This Day Thou Shalt Be With Me In Paradise
I was 15 years old the first time someone I knew committed suicide. Up until that point, suicide was something that happened in books, on TV shows, on the news, and through the lives of acquaintances. That summer, however, a family friend chose to take his own life. As a teenager I struggled to reconcile what I knew about Church teaching with the reality of what had happened. During the funeral Mass the priest reminded us that God is not above mercy or forgiveness; I began to find a middle ground between the God who says that it was better for Judas not to have been born, and the God of Divine Mercy.
Fast forward six years. Once again my life was touched by suicide. This time, however, it was much closer. I was 21 years old when my cousin killed himself; he was only 25. It is something that still causes the air in my lungs to freeze but it is also a challenge to continue to hope. In the past, traditional Church teaching focused on suicide as a mortal sin – a sin against hope. However, modern science has helped us understand that in many cases people who kill themselves are so consumed by mental illness that they are not consciously giving into despair – instead they are trying to save themselves.
When you lose someone to suicide you are forced through a unique grieving process. You mourn the person that you have lost and you mourn the life that might have been. You also mourn the help you might have given and the word of consolation you might have offered. Some people are angry with their loved one, others fall into their own despair. For me it was different. I was shock, but I was never angry. I was not angry at God, and I was not angry at my cousin. From the shock I tried to move on and keep myself busy, but still there were moments when I wanted to throw up. My biggest fear was reconciling a God of mercy with a God of justice: I prayed fervently for my cousin’s soul.
My mother’s friend gave us an article by a priest, discussing suicide as a mental illness from a Catholic perspective. One particular line stood out to me “…they are met by a gentle Christ who stands right inside of their huddled fear and says: “Peace be with you!”. As we see in the post-resurrection appearances of Christ, God can go through locked doors, breath out peace in places we cannot get in, and write straight with even the most crooked of lines.”
These words, along with another summer experience, provided hope and comfort. Earlier that same summer was my trip to World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. The theme was “Blessed are the merciful”. While on my trip I was able to visit St. Faustina’s cell and the St. John Paul II Shrine and Basilica. I also visited Aushwitz and Burkenau. Throughout my time I reflected on the mercy described by the great saints and on the mercy that God may have given those who committed unthinkable atrocities. Weeks after I returned from Poland my cousin died. Mercy became so much more real than it had ever been. As I came to terms with my own grief, with the Church's teaching on life and death, and with the Mercy that I had just spent two weeks reflecting on, the words of Jesus on the Cross were my constant comfort: Amen I say to you, this day you shall be with me in Paradise.
None of us knows what happens at that exact moment of our death, when we behold Christ in all of His glory. But I have confidence in a faith that inspires us to say “Lord, remember me” and hope in a God that consoles us with the assurance that we shall be with Him in Paradise.
Veronica is a 24 year old from Cheektowaga, NY, who works at Chesterton Academy of Buffalo and enjoys reading and good conversation.