With all that is transpiring within the Church right now, Catholic Christians may find it…
Michigan funeral uproar offers opportunity for catechesis
In another not-so-great public relations moment for the Catholic Church, a story has been circulating recently regarding the funeral of an 18-year-old in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Tragically, and for reasons the family has chosen not to disclose, the young man, Maison, committed suicide.
Funeral rites took place, a homily was given, and a media firestorm erupted. Strongly objecting to the homily given by Father Don LaCuesta, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Temperance, Michigan, Maison’s parents spoke to the press, they said, to ensure that no other family would have to endure what happened to them.
What happened was this: A boy committed suicide, and the priest, at the funeral, delivered a homily about what the Church teaches about suicide. The family greatly objected to this focus. What didn’t happen was this: Contrary to many sensational headlines, the priest did not say the young man was going to hell. According to the homily, published online by the Archdiocese of Detroit, the priest said, “If we Christians are right in believing that salvation belongs to Jesus Christ, that it does not come from us — and that our hand cannot stop what God allows for us, then yes, there is hope in eternity even for those who take their own lives.”
He went on: “Having said that, I think that we must not call what is bad good, what is wrong right. Because we are Christians, we must say what we know is the truth — that taking your own life is against God who made us and against everyone who loves us.”
There is brave and important truth in these words, and we don’t hear preaching like this enough. Furthermore, I believe Father LaCuesta was sincerely attempting to offer comfort and consolation to Maison’s family and friends by preaching on suicide. Still, two points perhaps would have been worth greater consideration.
First, the sensitivity of the situation. It is hard to fathom what Maison’s parents are feeling, but I imagine they must be filled with pain, shock, sorrow, guilt and regret. I doubt they were even in a position to coherently absorb a homily on the Church’s teaching on suicide, much less appreciate it. Given that they had been expecting a homily celebrating the life of their son, rather than one focused entirely on the nature of his death, a little more consolation likely would have been welcome.
Second, the general lack of understanding of Church teaching on life after death and the role of the Catholic funeral. There is no guarantee that our loved ones are in heaven. But we can hope, and most importantly pray, that they be admitted. That’s the whole point of a Catholic funeral.
The uproar in Michigan is a reminder that the Church needs more effective catechesis on these points. Ironically, this is what Father LaCuesta seems to have been trying to provide in his homily. Unfortunately, the message missed its mark.
Gretchen R. Crowe is editor-in-chief of Our Sunday Visitor. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.