic priest and spirituality writer who has taken up the advocacy to help people understand suicide and react to it appropriately as Christians.
Rolheiser has been devoting at least one post a year on the issue of suicide in his website (www.ronrolheiser.com) for several years now. In December 2017, he came out with his book, “Bruised and Wounded: Struggling to Understand Suicide.”
Rolheiser begins with the truth that human beings are both body and spirit. Just as the body becomes ill, so does the spirit. Either one can snap after a long bout with illness.
People can die from cancer, heart attack or stroke, which are physical in nature. But a person can suffer, too, from a propensity to suicide—a disease of the spirit from which he or she often cannot recover.
Like any fatal physical illness, suicide takes a person out of his life against his will.
Thus, suicide is not freely chosen, but a last-ditch attempt by the person to end
unbearable pain. It is not an act of despair or loss of hope, but a tragedy similar to
the case of the man who jumped to his death from the highest floor of the burning World Trade Center.
What, then, should the proper Christian response be when confronted by the suicide of a loved one? Rolheiser says: “Not horror or fear for the person’s salvation, but faith and trust in God’s goodness.”
A Christian must remember that God, in His infinite love for all, continues to redeem everything to this day, turning all manner of being, even suicide, into wellness.
A Christian must not put a loved one who has taken his or her own life outside the mercy of the compassionate God. God’s mercy and love are far more encompassing than can ever be imagined, that it can touch even the most hardened of hearts. Rolheiser refers to the Bible and says: “There is no private hell, no depression, no sickness, and even no bitterness so deep or so enclosed, that God’s love cannot descend into it. There are no locked doors through which He cannot enter.”
A Christian should also stop blaming himself and feeling guilty. Because, Rolheiser says, it is the nature of suicide to pick its victims in a way that excludes others and their attentiveness. But, this is not meant to be an excuse for the Christian to be insensitive. Rather, it is an antidote against his or her false sense of guilt after having been confronted by the suicide of a loved one.
Finally, Rolheiser ends with this reminder: “A good person will always be a good person. Nothing can change that… not even suicide.”
Danilo G. Mendiola, 76, is retired from corporate work. He and his wife now work as volunteer coordinators in the Marriage Prep Ministry of their parish in Quezon City.
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