He felt so bad that
 "he prayed for death."

In the first reading the prophet Elijah felt so bad that "he prayed for death." King Ahab's wife, the wicked Queen Jezebel, had threatened to kill Elijah. She had given the prophet 24 hours to run for his life, then she would release her henchmen to find him and kill him. He ran and hid in a cave. He felt tired and hungry, defeated and hated, afraid and a failure. The prophet cries out, "This is enough, O Lord! Take my life." The Scriptures add, he felt so bad that "he prayed for death."

This past week, my sister Helen telephoned me from South Jersey. She was crying hysterically. A neighborhood girl who had grown up with my sister's three daughters had just committed suicide at age 33. My whole family, myself included, knew this young girl. Nobody could make sense of this. She had a very loving husband, a seven year old daughter, and a two month old son. She and her family, and her parents had just returned home from a camping vacation. She had been making plans to go back to college. ... My sister and her three daughters were full of tears asking "why, why, why?". My sister described this young woman as an excellent mother who loved her children dearly. Family and friends wondered if maybe someone had broken into the home, and this was a homicide. But the young woman had left a hand written suicidal note to her husband and children. Maybe the medications which she had been taking for post-partum depression had driven her to do this? Maybe this, maybe that. All questions of "why" remained unanswered. My nieces asked me how would God judge this young woman? Will my nieces see their friend in heaven?

A few comments, please. This event is a terrible tragedy. Suicides leave the survivors asking a hundred questions that will never be answered adequately on earth. The survivors feel terrible; they repeated, "Why did she not call and talk to me? Why did I not see signs of how bad she felt? Did anybody else see any signs of this coming?" Everyone's heart remains broken; an emotional scar has seared the hearts of all who loved this person. I feel sorry for the young woman who committed suicide, and for her husband, her two young children, her parents, siblings, friends, and all who knew and loved her.

A few questions, please. Why did this person commit suicide? Suicide is inexplicable. This act goes beyond reason. As my nieces said, "she could not have been in her right mind." Exactly. The person who commits suicide is not thinking clearly. On another day, in another context, it is highly unlikely that this person would have done this misdeed. The Catholic Catechism instructs us: "Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide." (CC, #2283)

Is suicide a mortal sin? Yes and no. Yes, suicide is a terrible sin, objectively speaking. But if someone is not in his/her right mind, he/she cannot sin mortally. Remember the criteria of St. Thomas Aquinas for what makes a sin mortal: 1) the action has to be serious, 2) the person has to know the action is serious, and 3) the person freely must will to do this action. Objectively, the action is very serious. Subjectively, the person probably was not thinking clearly. So objectively the action is a mortal sin, but subjectively it probably is not a mortal sin. St. Thomas says that God more easily forgives the sins of the passions (e.g., anger, lust, sloth) than the sins of the mind (e.g., pride, greed, manipulation).

Will this young woman be in heaven? That is God's decision, thank God. We are oftentimes too hard on ourselves and on other people. Just as we do not know completely what goes behind the closed doors of a home, so too we do not know what is taking place in the chambers of someone's heart. We judge behaviors, but not the soul. I am happy to leave the Final Judgment to God. Do I suspect she will be in heaven? Yes, because the presumption is that she was not acting in her right mind.

Overall, don't misunderstand me. Suicide is a terrible deed. It is intentionally taking one's own life. The Catechism reads: "We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self, and to love for the living God." (#2280-2281) Objectively, suicide is a very selfish deed because the survivors will be blaming themselves. The survivors' emotions will be scarred by this misdeed. Subjectively, it is a terrible tragedy because the person felt so bad that he/she did not or could not reach out.

How to deal with thoughts of suicide? First, don't entertain the initial thought. Don't play with this temptation. Remember the pneumonic HALT: when we are hungry, angry, lonely, tired, we are more susceptible to temptation. One of my nieces said, "It is like the devil entered into that house and took control for five minutes." That comment is insightful. Everybody on the face of the earth experiences temptations of some kind, even Jesus did. Bad thoughts come and go. Make sure that your bad thoughts go. Don't play with them; get rid of them. Our minds cannot think of two things at the same time; so get busy; do some mental work; start a conversation with someone. Don't entertain the initial thought of any temptation. Second, make a decision now that suicide is a terrible sin, and that you will never take your own life. Suicide is never an acceptable way to deal with reality. Don't wait until some day when you are feeling really bad, and you can't think straight to consider what is right and wrong. Know your principles now of what is right and wrong, and commit your mind, heart, and soul to doing what is right. Third, have faith in God that "all things work unto good for those who believe." (Rom. 8.28) Believe in your mind and heart that things do work out, maybe not as you had hoped, but "when God closes a door, he opens a window." Fourth, don't take life so seriously that you think about taking your own life. I'll bet that your grandparents had a smaller house, less money, and more troubles than you have, and they survived. Have a strong faith, hope, and love for God, and for the real flesh and blood people around you. Have a broad vision of God and of the purpose of life on earth. Remember why God created you: "to know, love, and serve God and others in this life and to be happy with God and others in eternal life."

God took care of the prophet Elijah in his difficulties. Similarly, God will take care of you until he is ready to call you to be at his side in heaven.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley