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God bless Fr. LaCuesta

These few, balanced, honest, words were twice interrupted by family members for their failure ‘to celebrate the life of the deceased’.

(Patrick Bruchs/us.fotolia.com)

If the text recently sent to me really was the homily that Fr. Don LaCuesta preached at the funeral Mass of a young man who suddenly killed himself a few days ago, for which homily LaCuesta has been savaged in the print and electronic media and even (temporarily, I assume, while the facts are sorted) deprived of faculties for preaching, all I can say is, God bless Fr. LaCuesta.

Note, first, how short this homily is. Perfectly in line with canonical and liturgical norms for such cases.

More importantly, and flatly contrary to how LaCuesta’s homily has been portrayed in the media, I don’t see Hell mentioned anywhere, anywhere, nor any language that relegates this poor young man thereto, and instead I see clarion reminders of the mercy of Christ recited at least half-a-dozen times. I see, too, the moral gravity of suicide—itself approaching epidemic proportions among Americans today—directly acknowledged and fears about its eternal consequences candidly admitted, but I also see consoling references to how much more God knows about one’s life than do those even closest to him and how much that deeper, likely mitigating, divine knowledge leaves the rest of us mortals, grieving a suicide, room for real hope. And I see sincere sympathy for the powerless, abject suffering visited on those left behind by a suicide, on people who would have moved heaven and earth to help a child seriously considering self-destruction, but who are now forever bereft of that chance (save for their prayers for the departed, of course).

And yet these few, balanced, honest, words were twice interrupted by family members for their failure ‘to celebrate the life of the deceased’, and the secular media, always ready to encourage a ‘Let’s you and him fight’ scenario when it comes to Catholics and the Church, fomented a picture of this priest as a heartless thug without citing so much as a single independently-reported word of his homily? Criminy.

So here’s my suggestion: when the perfect homily for funeral Masses of those who kill themselves is composed we’ll send it right off to all priests ever called upon to deliver one. Till then, parish priests might want to look at Fr. LaCuesta’s homily for some good thoughts and ideas.

(This post originally appeared on the “In the Light of the Law” site and is posted here by kind permission of Dr. Peters.)


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About Edward N. Peters 120 Articles
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD has doctoral degrees in canon and common law. Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. His personal blog on canon law issues in the news may be accessed at the "In the Light of the Law" site.

60 Comments

  1. Unfortunately, the parents had to deal with this awful tragedy and with the fact that our modern society left them totally unprepared for the reality behind suicide. They are now, if I understand correctly, blaming the football coach for their son’s suicide in some respect. He appeared at the funeral and was told to leave. People today feel that funerals are times when only happy thoughts must be entertained. People get very angry when ANY talk of hell is even hinted at.

    Nowadays, people see all sorts of funerals on TV and they assume that funerals are times for a “celebration of life”. In fact, during George HW Bushes funeral, some networks ran a banner at the bottom of the screen calling it, not a funeral, but a “celebration of life”. They think this is being more politically correct.

    Think about this. If this happened at your sons funeral, would you go to the media and complain? To do so seems strange. But we don’t know all the facts, and decisions about these things cannot be made without knowing all the facts. So rather than talk about this on the internet, we should leave it for a while. The parents need time to heal. In all the news accounts, they did not give any details about why the kid committed suicide.

    It may well be that the priest dwelled too much on suicide. It probably is not the time to try and teach uncatechized people hard lessons that they have been taught for years to rebel against. Teaching about such delicate subjects perhaps should take place in other venues. Sometimes you have to defer doing the right thing until the right time, or you defeat your purpose.

    • This is the PERFECT time for this sermon. No one listens later. This should have comforted the family, knowing that even this act cannot separate their son from God. It is a Catholic mass, not an ecumenical life celebration. The padre is a servant of God to put forth God’s words, not a servant of the parish to put forth what they want to here. And God’s word is that suicide is wrong, but redemption is still possible. Any other message does a disservice to the parish and the Word of God. If non-Catholics don’t like it, don’t go to mass. If Catholics don’t like it, they need to wake up.

    • It is very comfortable to pass out judgements when we don’t know the two sides of the story.
      In our mind we can become very subjective. We do not know what the content of the eulogy was. In all truth, a suicide do not go to heaven, because he/she plays God in making decisions on his/her life, which si a gift of God and we are just a custodian if our life. I hope the priest had time to spend with the family prior the funeral. I remember when a priest refuse to have a funeral in his church for a suicide person and the family got mad and left the parish. They joined another Catholic parish where the priest had a very pompous funeral. What a shame!
      Not to jump into ‘politic’ here, Nancy Palosi or Jo Biden should not welcome to Communion. Most of our bishops and many clergies transform the Catholic Church into something else.

  2. I wonder if Father LaCuesta’s diocesan officials saw the text of his sermon before deciding to send him off to sermon camp. If he must go, he should go in the capacity of instructor.

  3. If this is the homily that was delivered, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. If some chancery bureaucrat found fault with this, that person needs to take a refresher theology course. And, yes, this was not only theologically sound but pastorally sensitive.

  4. People who don’t agree with catholic doctrine about death and judgement shouldn’t ask for a catholic funeral and expect that the priest complies to their demands and not to his duty.

  5. A better homily could not have been delivered by Fr LaCuesta in the initial paragraphs, in which possible condemnation is inferred [although mention of Hell perhaps obliquely would have strengthened it] except his lengthy ending with overemphasis on a bad decision v an act contrary to justice. Dr Peters does give all the right points in his related article “Some Points” to which I responded earlier. Fr LaCuesta deserves praise not sanction. It’s his superiors who require reeducation in the faith and a dose of moral courage.

    • Quite frankly, Father, I am sick to death of church superiors “going after” good solid priests. And in this I am thinking of a half dozen that I have read about starting with AB Vigano. And when you have a Pope speaking out of both sides of his mouth, changing doctrine and substituting his thoughts for those of Christ’s words in the Bible, confidence in my church is gone and replaced with suspicion and fear. Trust has been suspended. Pope Francis supports a known homosexual cardinal of Chicago and uses Cupich as a slap in the face of all those good priests trying to clean up the church. Pope Francis wants to change the Our Father from a term everyone has always interpreted with leading us AWAY from temptation. He tosses the image of the Holy Family for the sake of the homosexual lobby and reduces the Eucharist to mere bread and wine. I am so sick of trust being upended in government and now our beloved church.

    • Absolutely- Seems many dioceses are quick to condemn the messenger succumbing to the condemnation of the secular anti Catholic PC police.

  6. Sad how the Diocese went out immediately and apologized. And for what? Without a proper investigation into the matter.

    Meanwhile, I am quite certain, there have been real abuses somewhere in the Diocese that the Faithful have complained about, and they’ve been collecting dust over the years over real issues while they ‘investigate’.

    • I agree with this statement. The priest said the right things. It was a homily, not an eulogy.
      Very uninsightful of the higher ups to send this priest away. I’m so sorry for the family’s loss. I would cringe too at tough things said in public at my loved ones funeral but I see nothing wrong with with what the priest said. I may have been very uncomfortable at these remarks but being uncomfortable around this situation and what was said is not bad. I found his words comforting as we all have grave sins to atone for. And we are supposed to talk about things like suicide and unpleasant events….be open about what really happened. If you don’t, we as individuals and society get sicker. I’m sorry the parents took this to the media. I did hear that the parents thought they had discussed with the priest what was to be said but it did not get said. So I’ll give that to the parents if that is accurate. May this be resolved and may the parents keep prayer vigil for their son. I will put him in my book of prayers for the holy departed.
      Shame on the media for the damage they caused in their reporting. Vindicate this priest!

  7. Speaking as someone who has been where these parents have been in witnessing the suicide of a close family friend (whom I considered as close my brother) I can say there was nothing wrong with Fr. LaCuesta’s homily, and while I have sympathy for what I know is a an emotionally turbulent time, I have no sympathy for the vultures in the media who saw the opportunity to capitalize on this tragedy, and ran a sensationalist story despite having a responsibility to objectively review the facts. I pray for the grieving family, and that this priest may be vindicated for the wrongs committed against him.

    • I can’t help thinking that if the priest had given the generic “Oh, of course he’s in heaven, he was a good guy” homily, most of his family, who very probably know that suicide is a grievous sin even if they don’t want to admit it, would have been left with the knowledge of that sin and no real comfort. The priest’s words provided comfort upon which they can ponder in the future.

  8. I am pretty sure that the parents of the kid are not properly catechized, or has not been in church for awhile or have no clue what the Church really teaches on suicide, God’s divine justice, mercy or the afterlife.
    They just want a homily on their “cheap unorthodox watered down version” of Catholic truth and just wanted to hear the priest say he is in “heaven”.
    God bless that priest!

  9. I pray this young man is in Heaven, as a person who suffers from depression I can empathize. While suicide is intrinsically evil we should also remember that “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide” (#2282 of the CCC). Furthermore, “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to Him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (#2283 of the CCC).

    • Well said. The only objection I have in this homily as it at first doesn’t elude to what the catechism states. Further along it does. Yet the initial mentions of suicide are decidedly used uncharitable and are not in concordance fully with the catechism so they should have been removed or altered to reflect that. Yet that is my only argument against this homily other than the Priest should have eroded on the side of prudance and left that section to a more charitable way of stating his point.

  10. We lost a young son to suicide 3 years ago. When the media reported this story, I sadly went along with their sentiments and was deeply disappointed with the priest based on what was reported. Now after reading this blog article and homily my view of the media is one of disgust for being deceived.
    The homily was absolutely theologically beautiful. It’s identical in content to what numerous priests told us about our son’s suicide.
    I’m grateful to Dr. Peters for his post and for the daily email called Loop by CatholicVote who shared Dr. Peters post in their 12/18 news feed.

    • I am so sorry for your loss, but so much more for the souls of suicide who have no one to pray for them because of milquetoast catechesis that leads to apathy in prayer. You did not mention your son’s name, but I offered a prayer this evening for him and family. God bless!

  11. Our 27 year old son took his life 5 years ago. My wife and I are faithful Catholics. If that homily had been preached at our son’s funeral Mass, I would have been very grateful to the priest who delivered it. There is no turning one’s back on Truth, especially at a time like the funeral Mass of one who has taken his life. As for me, at our son’s funeral Mass, I was the only speaker other than the homily. After communion, I went to the ambo, turned to the Tabernacle and the Cruicifix and spoke to God, not to the Assembly. I don’t know what the parents of the young man in this case were expecting. I don’t know what “celebrating one’s life” means in a case of a young person taking his/her life. I pray for them and for God’s mercy. As for the bishop of that diocese, he is a coward who should be admonished by his priests and brother bishops.

  12. Our son died by suicide several years ago. The homily we heard at his funeral Mass was superficially “nice” but not at all comforting as to what next? It left us with more questions than answers. Fr. LaCuesta’s homily (as per the text link in this article) actually gives one hope, and answers all our questions with the knowledge of the mercy of Christ. This paragraph says it all, “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. God knows something we must discipline ourselves to do in these moments – he knows not to judge a person’s entire life on the basis of the worst and last choice the person made. God can look at the totality of a human being’s life and celebrate all the good that came from it, even while taking seriously the tragic choice that ended everything. And then he shows his mercy and love in ways beyond our limited understanding.”

  13. I think the family’s reaction, and the media’s overreaction is a perfect example of the consequences of the failure of the Catholic Church to teach Catholic doctrine for a number of years. Really, ever since the 1960s most Catholic priests have failed to educate and guide the faithful in the most important tenets of their faith. They’ve been fearful that they might “offend” members of their congregation.
    Meanwhile, all during this same period our society has been changing… becoming more and more antithetical to the core beliefs of Catholicism, and ordinary Catholics have little (if nothing) to fall back on that is orthodox. Small wonder they are horrified and angered that the priest might imply that those who commit suicide might possibly be denied heaven. They’ve been led to believe that EVERYONE goes to heaven, a belief that’s been condemned by the Church since the time of St. Jerome and St. Augustine. But we’re a sentimental church now. We’re “nice”. Nothing’s a sin any more (other than, I guess, murder.)
    Bottom line is that the priests started out by being fearful of offending people, and by not educating the faithful, they’ve actually accomplished precisely what they feared. They’re now offending most everyone, because they’ve left them ignorant of truth.
    I think this sermon was a bit hard hitting. The priest could have been a bit softer, and kinder toward the family. If there was a serious question about whether this boy was in his right mind at the time of his suicide, then the Catholic funeral should have been denied outright. But once the decision was made by some priest that a Catholic funeral was appropriate, then other words would have been better.
    Now, this sermon (somewhat adapted) as a regular Sunday sermon, used to educate Catholics about the Church’s teachings on suicide and what it means to the soul… that’s something that priests ought to be preaching.

  14. Sick, sick, sick, Peter’s rationale.
    He “petered” out in compassion.
    Preaching against suicide, especially at a funeral, is not a deterrent to suicide.
    Irrational to say suicide is wrong will stop them.
    And the crowd here supporting this “homily” is suicidal in witnessing to a gospel of compassion.
    Such a righteous crowd!
    “And Jesus wept.”

    • It would probably help if you actually, y’know, *read* the homily, in which he speaks over nad over about God’s mercy.

      I can just about imagine what your response would be to a similar funeral homily about someone who died in the course of murdering somebody. You’d want the priest to praise him and say what a wonderful person he was, and not to point out that he was in desperate need of God’s mercy, and our prayers because what he did was evil, and that we should hope that he had had a moment of perfect contrition before he died.

      Your post is even more smugly self-righteous than you accuse “the crowd” here of being. If you’re actually priest, heaven help us all. Your attitude is the sort that has been devastating the Church from the inside for years.

      • He’s a retired priest from the Diocese of Manchester (New Hampshire). His writings and comments appear in many heterodox “Catholic in name only” publications – and have been published by similarly heterodox “Catholic in name only” publishing houses.

  15. Folks, I have been a funeral director for 30 plus years now and over the course of those many years I have heard countless funeral homilies, many of them for suicide situations. Believe me when I say that those funerals are not “Celebration of Life” moments! When I read online that a certain priest in Detroit was taken to the woodshed for what was reported as a very insensitive homily for a suicide victim’s family, I was our course naturally curious. Now, having just read Fr. LuCuesta’s homily, I can say, as one who has heard many many homilies for Holy Masses for suicide victims, this priest composed one of finest words of faith, hope and love in Christ for the deceased soul and to his family. Period! Take it from me, if I was the funeral director attending to this funeral, at the end of the Mass, as I came forward to prepare the pallbearers to accompany the casket from the church, I would have had a hard time restraining myself from saying to the family and all those in attendance, “Brothers and sisters in Christ, what you have just heard from this priest this morning are words from Heaven, and truth be told, it was not a priest speaking to you this morning, but IT WAS JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF. Now, take to heart and cling to the words of faith, hope and love that Jesus himself spoke to you this morning. Yes, because that’s exactly what happened at that Holy Mass for the poor soul that the Mass was offered for and his suffering family.

    • As a retired Protestant pastor, I have had my share of suicide funerals. I totally agree with the excellent expression of your thoughts. Every word in the homily was appropriate.

  16. As a practicing Catholic… If this was said at my child’s funeral, I would have cried joyful tears of comfort and hope. The Holy Spirit truly answered his prayer.

  17. Thank you for publishing the truth. This homily must be published in all the papers that re-ran this fake news story. I am sending my letter to the editor and will pray that they publish the truth and not this made up fantasy story by the Washington Post. Thank you!

    • I strongly agree with you. Also our priest refuse to have a funeral for someone who was cremated. He asked the family to contact the diocese and to have another priest. Unfortunately Rome accepted the cremation, which is a pagan practice and not a Christian.

  18. I do not judge anyone’s soul especially at the time of death but I will note that that a certain Boston Red Hat had a magnificent funeral staged for a notoriously “Catholic” pro- abortion senator. Surely this young man deserved the expression of mercy given him at his funeral.

  19. Maybe the local bishop and his cronies need to go to homily and eschatology refresher course. Another sign that the bishops just don’t get it. Blaming the coach or the priest by the family abdicates any possible responsibility.

  20. Suicide is not a choice. It is the manifestation of mental illness. If someone succumbs to cancer they are considered heroic in their struggle. The stigma of mental illness needs to change and the notion that those who succumb to their battle with mental illness are sinners and need to be forgiven for their final act is flawed. We are all sinners and all need to be forgiven but those victims of suicide are not sinning when they succumb to their disease any more than a victim of cancer is.

    • I disagree with you. Not every suicide is a manifestation of a mental illness. This is what those “go with the flow’ priests eulogize at this time of funeral. To begin with, a suicide funeral should not be held in a church but in a funeral home. In todays Catholic world everything goes to heaven. I remember when a priest mentioned during a homily that dogs and cats (animals in general) do not go to heaven. Several parishioners got mad at the priest because they were obsessed pets owners.The Catholic faith had become a convenience. Many priests are afraid to tell people the truth and offer people sweet bad time stories’ just to fill their Sunday baskets with donations’. My compassion goes to the young man’s family, but I suspect there are some other anger issues with this family. God rest his soul in peace and comfort this unfortunate family during this tragedy. Their life will never be the same.

    • Thats a bunch a bed time stories many priests brainwash their faithful. You talk for those ‘go with the flow’ clergies who simply vegetate behind their ambo and are afraid to directly express what the Catholic Catechism teaches. The Sunday Mass has become a show and to please everyone in the church. Not to offend anyone! This is what the Catholic Church has become starting with Rome.

  21. It’s just another example of the post-Vatican II attitude of “Yes, God, I will worship you….Here are my terms….” See also: Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, et. al.

  22. As a lifelong Catholic I always understood that a Catholic funeral Mass was no place for eulogy or so called celebration of life. That can be done at the wake.

  23. Reading the text of the sermon, it felt wanting. It is a short sermon that feels like half of one. I’m not suggesting that it should have been a celebration of life and resurrection, but a tad more words on the deaseased himself would have been appropriate. It felt there was too much of a linger on suicide. Not quite as balanced as it could have been. More focus on penance, prayers, and intercession would have balanced what was just a tad too heavy on suicide.

  24. There is no intercessory act more powerful, more apt to obtain merciful judgment than offering the Father his Son’s Precious Blood during Mass [time insofar as moment of death with God does not preclude the mystery of divine mercy]. We’ve lost focus on that prime purpose of what a funeral Mass is for, intercession for the dead whether suicide or not. A sermon can be constructed around that purpose to facilitate reference to heaven and hell for the bereaved.

    • Thanks you to all the fine remarks from all. I have read and heard the homily and true thinking. I feel deep gratitude for and celebrate the life of the courageous and true priests who feed the sheep the true food from God. I pray that people do not lose focus of what is happening in these days and stand in unity with the Spirit of God and not with the passing culture of death. They chose a “CATHOLIC” funeral, did they not? The Bishop should back his Priests,

  25. The old Baptist in me gets very legalistic when I hear about these kind of situations – I can’t tell you how much rage I feel even now when I hear so many self-professed atheists and agnostics I know insist they are going to heaven after they die and how they believe all the previous dead atheists and agnostics are smiling down on them from “up there”. This is why I am so glad to be Catholic and I have to remember that only God decides who is chosen and every day I have to pray for the Holy Spirit to fill me with the Grace of God in charity and humility over legalism and feelings of entitlement for being a good boy, for I am sinner like everyone else. Matt. 19.

  26. I’ve been to several funerals and memorials for suicide. Having been a youth minister, I was there to support the teens who were friends of the deceased. And…the one thing that horrified me about all of them (Catholic, Protestant, or secular services alike), ALL of those presiding said that the deceased are now “home” or “at peace”. WHAT??!! They need prayers and Masses, not to be canonized! And, the worst of it was that they played long video montages of the teen who died, students gave speeches about how they would be missed, and bands played moving songs. It was one big rock concert in honor of the deceased. The one message that it sent to the teens present was that THIS is the best way to get noticed by everyone (and every teens wants to be noticed). Take your life, and you become an instant rock star. This is the first homily I’ve ever come across that doesn’t do a tremendous disservice to the deceased and to the others who might think that suicide seems like a good option.

  27. As a hospital chaplain I am often at a loss at what to say when for some reason I am called to the bedside of a non-Catholic or a Catholic who expressly rejected the sacraments. I feel like a jerk, at a time when they are mourning, because I have no words of consolation for the other than that God is good and He alone is the just judge. I can’t in good conscience say more than this… but every time I do I wait for the call from the Chancery.

    • “If there is a danger of death Catholic ministers may lawfully administer these same sacraments [penance, Eucharist, anointing of the sick] to other Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who spontaneously ask for them, provided that they demonstrate the Catholic faith in respect of these sacraments and are properly disposed” (Canon 844.4). As hospital chaplain I conferred anointing for a dying Baptist, a minister who previously spewed hatred of Catholicism. His wife asked for prayers. I visited him, he knew me we served in the same NM town and asked if he wished me to anoint him. Although not initially a spontaneous request I explained the meaning of the sacrament. He assented and I anointed him. He knew well prior what that meant and he voiced no objection to this sacrament. There are instances in danger of death that non Catholics if they understand and are willing can be given this sacrament. The rest is up to God.

  28. I am biased on this because my cousin committed suicide. She was not Catholic.
    But, there were extenuating circumstances which I will detail here.

    It all started with her coming home from work from during a snowstorm. She got into a near fatal accident; she was in a coma for more than a month and when came out of the coma she had to learn EVERYTHING all over again as if she was a child-walking, speaking, eating, getting dressed, etc. Her mind was genetically changed forever.

    She had problems coping with issues she had when SHE was a child. She developed schizophrenia (or it manifested). She was put in a mental institution…one day she got out, got a rope and hanged herself…DEAD!

    My mother’s cousin (my first cousin once removed-I never knew him), also committed suicide by putting a gun in the mouth. Apparently many relatives on my mother’s family has “mental problems” including my own mother so I believe mental illness is genetic.

    My point is, when a person commits suicide, only God knows what’s going on in the mind.

    • I wonder, though, whether by emphasizing the “oh, I’m sure God will let them into heaven because probably they were mentally ill,” we aren’t taking away something that would buffer the mentally ill from some of the temptation. If it is firmly in one’s mind that “suicide is wrong, always, and puts your soul in danger of damnation,” the temptation would have one more barricade it would have to get through.

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