Fr. LaCuesta’s So-Called, “Suicide Homily”: Should a Priest Be Punished for Stating Church Teaching?
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?
I have read the homily that Father LaCuesta gave at Maison’s funeral. I see absolutely nothing wrong with it. He is reassuring those present that Maison is still loved by God. Many people know that suicide is considered a sin. Many people would be concerned, praying, or hoping for God’s forgiveness. Father LaCuesta acknowledges and emphasizes the darkness he must have felt, and the common guilt felt by those left behind after a suicide. I find the homily very reassuring of God’s love for us all, even when we sin. He most definitely should not have been “censored” or banned from providing services for funerals.
The sermon is way too soft and creates a dangerous and misleading impression that even after dying in a mortal sin, there’s still a very good chance of ending up in Heaven (but really no, there’s not). Fr. LaCuesta’s proposition that an unrepented mortal sin cannot separate us from Christ is very, very wrong, and St. Paul said nothing like that. The fact that Fr. LaCuesta is being punished for being too conservative, shows the sad state of affairs these days.
That’s too rigid an interpretation, Stanislav.
There was a concerned penitent telling the St. Jean Vianney that he feared for a loved one’s soul. This relative had recently taken his own life by jumping from a bridge. St. Vianney was granted a vision in the confessional and was reassured that after jumping, he regretted his decision and repented before dying.
There is a phony Catholic Church that subsists in the Real One. This good Father’s excellent sermon is for the Real Church. God bless and keep you Father.
I believe that the Catholic Church should have let the heat of the controversy die down. They reacted before they understood the whole situation. I bet the family did not understand, as many don’t, the Catholic teachings and they and many could have been catechized through this misunderstanding. We need a new, revolution in the Church where we demand that the Bishops and Cardinals act like the Men who our Lord gave the power and prudence to solve these issues of faith. They have the volume turned way down to the Paraclete/The Holy Spirit. Catholics must arise and start a letter writing campaign.
Any death is always a sad thing whether you know the person or not so this is a given but still, we expect that that priest better preaches the TRUTH of the teaching of Jesus regarding the taking of our own life to make it our business instead of Him. It is not the priest’s position to water down the gospel just to appease people. It’s a good thing the body was even permitted to be inside the church. Many HOLY churches do not allow defilement.
Funerals are not teaching moments. As parents, we learn the differences between teaching moments and times for compassion and listening. A priest is not a biological parent and therefore may not understand this. I forgive him for this.
Powerfull homily giving hope and teaching the living that was present and those reading it now. In the end the truth and the Holy Spirit will triumph
Thank you father.