Pastoral Letter on Suicide
“I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
“Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
My dear People of God:
The Hope of Easter amidst the Darkness of Life
By the Paschal Mystery of our Lord, we celebrate his passion, death and resurrection. We have seen how Good Friday shattered the hopes, dreams, and expectations of his disciples and followers. They thought he was the Messiah, who will free them from the Romans and from everyone oppressing them. But he died on the cross and all was lost. But on Easter Sunday, Jesus is risen from the dead. He reigned over sin and death, more fearful then any human oppressors. This has changed their lives and perspectives on what life brings them. And it has changed ours too.
Easter Sunday brings us much hope even if our lives are full of sorrow and pain, sickness, death and betrayal. Jesus’ death and resurrections bring us hope in the midst of the messiness and bitterness of life. They make us express what St. Paul said: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not wroth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). Everything that we encounter in this life will be nothing compared to what awaits us in heaven which infinitely outshines the sufferings and pain that we might experience here.
Growing Number of Death by Suicide
These past weeks and months, we have been shaken by news of individuals, both young and old, who have died by suicide. This has surely left questions as well as great pains for the people whom suicide victims leave behind. And this has also affected the community and the local Church of Capiz.
As a father of the lock in Capiz, I repeat the constant teaching of the Church: “Human Life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end” (CCC 2258).
We were all created by God and he has made us stewards of our lives. As stewards, we are not the owners of our life. Only God can decide to take and to end it. In contrast, everyone is invited to nurture this life, to live it to the full in this world, to discover its beauty, to respect its nature, and to enjoy its blessings until it shares in that fullness of life in heaven.
Suicide, the taking and ending one’s life, has always been seen as a rejection of God’s gift of life, a failure in stewardship, an act of despair and a sin against the 5th commandment, “You shall not kill.”
We recognize, though, that a person committing suicide is oftentimes clouded in his judgment, otherwise he will not end his life. On the other hand, there is even an instinct in every person to protect his life and to keep it away from harm and danger. We do not deny that there may be “risk” factors which severely compromised a person’s ability to reason clearly and to act freely. Risk factors may include lack of family and social support, sense of isolation, bullying, and relationship problems which may lead to depression. Thus, it is not right to play gods and to judge these persons who died by suicide. What we can do is to pray and entrust them to the mercy and love of God.
The victims of suicide may have considered that committing such act will end their problems and those of the people around them. In truth, this has not offered solution at all; rather it has even created more problems, it jeopardized their eternal salvation. And for the people close to them, it left nothing but lasting pain.
Problems will always be there, but there will always be solutions. The Easter event and message will always bring us hope. It is not always Good Fridays, there will also be Easter Sunday when we will triumph from anything that burdens or oppresses us.
Everyone will always have problems. The important thing to remember is that it is in our facing, embracing and overcoming them that we will make ourselves stronger and better persons. A person is not great because he escaped the difficulties of life. This is cowardice. A person is great because he has embraced and survived the challenges of life. The burdens that we encounter in life, after all, are part of our purifications on our journey to that eternal bliss in heaven, prepared for all of us. The Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (4:16-18) made this encouragement on this matter: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
The Family and the Community’s Share to Offset Suicide
In this time where cases of suicide are increasing, we, the members of the community and of the Church, are all invited to make steps to battle with it:
First, families and homes can do so much to prevent such horrible act to happen. This can be done if parents journey with, if they give time to, and if they listen to their children and other members of the family. Unconsciously, parents often think that what happens in homes—the arguments, the quarrels, among others—do not affect the children. But in truth, these greatly affect them and in the process, give the impression that they are not valued and loved. When children see and feel that love exists in their family and homes, they realize more the values and the beauty of life.
Secondly, institutions particularly schools and the government should strive to dbe an extension of the family where everyone feels that they belong, are accepted and are loved. Schools should exert more effort in eradicating the culture of bullying, and in implementing dynamic, effective and up-to-date guidance services. Government should strive to improve and strengthen suicide prevention programs and interventions.
Thirdly, in cases where necessary, one should never be ashamed to seek help from some he trusts or from a professional such as a guidance counselor, a psychologist or psychiatrist. With anyone of them, one can talk what he is feeling. It is not good to carry the problem on one’s own. People who are facing difficulties in life should talk to people they trust, to a priest or to a religious who might understand their situation. When we know of someone who is experiencing depression, we should reach out to him. Even if we are not mental health expert, often what depressed persons need are people who are ready to listen without judgment.
Finally, as a Church we are called to cultivate the “culture of presence”. The CBCP Episcopal Commission on Culture in 2014 organized a conference on suicide where they emphasized the need to counter suicide by a “culture of presence”. Being present with anyone, letting them feel that we are with them especially when they are burdened would matter so much. There are readily available resources which people can share with others like “a simple smile and sincerely asking persons how they are.”
We entrust to the mercy of God all victims of suicide. May Mother Mary, consoler of the afflicted, give comfort and consolation to the families left by suicide victims. May we all work together as a Church to bring the presence of Christ to all.
With my paternal blessings,
+JOSE F. ADVINCULA, JR., D.D.
Archbishop of Capiz
July 3, 2019, Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle