In his years as a priest, St. Henry pastor Father Mark Beckman has celebrated as many as half a dozen funeral liturgies for people who have died by suicide. At one such funeral last spring at St. Henry Church, he recalled, “you could feel that palpable sadness.”
“One of the things I’ve become aware of, whenever something like this happens it has a ripple effect,” said Father Beckman. “As a priest, you’re conscious of the fact you’re not only ministering to the direct family but to the community.”
St. Paul says that none of us lives for oneself, that all that they do, for good or bad, affects the rest of the community, Father Beckman said. “We all are created to the body of Christ. … It’s important to speak about that connection.”
In his homilies for a funeral in the case of a suicide, Father Beckman encourages anyone else who might be struggling and considering suicide themselves to seek help. “Don’t live with that thought alone, reach out for help, connect with someone,” is his message.
“One of the things that has often struck me is that a person who would make a choice to end their own life must have a darkness in their life and they can’t see how much they’re loved by the people around them,” Father Beckman said.
“Sometimes, I remind people we are all wounded in some ways, but for that person, they were wounded deeply in a way we could not see,” he said.
As a priest, Father Beckman has seen the pain a suicide can inflict on family and friends. “In my experience, when a person chooses to end their life, the family is usually in shock in the beginning,” he said. “None of them had an inkling that that was going to happen. The grief is overwhelming.”
They often turn to their church in their grief. “We often can’t heal the pain of the family members left behind, but we can show up, we can listen, and we can care,” Father Beckman added. “So, it’s the ministry of presence.”
Family and friends of a person who dies by suicide are often afraid of what will happen to that person’s soul, Father Beckman said. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers some helpful and reassuring guidance, he said.
Suicide is wrong because it “contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life,” and because it “unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations,” according to the Catechism.
But the Catechism adds: “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.”
“I think this is really important,” Father Beckman said. Most people who choose suicide “have been experiencing a high level of pain,” he added.
The Catechism adds: “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.”
“I often remind people of that,” Father Beckman said. “We ask that God will now be able to heal them so they can enter into the fullness of His life.”