In April, popular DJ and producer Avicii died at the age of 28, and it was recently revealed that the cause of death was suicide. Earlier this week, successful fashion designer and businesswoman Kate Spade also took her own life. And just yesterday, talented TV personality and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain was found deceased in his hotel room from suicide. As we mourn the loss of these greatly admired artists, entrepreneurs, risk-takers, and dreamers, we are left to contemplate the questions that plague us after such tragic endings.
Fr. Spitzer is asked these questions by a viewer dealing with her own grief, and his answer may help those who are struggling with the loss of a friend or loved one. Please know our thoughts and prayers are with you.
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Catholics, especially, are thought to have a complicated, and often harsh, view of suicide: Isn't it a mortal sin? If so, what does that mean? How can we help those who are grieving? What about God's compassion?
Criteria of Mortal Sin
In order for something to be considered a mortal sin, it must meet three criteria:
- The sin must be of grave nature.
- It must be done with sufficient reflection and full knowledge.
- It must be committed with complete consent.
We know that suicide is indeed of a serious nature because it breaks the Fifth Commandment by unjustly taking away a life. But the second and third criteria are more complicated.
In order for someone to have full knowledge, they must have the time and ability to reflect on the matter. This means they must acknowledge there are other options, but instead have chosen to do this act. Furthermore, they must understand that the act itself is a grave sin. This isn't always the case for those who "see no way out".
The third criteria is even more significant to this issue. Even if a person is completely aware of the sin they are committing, it is possible, even likely, that there is an impediment to their free use of the will. Complete consent requires the full, unhindered use of the will, and thus the full and proper operation of all mental faculties. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states: "Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide."
Finally, God will not be outdone in generosity. We can trust that He loves our friends and family members more perfectly than we do.
Those affected by suicide may be comforted by offering up prayers, (especially these "Prayers for Times of Trial, Suffering, and Anxiety"), and by contemplating the love and compassion of God. The CCC reassures us, “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.”