By Fr. Jeffrey Robideau
A priest, Fr. Don LaCuesta, held a funeral in the Detroit, Michigan archdiocese recently, and during his homily he spoke the truth of suicide, upsetting the family, which had originally asked that he make no mention of this during the funeral. The parents have since complained to the archbishop, and the priest is being punished, ordered to undergo counseling by a brother priest on how to be more "pastoral." He is no longer allowed to give the homily at funerals.
That's the short of the situation. What I want to do is point out two things: The first is a statement that Fr. LaCuesta said that could be taken the wrong way, and the other is to respond to Fr. James Martin and his claim about God's mercy.
Let me start by saying that what Fr. LaCuesta did was pastoral on several levels, and I fully support him to the extent that I know the story. I know he was trying to be gentle in a sensitive situation while at the same time speak the truth. The pitfall that can happen in such situations is that the priest can be tempted to say something not quite true so as to soften the blow of Church teaching. And that happened here. Oh, I am sure he didn't do it intentionally. It's not even that what he said was technically wrong; it just needs a little tweaking to make it more clearly right.
There is a heresy called "the fundamental option." In this false teaching, it is said that God weighs the whole of one's life in deciding if the person will go to Heaven or Hell. If one is "overall" good, one goes to Heaven; if one is "overall" bad, one goes to Hell. The final state of your life does not matter, according to this theory.
This teaching is of course not true. When we die, we are either in the state of grace or in the state of mortal sin. If we are in the state of grace, we go to Heaven — with perhaps a stay in Purgatory first. If we are in the state of mortal sin, then we go to Hell. And it is as simple as that. No need to complicate a simple matter.
Now it may be true that God weighs the whole of our life in determining how long we will be in Purgatory or at what depth of Hell we will suffer for eternity. But none of this matters as to whether we go to Heaven or Hell. All that matters is whether we are in the state of grace or mortal sin at the moment we die.
With this said, one can live a good life and make one mistake at death and end up in Hell because one died in the state of mortal sin. It is also true that one can live a bad life and on one's death bed convert and repent and so die in the state of grace and go to Heaven. It may not sound fair, but God is not in the business of "fair." He is in the business of holiness, and either you are holy when you die or you are not.
Father LaCuesta said, "[God] knows not to judge a person's entire life on the basis of the worst and last choice the person made. God can look at the totality of a human being's life and celebrate all the good that came from it, even while taking seriously the tragic choice that ended everything. And then he shows his mercy and love in ways beyond limited understanding."
Let me see if I clean it up a bit. We know that we do not know the final state of a person's soul when he dies and so do not know his final end — Heaven or Hell. But, one might object: The man committed suicide, and that is a mortal sin, and therefore isn't he certainly in Hell?
Not so fast. We do not know if he met all three conditions to make it a mortal sin. Only God knows that. In particular, we do not know if he truly gave full consent of the will. If his will was impeded by fear, mental illness, threat or some other force, then Catholic teaching makes clear he did not necessarily commit a mortal sin. In this case, if he was in the state of grace when he died, then he would go to Heaven or Purgatory. (This, of course, does not exclude the option that he may have committed a moral sin in another area.)
The fact is that we do not know his final state. And that is why it is important that priests not canonize people during the funeral homily. This does not mean, however, that we avoid pointing out the sorry state in which he died. We must! It is the pastoral and loving thing to do. A funeral homily is about more than just the deceased; it also about the people left behind. People must know his sorry state and so pray for him. People also must know the serious evil under which he died so as to deter others from doing it. They need to see the pain and suffering that suicide causes those left behind. And they need to know the serious risk of Hell they place themselves in if they murder themselves.
In the end, this young man died in one of two states: grace or mortal sin. The rest of his life does not matter at the judgment. What is true, though, and what I think the priest was trying to say, is that the whole of his life may have contributed to his final decision to commit suicide. There may have been many conditions in his life that would impede him at that moment from making a free and full act of the will. Only God knows. But this does not negate the terrible effect his decision had on his family and friends that had to sit in that church and mourn the loss of a loved one. The priest had a duty to address this also.
In response to Fr. LaCuesta's homily, the celebrity Jesuit Fr. James Martin said, "Most of all, God's mercy is infinite."
We know what Martin is implying by this. He is saying that God loves us so much He could not possibly send anyone to Hell. God is just going to willy-nilly apply His mercy on everyone, so do not worry about that whole "Hell" thing; it's just a scare tactic used by a less "evolved" Church lacking in love and compassion.
Wow. How wrong can you be? But then again, he also believes sodomy is a good.
God is infinite in many things: love, power, knowledge, kindness, justice and, yes, mercy. In fact, God applied His infinite mercy to all mankind by gaining for us salvation through His death and resurrection. We accept this salvation through baptism into His life, death and resurrection. We note that we accept salvation. This is not to be confused with receiving salvation.
We do not receive salvation until we die, and only then if we die in the state of grace. Otherwise we go to Hell, for in the end we rejected salvation through mortal sin. And there is no amount of mercy, finite or infinite, that will ever be able to change that fact. You see, while God is merciful, he never acts contrary to justice. The two go hand in hand — mercy and justice. Too many want to focus on mercy and forget all too easily God's justice.
You see, people like Fr. Martin want to believe in mercy without justice after death. They want to believe this so they can lie to the people and tell them things like we all have a well-founded hope that all go to Heaven. Why? Because they want to believe that God's mercy can be applied after death. But the fact is that there is no mercy after death. Mercy is for the living — and even then, it must be merited. There is no merit after death and so no mercy either. Father Martin has to believe in his heresy. When you consider all the lies and damage he spreads, especially about sodomy, we can predict that he is destined for Hell as long as he does not repent and confess his sins before he dies.
The reality is that God poured His love, grace, kindness and mercy on that young man who committed suicide. Of that we can be certain. For whatever reason, he was not able to receive it, notice it, find it, or accept it in a way that he could refrain from harming himself. One possibility is that perhaps all that work God did in blessing that young man may have caused him to love God just enough that he did not want to kill himself, but was too weak to resist, making his choice a venial rather than a mortal sin. I do not know. But in any case the young man made his choice.
Thank you, Fr. LaCuesta, for not only speaking of God's love and mercy as the family requested, but also for teaching the more difficult realities in how God's love and mercy are applied even in difficult times. I am sure there were many who were suffering that day, not just because a loved one died, but also about how he died. With that in mind, both pieces needed to be addressed. You were a loving and pastoral priest that day meeting the many needs of all those present. Don't let anyone tell you different.
As to the parents, I understand that you hurt over all this. I understand you were in a place where you were not able to hear the full message that Fr. LaCuesta preached. Please remember that he had a job, a ministry to do that transcended your needs alone. He had a whole congregation there. Because of your tragic situation, God was empowered to speak through this priest and perhaps save the life of one of his classmates who was thinking the same thing. Thanks to this priest in his courage to speak truth, another family may not have to go through what you are going through. Their son or daughter was saved this day. This too is God's mercy. It is your turn now to show mercy and forgive this priest and love him as he loves you.