Suicide: the Ultimate and Absolute Evil

Herbert, John Rogers; The Youth of Our Lord.

Our Lord was probably a teenager when the Roman general Publius Quinctilius Varus impaled himself on his own sword in despair for having lost three legions in combat with Germanic tribesmen. Thirty years earlier Mark Antony had killed himself the same way in Egypt. The Celtic queen Boudica poisoned herself in Britain some sixty years later, and then, if the historian Josephus is to be believed, there was the mass suicide of Jews on Masada in the year 73.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Albigensian cult thought that all created beings were the work of an evil power and considered suicide the ultimate good, as it freed the soul from the “prison” of the body. Contrary to those pessimists, life is sacred: “You have been purchased at a price, so glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). Consequently, “We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2280).

Thus Chesterton, who fought serious depression, said: “Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in life . . . The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world.” Though suicides were once denied Requiem blessings, the Church now teaches that a suicide victim’s responsibility can be diminished by “grave psychological disturbances, anguish or grave fear of hardship, suffering or torture” (CCC 2282).

Much publicity attended the recent suicides of a woman who designed fashionable handbags, and a celebrity chef. I never availed myself of their apparent talents, yet one wonders whether such lives might have been spared had the victims of their own hands studied more intently the wounds in the hands of the One who died so that “none be lost and all be saved.”

Suicide rates in our country in all age groups have climbed nearly 30% in the last generation. Among women between ages 45 and 64, who were promised sexual and social liberation, suicides have increased 60% in the last twenty years. While not wanting to lapse into the logical fallacy of “cum hoc ergo propter hoc” (a coincidence must be a consequence), these figures almost exactly match the increased number of Americans who say they have no faith or belong to no religion.

The only suicide whose fate is certain was Judas, who fell into remorse rather than repentance, and the difference is that he was ashamed of himself out of pride, and so he “repented to himself” and became the “son of destruction” (Matthew 27:3; John 17:12). Christians should not lose hope for those they loved and lost. Saint John Vianney, that master of mystical intuition, told a woman whose husband had jumped off a bridge: “Do not despair. Between the bridge and the water, he made an act of contrition.”

*****

This homily comes from “Fr George Rutler’s Weekly Column” for June 17, 2018. You can also now hear Father’s Sunday homilies. Simply go to https://fathergeorgerutler.podbean.com

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12 Responses to Suicide: the Ultimate and Absolute Evil

  1. Simon says:

    Times have changed and even the Catholic Church attitude to suicide has changed.
    In an age where sympathy is emphasised towards people with mental health difficulties, how dare you print such bigoted and hateful things about suicide. Such things can only serve to make people even worse about their predicament, not better. I write this as a registered mental health nurse of thirty years standing.

  2. johnhenrycn says:

    Simple Simon (no offence) makes me call to mind a dear woman in my parish. Riddled with cancer she was – 2 or 3 years ago. Her oncologist told her that she had no more than three months to live and to prepare for the worst. She basically, but politely, replied: “Up yours, I’ve got a prayer network”. She is now pointed out by people in our congregation as a “Walking Miracle”. I know of other similar ones.

    I write this as a former orderly and morgue attendant of five years standing. Not sure this makes me more qualified than you, Simon, to address what is – first and foremost – a moral issue, not a mental health one. But I prefer to believe that suicides who are seriously deranged by physical and/or mental suffering can (I haven’t read this blog article yet) hope for God’s mercy. I wonder if my good blog companions here think so too. We range from hard core traddies to wishy washy liberals.

  3. KM says:

    Ah, Simon, you remind me of my parish priest, who won’t preach against abortion for fear of offending women who have had abortions. Fr. Rutler both offers medicine to those on the verge of despair (turn to God) and comfort to those who have lost someone to suicide. Suicide is a hateful thing, but it is never bigoted to speak the truth.

  4. johnhenrycn says:

    If I may continue with that *thought* of mine for a minute, Simple: The human race must never endorse the possibility of suicide as an acceptable alternative to suffering – not even in cases of extreme suffering. The human race must always condemn it with extreme prejudice. Do you know why that is, Simon? It’s because – as the idea of suicide, like abortion, comes to be seen as another permissible lifestyle choice, it becomes a lot more likely that mildly sick or depressed people (think of teenage angst, Mr Mental Health Nurse) – I was very depressed for months on end at uni, and so was my son a bit after uni – will consider it a socially approved alternative to simply sticking with it.

    You should read The Illiad sometime when you’re working the nightshift at the Broadmoor Insane Asylum or wherever it is you hang your stethoscope. People then were more than ready to suffer terrible agonies if it meant salvation for others.

    There’s much to be said for “Taking One For The Team” (meaning the human race) but suicide advocates never consider that aspect of the debate. Such people are too wrapped up in themselves and their own needs.

    I hope never to be put to the test I speak of, but if I have to, my prayer is to meet and greet it.

  5. Simon says:

    “There’s much to be said for “Taking One For The Team” (meaning the human race) but suicide advocates never consider that aspect of the debate. Such people are too wrapped up in themselves and their own needs.”
    Please do not think that I believe that the act of suicide is right in and of itself. What I mean is that we should not condemn those who do take their own lives and that we, together with the Church we belong to should show compassion towards those people.

  6. johnhenrycn says:

    Well, God bless you, Simon. There’s not a word in yours at 00:11 that anyone here – not even the author, Fr George Rutler, of this piece – disagrees with. If Fr George does , I side with your last paragraph; but I think Fr George is speaking mainly to sane people who are trying to understand and cope with potential suicides, not potential suicides themselves.

    Please stick around. We need more mental health specialists here, especially when Toad returns 🙂

  7. Simon says:

    God bless you too Johnhenrycn. I will stick around 🙂

  8. johnhenrycn says:

  9. Mary Salmond says:

    Great insights on suicide! And the consequences of our actions.

  10. kathleen says:

    Father Rutler has treated this terrible and delicate subject with great sensitivity and insight.

    Number 2280 of the CCC clearly states that many suicides are committed under “grave psychological disturbances, anguish or grave fear of hardship, suffering or torture” – thus under “diminished responsibility” for choosing this tragic act! Therefore family members and friends, who are left distraught and fear the worst for the immortal destiny of a loved one who has taken their own life, are given this consolation by the Magisterium of the Church that their soul may still be saved. There is also the hope that repentance could have been sought at the last moment of consciousness by the one who commits suicide!

    Yet it remains a fact that suicide is a grave sin under most other circumstances, where God’s greatest gift to Man, that of life itself, is refused and cut short.
    “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: as it hath pleased the Lord so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord” – (Job 1:21).

  11. Brother Burrito says:

    Dear Kathleen,

    Hear! Hear!

  12. Brother Burrito says:

    I totally agree Simon, and I have just finished a night shift where the parasuicide du jour was a 70+ widow who has never gotten over her husband’s death years ago and the loneliness it left her with. She drank herself to 5 times over the limit and swallowed the contents of her prescription bag. Amazingly, she has survived, and as I spoke to her this morning I discerned a soul that was merely desperately lonely and sad, and not one trying to throw God’s gift of life back in His face. There was even remorse, and a strong purpose of amendment, though I wonder about her ability to maintain that once she again faces her demons alone.

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