REFLECTIONS

THOSE WHO COMMIT SUICIDE, WILL THEY STILL GO TO HEAVEN?

THOSE WHO COMMIT SUICIDE, WILL THEY STILL GO TO HEAVEN?

The increasing number of suicides among the teenagers and specially the recent suicide of famous Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput has triggered in our mind this eternal question: “Those who commit suicide, will they go to heaven?” It was obvious when one of the youths of our parish asked me, “Father, people who commit suicide, will they still go to heaven? Is there any reference in the Bible? What does the Church say with regard to it?” I told her to kindly give me a day so that I can give her a convincing reply. The below is the reply not only to her but also to others who have this doubt in their minds. I hope and believe that it would be very helpful to clarify the misconception and strengthen our faith.

 

Suicide (from Latin sui = yourself and caedere = to kill) is commonly understood as the intentional self-homicide of a person. When someone dies as a result of suicide, it is a tragedy that can devastate a family and community. In such times, people often look to the Church for consolation and guidance, and rightly so. When we consider the four main eschatological realities of our faith - death, judgement, hell and heaven - the truth is nuanced.  “If someone commits suicide, will they still go to heaven?” is a question that does not have, for us here and now, a yes or no answer.

 

Before I address suicide directly, it may be helpful to recall what happens to us after we die. With death our ‘life is not ended but changed’. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) explains, “Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ” (CCC 1021). At death, our choice for or against God is fixed. We see this in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.

 

After we die, we immediately face what is called our “Particular Judgment.” At that moment, we are individually judged by Jesus and rewarded with “either entrance into the blessedness of heaven - through a purification or immediately - or immediate and everlasting damnation” (CCC 1022). We must be perfect to enter heaven, free of even the tiniest of sins for “Nothing unclean shall enter it” (Revelation 21:27). But if we are perfect when we die, we will immediately enter the joys of heaven.

 

If, on the other hand, we die with imperfections on our soul, such as the guilt of venial sins, we must be purified of them before entering heaven. Venial sin a less serious offence against the law of God. We commit a venial sin when we knowingly and wilfully disobey a commandment of God in a less serious matter. The process of purification happens in the state called “Purgatory,” wherein our flaws are “purged” in an unpleasant, but hopeful process that always leads to heaven. In fact, our prayers can hasten the process of purification for these souls. That is why we pray for the dead at every Mass and ask priests to offer Masses for the deceased.

 

If, however, one dies having committed a mortal sin without repenting of it, usually via the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they will find themselves justly condemned to hell. The very phrase “mortal sin” reminds us that this type of sin is deadly serious. Mortal sin, which causes the death of our soul, is the greatest obstacle to be in communion with God. It is a grievous offence against the law of God. It is called mortal because it takes away the sanctifying grace that is the life of our soul. For a sin to be “mortal,” three conditions must be necessary:

·  first, the sin must be a grave, or serious matter (the thing must be very bad);

·  second, the sin must be committed with knowledge of its seriousness (we must know what we are doing); and,

·  finally, the sin must be committed freely (we must really want to do it).

 

Let us apply these conditions to the sin of suicide. As the Catechism puts it, “We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of” (CCC 2280). To take a life is a very serious matter. It certainly satisfies the first condition for a mortal sin. In almost every case, the second condition is also met. People instinctively know they ought to preserve, not end, their lives. The third condition, however, is not so clear. If someone acts to end their life, how freely did they act? Only God usually knows, and He considers all the circumstances when assigning guilt. If a person’s judgment was impaired by depression, anguish, fear, sufferings, drugs or financial constraints, God would understand there was some lack of freedom to the choice made, that the sin in that case may not have been mortal, that the person may not deserve damnation for it. Again, from the Catechism: “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. 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 2282-2283). YOUCAT 288 says: "Man is responsible for everything he does consciously and voluntarily. No one can be held (fully) responsible for something he did under coercion, out of fear, ignorance, under the influence of drugs or the power of bad habits."

 

The Fifth Commandment also makes clear that God alone is the Lord over life and death: "You shall not murder" (Ex 20:13). This commandment includes: "Murder and acting as an accomplice to murder are forbidden. Killing unarmed civilians during a war is forbidden. The abortion of a human being, from the moment of conception on, is forbidden. Suicide, self-mutilation, and self-destructive behaviour are forbidden. Euthanasia - killing the handicapped, the sick, and the dying - is also forbidden." (YOUCAT 379). The Church has also always regarded suicide as being in opposition to Jesus' command to love, which especially stressed the importance of loving yourself as well: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself” (Lk 10:27).

 

St. John Vianney, the famous parish priest of Ars, France, once encountered a woman who was very troubled. Her irreligious husband had died after jumping from a bridge. She worried he was in hell. When he encountered her near his church, Fr. Vianney had no way of knowing about this unfortunate situation, except by a special grace from God. He whispered into her ear the words “he is saved!” The woman was taken aback, so Fr. Vianney repeated himself, saying “I tell you he is saved! He is in purgatory, and you must pray for him. Between the parapet of the bridge and the water he had time to make an act of contrition.” The woman was greatly comforted by this revelation. We can find comfort in it, as well.

 

If someone commits suicide, will they still go to heaven? It depends upon the individual, and only God knows the answer. The Bible very vividly says that God’s grace and mercy are beyond our understanding - and His judgments are unsearchable and beyond knowing (Romans 11:33). It also assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord - “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” (Romans 8:38-39). One thing is certain: there is always hope that the answer is yes. So, we pray for them. Should they be in purgatory, may their journey to heaven be swift.