Fr. Don LaCuesta, Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Temperance, Michigan, recently delivered a homily at the funeral of an 18-year old young man who had committed suicide (what the press is referring to as the “suicide homily”). Fr. LaCuesta was subsequently censured by the Archdiocese of Detroit and is not allowed to preside at any funerals.
You can read more about the it here.
We’ll take a look at the homily later on, but first I want to tell you a story of an actual bad sermon that I experienced.
Most of you know that I am a convert to Catholicism.
Twenty-three years ago, my brother was murdered and we had his funeral at the little Baptist church we attended.
We were very active in the Church and I was good friends with the pastor’s daughter.
During the funeral, the pastor gave a sermon which was shocking and hurtful. I’m paraphrasing, but he basically said,
You see, what happens to teenagers when you don’t listen to your parents?
You see what happens when you run around with the wrong crowd?
You see what happens when you abandon your faith?
The implication was that he was in hell.
It was hurtful. However, my family did not run to the media or complain to the head of the Baptist convention.
Before we take a look at Fr. LaCuesta’s homily, I want to extend my sincere condolences to the parents. Suicide is heartbreaking for the family that is left behind.
Fr. LaCuesta delivered a homily at the funeral of Jeff and Linda Hullibarger’s son Maison, who had committed suicide.
Because of his homily, he was censured by the Archdiocese.
According to the Washington Post:
Archdiocese spokeswoman Holly Fournier said an “unbearable situation was made even more difficult, and we are sorry.”
LaCuesta will not be preaching at funerals “for the foreseeable future,” Fournier said, and he will have his other homilies reviewed by a priest mentor.
We share the family’s grief at such a profound loss,” the archdiocese statement said. “Our hope is always to bring comfort into situations of great pain, through funeral services centered on the love and healing power of Christ. Unfortunately, that did not happen in this case.
Before I read the homily, I assumed he had made comments like “Your son is in hell”. I can see how that could be hurtful. Instead, I read a homily that was delivered with compassion and hope.
Let’s take a look at the homily.
His Expression of Condolences
As is proper, he offered his condolences and his empathy for the pain they are going through. He also prayed that he would say the right things in the right way. He didn’t just blurt out his opinion.
” It is with great difficulty that I stand before you knowing the pain and anguish you are going through. But I am aware, as well, that I am only a humble, unworthy mouthpiece. I ask God to use my words to bring the light, comfort and healing you need.”Homily
His Assertion That Suicide is Not Good
Father asserts that suicide is a bad thing and anyone with common sense already knows. However, it is important to state that fact because we live in a culture that is slowly edging toward assisted suicide. In fact, according to a 2017 Gallup Poll, 73% of Americans support euthanasia.
This is why it is vitally important to state that suicide is not a good thing.
“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. Our lives are not our own. They are not ours to do with as we please. God gave us life, and we are to be good stewards of that gift for as long as God permits. “Homily
Church teaching supports his statement. Here are some thoughts on suicide from the Church Fathers.
St Thomas Aquinas
” … every thing loves itself, it is thus proper for every thing to keep itself in being and resist decay as far as it can. Therefore, to kill oneself is contrary to natural inclination, and contrary to the charity according to which everyone ought to love himself. Hence self-killing is always a mortal sin, inasmuch as it stands against natural law and charity.”
Summa Theologiae, 2A 2AE, Q. 64, A. 5
“What we are saying, asserting, and establishing by all meansThe Development of the Roman Catholic
at our command is this: that no one ought deliberately to
bring about his own death by way of escaping from temporal troubles, for fear that he may fall into eternal afflictions; it is wrong to commit suicide because of the sins of others, for this is to bring upon oneself a heavy burden of sin, whereas another’s sin could not defile one or because of one’s past sins, for one has more need of this life on
their account, so that those sins may be healed by repentance; or through longing for a better life, hoped for after death, for those guilty of their death are not received after death into that better life.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1983)
“2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church
“2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.”
Catholic Funerals These Days Are More Like Mainstream Protestant Funerals
Catholic funerals these days are more like mainstream Protestant funerals where you have a “homegoing” service, it’s soul purpose being to “celebrate” the person’s life. This is what the parents wanted.
“The Hullibargers wanted it to be about the life of their son, Maison, not the manner of his death. They wanted to focus on a teenager who was opinionated and passionate and who they knew was a source of comfort to friends dealing with their own adversity.”
Sadly, choosing suicide does not show strength; instead it illustrates giving up in despair.
His friends should not be given the impression that it is okay to choose to die.
Although Church teaching states that suicide is wrong and in the past, people who committed suicide were even denied a Catholic funeral, the Church has grown in understanding and asserts that culpability may depend on state of mind.
“2282 If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.
Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Fr. LaCuesta reiterated this teaching in his homily:
“Because God is merciful he makes allowance for the spiritual, mental, and emotional despair that leads to suicide. God is able to read the heart, to know the whole truth of a person’s life, and thereby to pass sentence with mercy. “Homily
He then ends with these comforting words:
“And so, we take great comfort and consolation in all this. Nothing-not even suicide-can separate us from the unconditional love of God. It is to this all- merciful love that we, through our prayers, entrust and continue to entrust the soul of [REDACTED]. Let us not deny him now of the help he needs most-our love expressed through our trusting prayers. “Homily
You can read the full homily here.
Some Further Observations
I won’t pretend to know the intentions of those who censured him, but I would like to make some observations.
The Church Changes the World; the World Does Not Change the Church
Dear bishops: the Church does not bow down to political correctness.
We do not panic when the media attacks us for what we believe.
Other religions don’t back down. In fact, they do their best to change the culture.
We are the light and our commitment to our faith should change the world – not the other way around.
We Need More Intestinal Fortitude
Scripture tells us that “God hath not given us the spirit of fear: but of power, and of love, and of sobriety. “
American culture is liberal and on its way to being mostly pagan. It detests the truth; it detests the light. We have to pray for fortitude to stand for what we believe.
When You Discipline a Priest For Church Teaching, You Harm the Faithful & Other Priests
Priests are not perfect and sometimes they should be corrected.
However, with all due respect, I believe in this situation, this correction should have occurred behind closed doors. The Archdiocese of Detroit still could have met with the family to reassure and clarify, but the priest should not have been punished – publicly or not.
The result is that the faithful and other priests lose heart and feel that they have to walk on eggshells.
Finally, I want to leave everyone with this quote from John Bosco:
“Be brave, do not be led by what others think or say!”
– St. John Bosco
Stay true. Stay firm.
What are your thoughts on what happened to Fr. LaCuesta?