By Amber Kinloch
Many people have had their life touched by the issue of suicide in some fashion. I, personally, have grappled with suicidal thoughts and known others who have as well. I’ve also witnessed the consequences of someone committing suicide.
Even those who haven’t been touched by this subject so closely are confronted daily by mentions of it in the news. Amidst all the sorrow and the discussions regarding the causes, we might pause and ask:
What does the Catholic Church teach about suicide? Why? And what can you and I do?
How Does the Church View Suicide?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that life is a God-given gift. God alone breathes breath into our bodies, and He alone has the right to take it away. For this reason, “We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It [our life] is not ours to dispose of” (CCC 2080).
The Catholic Church has always strenuously opposed the act of suicide. While regarding it as a grave evil, she emphasizes the mercy of God and the hope of salvation for souls who commit suicide. Nevertheless, let’s not deceive ourselves. Suicide is a sin, and a serious one.
It is a sin against God because we take a life which rightly belongs to Him, not us. It is also a sin against ourselves. Instead of loving ourselves and pursuing our true good, we destroy ourselves. Likewise, suicide hurts those around us. We unjustly break the ties that bond us to others towards whom we also owe obligations (CCC 2281). Suicide is contrary to true love in every way.
Can the Sin of Suicide Land You in Hell?
We can see that suicide is a grave sin. But is it a mortal sin—a sin, which unrepented of at the moment of your death, will land you in Hell?
The answer is “maybe.” Mortal sin involves three components. Briefly put:
- A mortal sin involves grave matter.
- The sinner must have full knowledge of the gravity of their act.
- They must give complete consent.
Point #2 provides us a lot of hope for the souls of those who have committed suicide. As someone who has struggled with depression, I can attest to how it warps and darkens your mind. Other mental illnesses do the same. Likewise, a person immersed in a pagan culture that does not value life might be less culpable for committing suicide. They might consider it honorable to kill themselves, or do so after being publicly shamed and shunned over another deed they committed.
The truth remains, though, that suicide can be a mortal sin. The fictional example that comes to my mind is of the policeman Javert in Les Misérables. For years, he pursues the protagonist Jean Valjean, a former convict. When the two finally meet, Jean Valjean begs permission to perform one last act of mercy for another character before going to prison with Javert. Javert reluctantly permits this. Left alone, “Javert finds himself unable to reconcile Valjean’s merciful acts with his perception of Valjean as an irredeemable criminal. Finding himself torn between his beliefs about God and his desire to adhere to the law, Javert commits suicide by throwing himself into the Seine” (from “Les Misérables (musical)” article on Wikipedia).
Javert here appears to be in full possession of his mind. Up to this point, he’s always presumed himself in the right. When he’s shown the truth, rather than embracing the reality of God’s Mercy, he purposefully rejects it and kills himself. He chooses Hell by shutting the door on God.
We, of course, can never know what the case is with another person. We can judge someone’s actions and occasionally their intentions, but never their soul. That is for God to do.
Indeed, we should have no desire to judge. Our focus should be on imploring God’s mercy for the other person, not condemning them, for we ourselves are in need of the same mercy.
What Hope is There for Victims of Suicide?
While recognizing the grave evil of suicide, the Church extends us hope regarding the victims of it, attesting: “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” (CCC 2283).
Remember, God is not bound by time like we are. In the few seconds between someone jumping from a window and hitting the pavement, you and I might not be able to do anything. But God can do a lot.
The whole of our life, God is pursuing us, seeking to draw us ever closer to Himself. He desires our salvation so earnestly that He died in the most tortuous, humiliating way on a Cross for us. He has personally experienced the full depth of human misery and despair. He knows what death brings, and He will flood us at that moment with graces beyond imagining. We need only open the door a crack to let Him in.
Pray for those who have committed suicide. It might seem too late, but it’s not. I repeat, God is not bound by time. Those prayers and sacrifices God foresaw you offering for someone decades after they killed themselves may be what saved their soul.
What Can We Do Beyond Praying?
Besides prayer, there are other defenses we can employ against the scourge of suicide. The first is to be watchful. Build and maintain strong bonds with those around you, especially the most vulnerable. Trust your gut when it tells you something isn’t right with that person who’s always sitting by themselves or who never smiles or whose laughter lacks joy. Gently and tactfully draw close to those who are suffering or ask someone else to assist if needed. Don’t pass by silently.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself is one of the best gifts you have to offer others. If you find yourself struggling in a serious way, be honest with yourself and others and get help. Don’t let things slide.
Have the courage to talk about the subject of suicide. Share what the Church teaches with others. In this world darkened by sin, people are desperately in need of the light of Truth. Tell them we’re engaged in a spiritual war. Share with them how much they’re loved by God and lead them to Him through your words and actions. Bring Christ to them and fight against assisted suicide. Offer hope.
Finally, keep your gaze riveted on God. In the darkest hours when you feel sunk in a pit of despair, nurture the hope of Heaven within yourself. Cling to God. Any suffering can be borne with Him. This torture, whatever it is, will not last. It will end, perhaps just in a few moments. Trust God. He’s permitting this for a reason. He will not let you be tested beyond your strength.
Amber writes from the bunker of her living room. There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life. Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.