Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

May 30, 2007



            We were just getting dinner when the phone rang. It was Fr. John, the priest from the nearby Episcopal parish.  He is also the state police chaplain.

            There had been a suicide. A 62 year old lady had asphyxiated herself in her car with carbon monoxide poisoning. Her son found her parked in his driveway when he came home from work.

            We left dinner on the table. The seminarian who is staying with me came along. Dealing with suicide is part of any pastor’s life. I thought it would be an important pastoral lesson for him.

            When we pulled up to the house, it was easy to see why no one would have discovered her until her son got home from work. It was in an isolated, wooded area.

            At the foot of the driveway was a little cluster of people. One man was bent over crying.

            Fr. John was still there. The state police waited nearby. The funeral home was already there with their van. The undertaker had placed her body on a gurney and covered her, except for her face.    

            Oh what sadness!  I felt myself choking up.

            I put on my stole. Fr. John and I gathered the family around for prayer.

            What do you say?

             The first thing I said was how sorry I was.

            The second thing I said was that God will not refuse her. He loved her into life. He will bring her home.

            Thank God for the rites of the church.  When we have no adequate words of our own, they give us words to say. I started with the 23 psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd.”

            We do not usually anoint the dead, but it was not the time for an explanation of the “last rites.” I anointed her forehead for the consolation of the family. It was still a little warm.  

            I said the prayers for the dead and the commendation and farewell. “Go forth O Christian soul…”

            How should we handle suicide?

            Years ago the Church was so judgmental and harsh. Everyone has a story of someone was refused burial by the Church in years past.  Suicide was considered the “unforgivable sin” against the Holy Spirit.

            How foolish and cruel. As if anyone can know what was going on inside the head of another, especially an obviously depressed and suicidal person.

            Now we recognize the disease of depression and the darkness of despair can cloud our reason.

            Human beings have a strong will to live. It is fair to say that suicide is ipso facto evidence of irrationality because it goes against our basic instinct of self preservation. Therefore a person who commits suicide does not have the necessary “will” to commit a sin.

            Of course we buried her from the Church. The Church is at its truest and best self when it offers the consolation of Christ.

            When good people are overcome by a moment of despair, we should not judge them. After all it could happen to any one of us. I know that I have been certainly contemplated it. Were it not for the faith, I do not know what I might have done.

            Jesus gave people hope and comforted the sorrowing. His church exists for no other purpose than to carry on His work.  

            We are supposed to be there to lift up those who are bent over in grief, like the family in that driveway.

            If God did not spare His own Son for us, how could we think He would refuse anyone who comes to Him in with such a broken heart?