Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Tweaking Dr. Ray

I like Dr. Ray. If I'm on the road when he's on the air, I usually tune in. Today, I heard Dr. Ray handle tactfully a hard question about telling young children about the suicide death of a close relative. I felt myself in general agreement with his approach, but toward the end of his extended comments, two points caught my attention.

First, Dr. Ray seemed to think that decisions on ecclesiastical burial (1983 CIC 1184) reflect a pastor's assessment of the state of the deceased person's soul. Not. But, Dr. Ray did not dwell on the point, so I won't either. His second comment was more worrisome.

Dr. Ray indicated that folks used to have "to wonder" about what happened to someone's soul after a suicide, and he seemed to imply that such "wondering" was an unfortunate thing. Hmmm.

Actually, I think we should wonder about what happens to the souls of suicides.

If we don't need to wonder, it can only be because we are sure (or think we are sure) that we know what happened to their souls. Now, only two things can ultimately happen to any soul under Catholic theology: either a soul goes to Heaven or it goes to Hell.

Granted, no one can say with certainty that "All suicides go to Hell" (because they died committing an objective mortal sin), anymore than one can say with certainty that "All suicides go to Heaven", (because they were terribly psycho-emotionally stressed at the time). And maybe that was Dr. Ray's point, albeit phrased oddly. In any case, the simple fact is, we don't know what happens to most souls at death, and when we don't know what happens in a case, we're free to wonder about it. In fact, wondering (and praying) is all we can do!

Recall: laws (whether God's and man's) against suicide imply that, to some degree at least, the act of suicide is a choice, and human choices have moral implications. God did not make death "illegal", but he did forbid killing one's self. So, if psychology is telling us that such-and-such factors always effectively eliminate a suicide's free will (and I don't think Dr. Ray holds that view), then psychology has some explaining to do to God.

Dr. Ray said that ultimately God is the only judge here, and he's right. I just want to be clear that folks are free "to wonder" about what happens to the souls of suicides precisely because there's substantial evidence for both outcomes in these sad cases.