Thursday, May 03, 2007

Disconnected From God

I had a very strange experience this week, that I hope someone can help me to better understand. As a rule, whenever the funeral home calls needing somebody to preside over a funeral, if I am available, I say YES. I do that because I feel it is better for me to preach grace in the time of loss for a family, rather than have someone else preach how the loved one is gone forever --- forced to spend eternity separated from God. (In other words, in Hell.) I don’t think any family needs to hear that at any time!

This week I conducted a funeral for a young man who committed suicide. And to add to the family’s misery, he had never been baptized. The family was Roman Catholic, but of course the Catholic Church would not do the service, since this young man was cursed to go to Hell. This is where I came in. Why this was so strange, and the part I don’t understand is while the Roman Catholic church turned their back on them, and said that the young man was going to hell, the family still put a rosary in his had, and repeatedly genuflect over the coffin.

Somebody help me here! If the “church” said I was going to hell, why would I still honor the church in the service? Are those rituals that are jammed down our throats as children so ingrained that we cannot even recognize the hypocrisy in them?

Out faith must make sense, we should not have to check our brains in our relationship with God, otherwise, at some point we will realize the disconnect, and that is exactly what we will do with God.


Pamela said...

As a life-long Catholic, I'd just like to point out, gently, that your information is wrong. I'm sure you're conveying the family's grief and the general facts in this case, however, the Catholic Church condemns no one to hell. The Catholic Church, just like the rest of us, does not know the depths of God's mercy.

Also, officially, suicide alone is not a reason to deny someone a Catholic burial. The fact that this young man was not baptized, Catholic or otherwise, may have had some bearing on the local parish's decision not to have a Catholic burial for him, but the fact that he committed suicide ought to have had no bearing whatsoever.

It seems apparent that you have a great desire to offer comfort to those in need, as any follower of Christ would. But, it grieves the Christian community as a whole when we spread misinformation about one another's beliefs. Perhaps if you were to approach the pastor of this family's parish and ask for clarification regarding the circumstances of this young man's journey to the grave, things would be, well, clearer. And if the pastor of that parish makes no sense, feel free to go to another Catholic priest, or to the diocesan bishop himself.

As to not understanding the placing of a Rosary -- well, that's perhaps a discussion for another time.

My e-mail is if you want to dialogue about this.

KansasMom said...

Pamela has an excellent point, in that this blog post contains a lot of misconceptions that could be cleared up by finding out more about what the Catholic Church *actually* teaches.

I was raised in the United Methodist Church. It saddens me to see a UMC pastor spreading such misinformation about fellow Christians.

L said...

I agree with what Pamela posted. I'm sure it must have been easy to think the Catholic Church just condemned this young man, but it simply isn't the case. We cannot understand the wideness of the mercy of God.

When my uncle committed suicide, I was reassured by several priests that his actions did not automatically condemn uncle was mentally ill and he may not have been responsible for his actions, nor do we know the state of his heart in those last few moments. If he cried out to the Lord, the Lord heard him.

Anyway, prayers for this man and his family who were met with such tragedy.

The Mominator said...

Rev. Conger,

First and foremost, thank you for being a pastor. A life of service to others is never an easy one. That you minister to families in their deepest grief is truly a blessing.

I have been on both sides of the Catholic/Protestant fence. Oddly enough, when I left Catholicism I joined the UMC! I am Catholic now because I came to understand that my biggest concerns and upsets with Catholicism were based on my misunderstandings, not actual teachings.

I would invite you, no implore is a better word, to open a dialog with the bishop in your area. A truly open conversation between two pastors would do much to heal any misunderstandings, both past and future.

While the young man at whose funeral you officiated may not have been a baptized Catholic, his family obviously was. Their faith was important to them... so much so that they have obviously never stopped trying to reach this young man. He is in God's hands and mercy now, true, but they still have the need to share their faith with each other... and by extension, with you.

May God bless you in your service to Him.1

ER said...

As was previously mentioned, this young man was not technically Catholic, seeing as how he did not receive the sacraments. This is probably the main reason he did not receive a Catholic burial. I would also like to emphasize the point that the Catholic Church condemns nobody to hell. In fact, the Catechism states the following regarding suicide in paragraph 2282:

"Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide."

In other words, the Church realizes that although he did commit suicide, nobody, except for God, knows the reasons and that state of this person's soul at the time of his death.

Thank you for comforting his family in such difficult times.

Laura Beth said...

Since several other posters have pointed out that this young man is not necessarily in hell, I'll just offer a few references on Catholic funerals.

Catholic funerals are, generally speaking, performed for Catholics at their home parish. And one becomes a Catholic by being baptized. A Catholic priest refusing to perform a funeral for this man doesn't mean that the Church has judged him to be in hell, just that he didn't belong to the Church. (Canon Law 1176-1185 deals with Catholic funerals and can be read online here:

The Church does perform funeral rites for Catholics who have commited suicide, and the Order for Christian Funerals includes appropriate prayers for this situation.

Stephanie said...

God bless you for providing comfort to this grieving family in their time of need!

I really don't have much more to add, as the previous commenters have shared my exact sentiments. It's always important to get accurate information about Catholic teaching...I had many misconceptions growing up Protestant, but once I set those aside and actually looked, I ended up seeing so much more than I thought was there, and then I converted! The prayers and rituals, when you know the meaning behind them, can give great comfort and hope in God's mercy, and that's likely why the family did what they did.

John Patrick O'Hearn said...

The Purpose of God- To give substantiality to existence.

The purpose of the Idea of God- To comfort. To comfort the mind to accept the uncertain and unknowable by creating something you feel comfortable accepting as the truth.

Anonymous said...

I not long ago, lost my father, who was not catholic, we as kids was bought up catholic with our mother, We did have a catholic buriel for him and the priests gave his sermon, I have seen in the past certain rules stay in effect for certain things/circumstances. I don't know if suicide, not being baptized had anything to do with it, I think it depends on the church as well how loving they are and open to giving gods love ! At times I hear sermons in church preach the darndest things and condemn , other times gods love is given to anyone for anything at anytime, so I would find out why this gentleman was refused gods love at his transition, cause it seems he should have gotten it !