Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On the death of Robin Williams: what the Catholic Church teaches about death and suicide

This week we heard the news of Robin Williams' death due to suicide.  I haven't watched his Dead Poets Society when it was shown in the theaters; I would love to watch it now, because of my keen interest in literature and poetry.  But one of Robin Williams' movies remained forever in my mind: Flubber.  In this movie, Robin Williams portrayed the absent-minded Professor Philips Brainard of Medfield College who created a flying rubber or "flubber".  His laboratory assistant is a Weebo, a flying saucer that talks like Siri in the iPhone.  When Weebo was destroyed by the villains, Philips found out that Weebo downloaded her software to the computer with a message for him:
Hello, Phillip. It`s me. Weebo. If I was human, that is. If you`re watching this, I`m no longer here. I hope my demise didn`t cause you any undue distress. Phillip, a full and complete design of me is in this file. You didn`t forget it. I never showed it to you. I`ve made a few changes. I`ve removed a few of my flaws...and added a little of you. I hope you that you can love my daughter... as much as I loved you. (Script-o-rama)
A. What does the Catholic Church teach about death?

This is what the Catechism says:
1021 Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ.592 The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul--a destiny which can be different for some and for others.593 1022 Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification594 or immediately,595 -- or immediate and everlasting damnation.596
There are only four last things that a Catholic must remember: Death, Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.  After Death, if you have not committed unpardoned mortal sin and has expiated for all your venial sins, then you go straight to heaven.  If you have committed a mortal sin and was not able to confess it to a priest or say sorry for it a few seconds before you die, you go to Hell.  If you have confessed all your mortal sins but was not able to do your penance or you still have venial sins, you go to Purgatory for cleansing in Purgatorial fire, as gold is tested in fire (c.f. 1 Cor 3:15), because nothing unclean can enter heaven (c.f. Rev 21:27).  As the Catechism says:
1031....As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. 
B. What happens to those who committed suicide?

Regarding suicide, this is what the Catechism says:
2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of. 2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God. 2282 If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law. Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. 2283 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.
In other words, suicide is a sin against the Fifth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill.  If done willfully with full knowledge that this is against the moral law, the suicide becomes a mortal sin and merits.  But as the Catechism says, God can make repentance to the dying at the last moment of his life, and in doing so, he steals heaven like the good thief who was crucified with Christ in Calvary (c.f. Lk 23:42-43).  This is the essence of the parable of the workers in the vineyard: at the end of the day, all workers get the same reward--heaven--even if some came in the morning, others at noon, while still others late in the afternoon (c.f. Mt 20:1-16).  Nevertheless, though the person who committed suicide may repent of his sin at the last moment of his life, he cannot still go to heaven directly but still have to endure the suffering in Purgatory.

C. Can funeral masses be said for those who committed suicide?

Fr. Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Angelicum university, makes the following answer:
Canon law no longer specifically mentions suicide as an impediment to funeral rites or religious sepulture. Canon 1184 mentions only three cases: a notorious apostate, heretic or schismatic; those who requested cremation for motives contrary to the Christian faith; and manifest sinners to whom a Church funeral cannot be granted without causing public scandal to the faithful. These restrictions apply only if there has been no sign of repentance before death. The local bishop weighs any doubtful cases and in practice a prudent priest should always consult with the bishop before denying a funeral Mass. A particular case of suicide might enter into the third case — that of a manifest and unrepentant sinner — especially if the suicide follows another grave crime such as murder. In most cases, however, the progress made in the study of the underlying causes of self-destruction shows that the vast majority are consequences of an accumulation of psychological factors that impede making a free and deliberative act of the will. Thus the general tendency is to see this extreme gesture as almost always resulting from the effects of an imbalanced mental state and, as a consequence, it is no longer forbidden to hold a funeral rite for a person who has committed this gesture although each case must still be studied on its merits. Finally, it makes little difference, from the viewpoint of liturgical law, whether the body is present or not. If someone is denied a Church funeral, this applies to all public ceremonies although it does not impede the celebration of private Masses for the soul of the deceased. (EWTN)
Flubber
Flubber
Teach Yourself VISUALLY iPhone 5
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Catechism of the Catholic Church
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Visions of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque (Visions of Heaven Hell and Purgatory)
Visions of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque (Visions of Heaven Hell and Purgatory)
Catholic Guide to Depression
Catholic Guide to Depression
The Divine Comedy (The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso)
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Order Of Christian Funerals / Ritual De Exequias Cristianas: Funeral Mass / Misa Funeral