You may have heard of Rick Warren, the author of the book, The Purpose Driven Life, which has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. Warren is the Evangelical Christian pastor of Saddleback Church, which is located in Lake Forest, California. Saddleback Church has more than 20,000 members and is the eighth largest church in the United States.
Warren is a genuine Christian leader who, despite an immense amount of pressure from outside groups and the media, has refused to abandon his traditional evangelical beliefs. He is opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage, and is an advocate of abstinence-only education, instead of the use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS.
Warren married his wife Kay in 1975, and they subsequently raised three children. On the morning of April 5, 2013, their youngest son, Matthew, committed suicide. The day after Matthew’s death, Warren sent an email to the members of his church that stated, in part:
No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now. Our youngest son, Matthew, age 27, and a lifelong member of Saddleback, died today.
You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man. He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them.
But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.
There are some who believe that suicide is an unforgivable sin that condemns a person to eternal damnation. As Catholics, we know that this is not true, unless the person who committed suicide met the three conditions that are necessary for a mortal sin to occur. Those three conditions are set forth in paragraph 1857 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1. The subject matter of the sin must be grave. (e.g., murder, adultery, blasphemy).
2. The sinful act must be committed with full knowledge and awareness of the grave nature of the sin.
3. The sinful act must be committed with deliberate and complete consent.
Paragraphs 1859 and 1860 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church state:
Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin. (Para. 1859)
Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest. (Para. 1860) (Emphasis Added)
There is a strong likelihood that a person who is mentally ill does not have the mental capacity or ability to understand the sinfully grave nature of suicide, or to fully and deliberately consent to committing the act of suicide, with a full understanding of its grave nature.
So what can you do if you know that you or a family member has a mental illness or condition that causes severe depression or despair that makes you (or your family member) vulnerable to the temptation to commit suicide?
When considering how to prevent a suicide, we need to first consider the window of time that is most critical in determining whether a person is going to take his or her own life. That window of time is the 60 minutes before the actual act occurs. I’m focusing here on the spiritual aspect of what occurs during the 60 minutes leading up to the moment of death.
In a talk that Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen gave during a retreat for priests and religious sisters, he commented on the agony in the garden and statements that our Lord made to some of his apostles:
And then the question…“Can you not watch one hour with me?” Now this was a very profound question. The word hour is used in the Gospel [of John] seven times. In every single instance the hour means evil. The powers of darkness. The atheistic will of man. The anti-God spirit. And seven times it’s used. God has His day. The devil has his hour. And so our Blessed Lord would use it in such instances as these. When they attempted to stone him three times, he said, “My hour has not yet come.” On his way to Jerusalem, [He said] “Should I ask to be delivered from this hour? It is for this hour that I have come.” And Judas? [Our Lord said] “This is your hour.” … And when Judas went out, our Lord said, “Father, the hour has come.” … So the word hour is always related to the evil of the world.
If you grew up in the Catholic faith, one of the first prayers you learned was the Hail Mary prayer:
Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
In that short prayer, we’re specifically asking the Mother of God to pray for us during the critical 60 minutes before our death. It is during that period of time that the fallen angels who are aligned with Lucifer will do everything in their power to overwhelm us with doubt, despair, and hopelessness. It is their last chance to snatch our souls from God for all eternity.
I’m going to let you in on a spiritual secret. There is something that you can do to guarantee that during the last 60 minutes of your life — and during the last 60 minutes of life for each member of your immediate family — there will be an army of angels who will rush to your side (and to the side of each of your immediate family members) to guarantee that your souls will not be lost for all eternity.
I’ll share that secret with you next week.