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."
Father George W. Rutler. "Wiping out the world." Crisis (June 17, 2018).
Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler and Crisis.
Photo caption: Coptic Christians carry a crucifix and chant prayers during a candlelight protest at Abassaiya Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo Oct. 16, 2011, one week after people were killed during clashes with soldiers and riot police. At least 26 people, mostly Christians, were killed Oct. 9 when troops broke up a peaceful protest against an earlier attack on a church in southern Egypt. (Photo credit: CNS photo/stringer via Reuters)
Father George W. Rutler is the pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He has written many books, including: The Wit and Wisdom of Father George Rutler, The Stories of Hymns, Hints of Heaven: The Parables of Christ and What They Mean for You, Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943, Cloud of Witnesses — Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.Copyright © 2018 Crisis Magazine
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