Monday, 13 October 2014

The synod on the family discovers a new law

The synod on the family has produced its first momentous result, the discover of the "law of graduality". In what is surely the theological equivalent of the discovery Higgs Bosun, a new era of doctrinal discovery and innovation dawns upon us.

The thing that strikes me about an appeal to graduality in Old Testament is yes, God stoops to conquer but he does so in ways which ensured that His people never lost sight of what was expected of them and the glory to which they had been called. God never lowered His expectations for His people, he simply used different means to raise them to the required standard, by carrot and stick. For their transgressions, the Israelites were required to sojourn in the desert for 40 years whilst Moses never got to see the promised land over what some lawyers might claim was a technicality and yet both chastisements were a lesson which brought His people into a more loving relationship with their creator.

God's graduality is not a watering down of his requirements for His people - it is rather an intimate knowledge of the gap between between His expectations for His people (both collectively and as individuals) and their capacity for responding to these expectations. God uses this knowledge to formulate his blueprint for our Salvation at the heart of which is His Son. Yes, God will never tire of going back to the drawing board whenever we fail to follow his blueprints (and they all begin with repentance, confession and penance) but human nature suggests that the longer we fail to follow his them, the more likely we are to give up reading them altogether.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

On Graduality and the Synod

Today is the fourth day of the extraordinary general session of the Synod of Bishops on pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation and the buzz word doing the rounds in the liberal press is "graduality".

Graduality is, according to the Catholic Herald, "a way of thinking about morality that allows for human imperfection without compromising ideals" [1], recognising that individuals are unlikely to make the immediate jump from antipathy or agnosticism to acceptance of a moral truth. On the outset, this makes sense; given the acceptance, prevalence and promotion of contraception in western society, it is unlikely that an individual confronted by Catholic teaching on the subject is going to immediately put it into practice. A number of other related concepts are usually explored (e.g the effects of contraception on health) before the plunge is taken into the waters of the Tiber.

The prevalence of graduality in our moral development has been recogised by many a thinker, including Pope Benedict XVI. In his oft misquoted comments on male prostitutes, he stated that using a condom to reduce the risk of HIV infection "can be a first step in the direction of moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility". [2]

Here's the thing however: graduality may make a lot of sense in academic learning (a student can't possibly go from knowing nothing about the basic laws of physics to understanding the theory of relativity) but if it is taken as a starting point for teaching a moral truth, it will eventually undermine it because it gravitates towards relativism. No-one is hurt by only being taught complex scientific laws a step at a time, even if for the sake of simplification at a particular period, appropriate to one's age or comprehension, one is taught something which isn't entirely accurate (I remember being told that the shell particle theory we were taught at GCSE was factually incorrect by smug A-level students for example). By contrast however, one can be hurt if one is taught incomplete or false moral principles because the consequence of that is sin. Furthermore, if the behaviour becomes entrenched or habitual as we call it, the ultimate moral endpoint may be lost forever. Incomplete moral principles are also apt to be misunderstood or wantonly abused - this can be seen in the Guardian's report on Pope Benedict's comments regarding a male prostitute's use of a condom which held the headline "Pope Benedict says that condoms can be used to stop the spread of HIV"; he said nothing of the sort! Graduality also appeals to our wounded nature - why strive for moral perfection when one can appeal to a more relativistic measure of our moral progress?

So, graduality is useful to explain how a moral sense might awaken and can be used as a guide for compassion but as a starting point for teaching with authority, it is bankrupt.

[1] http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2014/10/08/family-synod-participants-emphasise-importance-of-graduality-in-discussion-of-moral-issues/

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/nov/21/pope-benedict-condoms-hiv-infection

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Dealing with the fallout from Bishop Conry's resignation

It was with great sadness that I read the news on Sunday that Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton had resigned after revealing that he had been "unfaithful to his promises as a priest", admitting to two affairs. [1] [2] Given his support for ACTA and general tenure of his bishopric, I had little regard for his apparent vision for the Church but I am nonetheless sorry to see a soul brought so low in so public a manner. With great power comes great responsibility and Bishop Conry will be held all the more accountable for his sins because he has abused the trust placed in him by the parishioners with whom he had an affair, their families, the diocese of Arundel and Brighton and the universal church. The Body of Christ has been dealt a serious blow not just by the direct consequences of the sins of the those involved in the affairs but also by the ridicule and mockery the Church will garner from the publicity. Bishop Conry's priesthood and Faith may now stand before a precipice so we should all endeavour to remember him in our prayers, regardless of our opinion of his character, as we fervently remember those affected by his sins. Indeed, we have a great duty of care to those mistreated by one of our own. All Catholics are placed in a position of greater responsibility by the gift of their Faith and all human beings are called to repentance and forgiveness for our transgressions.

Unfortunately, some have reacted to his resignation with what can only be described as glee, revelling in his humiliation in a profoundly un-Christian manner. There are others who are "taking the opportunity to have a pot-shot at everything they regard as liberal and wrong in the Church, with dark mutterings about who knew what and when. Others again are calling for a change in the Church’s celibacy rules". Amidst the hyperbole, the Body of Christ is struck again as onlookers regard a Church imploding, rent asunder by internecine strife. Such events should not be used as fuel for brinkmanship, nor should they be used to score points against perceived opponents - this is not to say however than lessons cannot be learned from them.

I think Bishop Conry's statement regarding his resignation offers a number of topics for further discussion:

1) “In some respects I feel very calm. It is liberating. It is a relief.... I am sorry for the shame that I have brought on the diocese and the Church and I ask for your prayers and forgiveness.”

The first step in dealing with sin is admitting its existence, asking for forgiveness and seeking repentance. Sometimes we gather the courage to take that first step ourselves or sometime it is thrust upon us; regardless of how the opportunity presents itself, it is still an invitation to grace from God. I have often found myself praying for the grace to be able to refrain from a particular habitual sin only to have the temptation removed in an unexpected manner.

2) "I have been very careful not to make sexual morality a priority [in my sermons]"

One might suggest that this hints that Bishop Conry was more concerned by the charge of hypocrisy than the affairs themselves but this statement highlights what an impediment sin is to the office of teaching. As the Catechism suggests, Bishops "have as their first task to preach the Gospel of God to all men, in keeping with the Lord's command.... They are "heralds of faith..., authentic teachers" of the apostolic faith "endowed with the authority of Christ." [4] Sin is pernicious and its effects will not be limited to the faculty it initially impairs, it grows like a cancer, rotting the soul, curtailing the spiritual life and numbing our capacity for virtue. 

3) "I don’t think it got in the way of my job, I don’t think people would say I have been a bad bishop."

To be a Bishop is to accept a vocation, a calling from God, and to treat it as anything less would be a terrible disservice. It is an awesome responsibility as Bishops, like all priests, receive "the mission and faculty ('the sacred power') to act in persona Christi Capitis" [5] from Christ himself. All vocations be they to marriage, the priesthood, the diaconate, religious life  or any other state rely on the wellspring of grace for nourishment - if they are not treated as such they will wither an die.

Today is the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael - let us pray for protection against all temptation to evil, for the grace to submit to God's will for us and for healing wherever it is needed.

O Lord, the angels' sheer delight,
Their life reflects your splendour bright,
As we today their praise declare,
May we their joy forever share.

Saint Michael, be our refuge here,
Preserve us from all useless fear;
Through you may God his peace bestow
On all the nations here below.

Saint Gabriel, be with us this day,
Reveal God will to us, we pray;
As Mary once did answer you,
May our response be form and true.

Saint Raphael, heal our sinful heart,
May God his grace to us impart,
And may you guide us on the way
That we may never go astray. Amen.

[1] http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2014/09/27/english-bishop-announces-shock-resignation/
[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2772203/Bishop-affair-married-parishioner-quits-shame-ANOTHER-romance-Bishop-Arundel-admits-relationship-broke-clerical-vows.html
[3] http://www.ibenedictines.org/2014/09/29/kieran-conry-st-michael-and-acceptable-evil/
[4] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p4.htm#888
[5] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p4.htm#875

Sunday, 21 September 2014

When I Started School....


Mary O’Regan from The Path Less Taken nominated me to write a post on what I was like when I started school.

You don’t need a blog. If you have a blog, you can do the post there, but if not, you can do the post on Twitter or Facebook. Some people might like to do all three: post on their blog, Facebook and Twitter. Please always use the tag, #WhenIStartedSchool to keep us together.

The rules are that you must…

Post a photo of yourself from your early school days.

Answer the questions:

What kind of child were you? Are you a very different adult?

Nominate at least three other bloggers and/or social media users. Tell them they have been nominated by leaving a comment on their blogs or by tweeting to them or posting on their wall on Facebook OR whichever method you prefer.

I think it's very difficult to give a definitive answer to the question of what kind of person one was or is. How I perceive myself is likely to be quite different to how others perceive me - the eye of the beholder passes through the prism of our individual experiences effecting how we view others whilst we also often guard our true selves from others. Having said that, here's my attempt to analyse my younger self.

Here's a picture of me from the first year of primary school at Saint Joseph's Roman Catholic School:



What kind of child were you?

I seem to recall being a happy and contented but sometimes nervous child. I grew up in a family with two brothers and though we were like chalk and cheese, we never really fought or indulged in sibling rivalry. I was generally well behaved and eager to please my parents and teachers but was headstrong if I thought I was in the right or had been wronged. Confident within my own friendship group but, timid outside of it, I enjoyed both physical and intellectual activity. I was always reading something and particularly liked to flick through encyclopaedias and books on science and history, often when waiting for dinner or tea. Up until secondary school, I was convinced in the superiority of my own intelligence and this contributed to my sometime sense of defiance. Aside from my first year in comprehensive where I was separated from my friendship group, I thoroughly enjoyed going to school and learning all I could. Thoroughly convinced I would get a great job and earn lots of money, I envisioned a future with a family, a big house and a lavish garden.

Being raised in a Catholic household with a devout father and (eventually) convert mother, Jesus and the saints were always a part of my life. I remember being utterly convinced in the existence of God and, even from an early age, I took the time to learn more about the Faith by reading about the saints or church history.

I had bags of energy as a child, getting up early on weekends and school holidays to go bike riding or adventuring with friends. I loved my action figures from Star Wars, He-Man, Thudercats and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles to Transformers and quickly developed a fascination with the neighbours' computers. It was an incredible day when we were finally bought a Spectrum 128k for Christmas.

Are you a very different adult?

Though in some ways I think I am radically different in how I approach certain aspects of life (some of which no child has to contemplate or comprehend), there is much continuity between the child I once was and the adult I am now. Some might rightly say that even at the age of 34, I still haven't completely left my childhood behind. The differences I suppose are born of experience and the sad realisations one is faced with as one grows up. As Indiana Jones says, "It's not the years honey, it's the mileage".

I still enjoy both mental and physical activity though I get injured far more regularly and probably have 10% of the energy I did as a child. I love reading as a source of learning but now also as a form of recreation and relaxation.

Paradoxically, though I am more aware of my character defects and limitations, I am more confident in the person I am but less confident in my own abilities. I care less about what other people think about me and am far more content with the simpler things in life, taking great comfort in natural beauty.

My faith has become even more important to me as an adult. It helps me make sense of the world - to truly appreciate the beautiful things life has to offer and to deal with the disappointments and difficulties it places in my path.

Nominations:

The Thirsty Gargoyle

Recusancy

Journey of a Catholic Nerd Writer

Sacred Sharings For The Soul

Linen on the Hedgerow

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Educating Peter

Sunday's Gospel follows directly on from last week's account of the establishment of the Petrine commission and Peter's great statement of Faith in Jesus as "The Christ, the Son of the Living God". [1] Yet in the space of a week (or a paragraph in the text), Peter had gone from being called "blessed" to being addressed as "Satan" and told to "get behind" Jesus [2]. In my experience, the spiritual life can often be like this - one moment you feel rewarded in the security of your Faith, the next you are confronted abruptly by your sinfulness.

The context for Christ's rather stark words to a man upon whom he has chosen to build up his Church is His own revelation regarding the nature of His commission:

From then onwards Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day.

Peter's response is not something gravely offensive but born rather of his great love for Christ:

Then, taking him aside, Peter started to rebuke him. 'Heaven preserve you, Lord,' he said, 'this must not happen to you.'

Jesus' reply however leaves Peter with no room for ambiguity in his understanding of both the essence of His mission and the error of Peter's judgement:

But he turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because you are thinking not as God thinks but as human beings do.'

Finally, he indicates that those who wish to follow him will be required to make sacrifices:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me'.

In many ways this discourse is a microcosm of the Christian life. Professing Jesus as the Christ is perhaps the easiest aspect of Faith - surrendering to His Will and accepting "His Way" with the crosses that may follow is far more difficult. In Peter's case, I can perceive three possible and related sources to his refusal to countenance Jesus' predicted suffering: compassion, expectation and fear.

Compassion is a noble sentiment but as Jesus' rebuke makes clear, it can be an obstacle if cripples our capacity for making difficult choices. Many Catholics who dissent from Church teaching often have their reasoning rooted in compassion and it is all too easy for us to criticise them when we ourselves lack the same inner turmoil. As compassion has its root in something fundamentally good, we should have patience with those who consequently struggle with particular aspects of Church teaching, always hopeful that a deepening of Faith will allow them to accept the crosses that bearing witness to that teaching will entail.

Peter's love for Jesus was surely genuine but maybe at this stage of their relationship he had certain expectations which were devastated by Christ's revelations. To a man who believed the Messiah would reign in glory, talk of grievous suffering would have come as a terrible shock. It would have been perfectly natural for Peter to have expected some reward for his faith and instead he has been told that he would not only have to watch his friend suffer and die but that he too would have to take up a cross. We may often feel that our Faith entitles us to better "rub of the green" but any cursory look through scripture will reveal that this simply is not so. In fact, the deeper our Faith, the more will be asked of us.

Peter's compassion is a truly human response but it is a response given according to his fallen nature. Nobody wishes to see a friend suffer and most of us will go to any lengths to avoid it but suffering and how we deal with it is an integral part of what it is to be human because none of us can escape it. As a society, we are terrified of suffering and it is this fear which can be an obstacle to right judgement and an excuse for moral shortcuts. We don't like to be reminded of it and either subconsciously or by design hide it away, particularly when it begins to impinge on our moral sensitivities. Old people are forgotten in nursing homes, the mentally ill are segregated in hospitals, the homeless and destitute are abandoned on the streets. Eventually, we might begin to wonder what we might or should do when quality of life outweighs this suffering and the terminus of such thought is that it is better to end that life. Abortion and euthanasia are frequently justified on the grounds of compassion where individuals are judged to be incapable of attaining a quality of life that outweighs their suffering or the suffering they might cause to others.

Without a salvific understanding of suffering, our fear of it is understandable. It is only Christ's sacrifice on the cross that gives it any meaning and we are called to believe that God allows suffering for a greater good. This purpose may be inscrutable to us we can either trust in God as a loving Father and to make what we can of suffering or give ourselves over to despair. As Saint Pope John Paul II wrote in Salvifici Doloris, "In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed,. … Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished. He is called to share in that suffering through which all human suffering has also been redeemed. In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ." [4]

[1] Mt 16: 16 - 20
[2] Mt 16: 21 - 24
[3] http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/08/a-catholic-reflection-on-the-meaning-of-suffering
[4] http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/1984/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris_en.html

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Red Card: Tina Beattie

Tina Beattie gets a Red Card
On Wednesday, The Guardian published an article by Tina Beattie, Professor of Catholic Studies at Roehampton University entitled "Pope Francis has done little to improve women’s lives" in which she claims "Women do not seem to have a place in the pope’s vision of a Catholic church that cares for the world’s poor people". [1] Professor Beattie's article appears to be a vehicle to demonstrate her perfectly liberal rejection of Catholic teaching on abortion and contraception, justified as a solution to the appalling maternal mortality rate in the world's poorest countries - laying the blame at Francis' feet appears to be ploy for headlines rather than a serious accusation. 

Professor Beattie lambastes the lack of discussion of maternal mortality in official papal encyclicals but one suspects she is being disingenuous in this accusation as a Professor of Catholic Studies should know that papal encyclicals do not directly address specific issues in such a manner. There are no papal encyclicals on AIDS, drug abuse or alcoholism but one cannot conclude that the Church has no position on theses issues nor does anything to try and alleviate them. Sure, she may not address these issues in the manner a liberal minded Professor would like but she has a stance on them nonetheless. Likewise, the church addresses maternal mortality through the prism of it's social and moral teaching and it's encyclicals on motherhood, marriage and the family and economics. Professor Beattie suggests that "the international community must focus on poverty alleviation and the education and empowerment of women and girls, not only because justice demands it but because it has been shown to be the most effective way of tackling the population crisis". As the Catholic Church plays a vital role in the education and care of women in most poor countries throughout the world and has consistently worked towards the alleviation of poverty and an end to exploitative economics, it is disappointing that Professor Beattie did not choose to constructively engage with those aspects of it's mission.

I don't know enough about Professor Beattie to know if she is a Catholic - one does not need to be one to be a Professor of Catholic Studies but one would assume it might help [2]. Aside from the subject of maternal mortality, the major issue her article raises for Catholics who wish to remain loyal to the authentic teaching of the Church is how to deal with such prominent cases of Catholic dissent. Professor Beattie's case is particularly pressing because of her status, her position and her platform. @themunimentroom has suggested that given the censure of protectthepope.com, "it's up to everybody reading this to give it the widest possible dissemination.  Let's make sure our Hierarchy knows what Professor Beattie thinks!". [3] Such dissemination won't do any harm (and maybe this post will contribute to that end in a small way) but given Joseph Shaw's analysis of how like minded bishops within our hierarchy appear to handle dissent, it seems unlikely to do any good. [4]

Though I had reservations about the way in which Deacon Nick pitched his articles and don't think he did himself many favours in the way in which observed his "period of prayer and reflection", I recognise that protectthepope.com was fulfilling a very useful purpose in making challenges to the authentic teaching of the Church known to those who would wish to defend it. [5] Whilst not exactly a conspiracy, I do believe that parties in addition to Bishop Campbell brought about it's censure. Such a recognition of role of Protect the Pope however is a rather damning indictment of our own hierarchy, theologians and educators. Surely it is their vocation to "be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks [us] to give an account for the hope that is in [us]" [6] and to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God"? [7] True, some bishops have spoken out on themes such as the redefinition of marriage but it is rare that an individual is taken to task for propagating dissent in an official capacity.

And so, it is left to ordinary Catholics to challenge dissenting Catholics like Professor Beattie. We may not be able to do so directly but if we encounter the effects of their influence in the people we meet, we may just be able to "give account for the hope that is in us". As Blessed John Henry Newman says we should be a  laity "not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold, and what they do not, who know their creed so well, that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity; I am not denying you are such already: but I mean to be severe, and, as some would say, exorbitant in my demands, I wish you to enlarge your knowledge, to cultivate your reason, to get an insight into the relation of truth to truth, to learn to view things as they are, to understand how faith and reason stand to each other, what are the bases and principles of Catholicism" [8]


[1] http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2014/aug/27/pope-francis-womens-lives-catholic-church?CMP=twt_gu
[2] Google suggests she is a "British theologian, writer, broadcaster and practicing Catholic" https://www.google.co.uk/?#q=Tina+Beattie
[3] http://ttonys-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/professor-beattie-rides-again.html
[4] http://www.lmschairman.org/2014/05/protect-pope-double-standards-part-2.html
[5] http://lucascambrensis.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/some-observations-on-protect-pope.html
[6] Peter 3:15
[7] 2 Corinthians 10:15
[8] http://www.newmanreader.org/works/england/lecture9.html

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Catholicism and Depression

Jesus at Gethsemane
 
On Tuesday, the world woke up to the news that depression had claimed the life of another well loved celebrity. Robin Williams will forever be remembered as a unique and madcap talent, famous for critically acclaimed films like The Fisher King, Good Morning Vietnam, Insomnia, Good Will Hunting, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Awakenings but also for crowd pleasers such as Mrs Doubtfire, Aladdin and Mork and Mindy. Whilst his genius clearly lay in comedy, his acting credits included a range of characters from the psychotic villain of One Hour Photo to the fragile but sympathetic psychologist of Good Will Hunting. It might seem ironic that someone who brought fun and laughter to millions should take their own life but Robin Williams had been battling with depression and drug and alcohol abuse for some time. Perhaps like many, laughter and comedy was a means of keeping the darkness at bay. [1]

Though death, particularly in tragic circumstances, can sometimes lead to somewhat effuse, superfluous hyperbole in eulogy, it appears that Williams was a generous and kindhearted man who was loved by his friends and family. [2] The Beatles suggested that "All you need is love" but that simply is not true. You also need Faith and Hope. People who do decide to take their own lives may no longer have faith in other people or believe that no-one has faith in them. They also do not hope for something better or beyond their suffering.

Sometimes, it is hard to accept depression in a Christian framework. If one is a practising Christian, fully convinced of God's love for them and the complete triumph of Christ on the Cross, what is there to fear? Is depression just a sign of a lack of Faith? Some Christian traditions appear to take this approach seemingly ignorant of Christ's own mental anguish (he was "deeply moved in spirit and troubled" and wept at the death of Lazarus [3]) and the whole tradition of lamentation evident in the Old Testament. "While research shows that some believers can be more resistant to depression... it is also true that some approaches to religion can be associated with higher rates of depression and emotional problems. When evaluating the power of belief to protect against emotional problems, the research seems to show that the question isn't "do you believe?" but rather what do you believe, how, and why?" [4]

The Catholic Church has not always had a complete understanding of suicide because previous generations had little understanding of the psychological causes and impact of depression - it was therefore always analysed in purely spiritual terms. Depression does not leave a person completely devoid of freewill, inexorably fixing them on the path to suicide nor can one overcome it by force of character, joyful obstinacy or a rigorous prayer regimen. As Simcha Fisher suggests, "Many people who are severely depressed are suffering from some combination of spiritual and physical ailments... they are dealing with some things that are out of their control and some things that are within their control... they need sacrificial love and patience from friends and family, and also some kind of hard work and self-knowledge in order to make it through the dark times."  [5] In short, depression is best treated through application of Faith and Reason:

My son, when you are sick do not be negligent,
but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you.
 Give up your faults and direct your hands aright,
and cleanse your heart from all sin.
Offer a sweet-smelling sacrifice, and a memorial portion of fine flour,
and pour oil on your offering, as much as you can afford.
And give the physician his place, for the Lord created him;
let him not leave you, for there is need of him.
There is a time when success lies in the hands of physicians,
for they too will pray to the Lord
that he should grant them success in diagnosis
and in healing, for the sake of preserving life.
He who sins before his Maker,
may he fall into the care of a physician. [6]

Suicide is contrary to the Fifth Commandment and contrary to justice, hope, and charity. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "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 neighbour 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." [7] It was often believed to be the one sin for which one could not be forgiven because suicide was committed against Hope and the Holy Spirit - the giver of life [8]. For this reason, those who had committed suicide were often denied a Christian burial.

In the Catholic understanding, particular condemnation is reserved for those who encourage suicide as a viable social norm because all life, regardless of how humanity perceives it's value, is precious to God. This view also takes into account the salvific potential of suffering when united to Christ's passion, death and resurrection. "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." [9]

Today, the Church understands that as a person needs to be in full control of their faculties to bear the full responsibility of a sin, the gravity of suicide can be mitigated by its circumstances as "grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide." [10] It also actively encourages the faithful to pray for those who have died in such tragic circumstances: "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." [11] For those who are curious, the Patron Saints for those suffering with depression and anxiety are St Jude and St Dymphna whilst a specifically Catholic outlook on depression can be found in The Catholic Guide to Depression by Dr. Aaron Kheriaty and Msgr. John Cihak. [12]

Robin Williams' death is a tragedy devoid of blame or endorsement. It has brought out the voyeuristic worst in our celebrity obsessed culture and media [13] and the downright loathsome abuse of those in grief for a man they loved as friend, husband and father [14]. Christ has taken all suffering offered to Him through his passion, death and resurrection and transformed it - maybe in the manner of his death Robin Williams can convince some who need help to find it, just as they may have found solace in the manner of his life on screen. 

May choirs of angels come to greet him and speed him to paradise. May the Lord enfold him in His mercy. May he find eternal life.

The Resurrection

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-28753326
[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-28751241
[3] John 11: 33 -35
[4] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithonthecouch/2014/08/dealing-with-depression-getting-the-right-kind-of-help-matters/
[5] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/simchafisher/2014/08/13/faith-reason-depression-and-help/
see http://lifelibertyandcrap.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/guest-postdepressed-catholics-god-wants-you-to-get-help/ also
[6] Sirach 38:9-15
[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2281
[8] Mt 12: 31
[9] Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2282
[10] Ibid
[11] Ibid, §2283
[12] http://www.nationalreview.com/article/372068/getting-free-interview
[13] http://www.themediablog.co.uk/the-media-blog/2014/08/robin-williams-newspaper-coverage.html
[14] http://mashable.com/2014/08/13/zelda-williams-quits-twitter/