She struggled in life. She committed suicide. But there’s still hope!
Every one of us has known someone who took his or her own life, or someone whose life was affected by the suicide of a loved one. It’s so difficult to face this reality, and often people despair. Many give up hope for those who have committed suicide and believe their souls are lost.
But now I never give up. Instead, I pray. Let me tell you why:
I’m an engineer by degree. I got my MBA from the University of Michigan and worked as an engineering manager in the tough auto industry of Detroit. I made great money, enjoyed the work, and loved the area. On paper, God had given me everything a young man could desire; yet, it seemed as if something was missing.
I decided to move to the Charlotte area of North Carolina and start my own business. It quickly became very successful. I had a house, a boat, and planned to marry a beautiful young lady from the local area. But something was still missing.
Being a “cradle Catholic,” but not one who was really practicing my faith, I decided to start going to Mass again. I discovered a church in North Carolina that I still call home: St. Mark’s in Huntersville. It used to jokingly be called “Our Lady of the Lanes,” because it began with 12 families in a bowling alley. It grew to over 15,000 people in six short years. I started going to Adoration there and ended up doing something I would recommend to all of you: I made a general Confession.
In a general Confession, you mentally walk through your life, confessing your sins as you go.
My general Confession helped me tremendously as I recalled sins from grade school up through my professional career. I began to feel these burdens lifted off my shoulders.
So, while I was confessing my life’s sins in 2003, I got to the year 1993. I told the priest, “What happened in 1993 still bothers me. It was my grandmother’s death.”
My grandmother’s suicide
My grandmother, Mary Alar, was a special lady. My father told many stories about her, including how her family removed her from school in the sixth grade so she could work as a maid to help support them. Then, two days before her wedding day, her fiancé was killed in an auto accident. Later, she met my grandfather, but her life was still quite difficult. By 1993, she was suffering greatly — emotionally, spiritually, and physically. It became unbearable for her. At the time, I was finishing college and didn’t even know how much pain my grandmother was enduring. In a shock to me, my grandmother committed suicide on Father’s Day.
I didn’t realize how much of a knuckle- head I was at the time. Ten years later, I told my confessor that I was not “there for her” — even at the funeral. I mean, I was there physically, but not emotionally or spiritually. I was so concerned about my degree, my job, my new home, and my girlfriend, that I don’t even remember praying for her.
I told him that this bothered me, because my grandmother had already been judged by God, and I missed my opportunity to pray for her and help her. What I really feared most arose from something I’d heard long ago about the Church teaching that if you commit suicide, you automatically go to hell.
Then the priest did something that changed my life. He said, “Go home tonight and pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for the salvation of your grandmother’s soul. This is an incredibly powerful prayer.” I had never heard of the Chaplet. I said, “Huh? Father, she’s already been judged, so it’s too late. She died 10 years ago! She’s in Heaven (I hope) or hell (I hope not). At best, my prayers might relieve some of her time in Purgatory, if she even made it that far, but her eternal fate has already been determined. There is nothing that can be done about that now.”
He said, “Look, God is outside of time. There is no past or future for God, but only one big eternal present moment. God sees everything at one instant. From the beginning of time to the end of the world, He sees it all instantaneously without compromising our free will. How do you think that the Virgin Mary was immaculately conceived?” I said, “By the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” He said, “Yes, but how could Mary be immaculately conceived by these merits when Jesus hadn’t even been born yet? Because God is outside of time. Your prayers are eternal, and the graces given by God from those prayers, because He is not constrained by space or time, can go in any direction: past, present, or future. Christ’s sacrifice is eternally present before the Father, and so are our prayers if we unite them to the Cross of Christ.”
I sat there shaking my head, saying, “Wow, Father, this is amazing.” But I still wasn’t totally getting it. It sounded too good to be true. He continued, “Think of it this way, Chris. God knew back in 1993 that you would be here today, in 2003, and tonight you would pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for your grandmother’s soul. And since God is so merciful, so loving, He will put those prayers into the hands of Mary, the Mediatrix of All Graces, and He will allow those prayers from today to be carried back in Mary’s hands and showered over your grandmother’s soul back in 1993, at the moment of her judgment, to help her.”
He continued, “You see, suicide is a grave sin, and she will need all the help she can get. So with God’s grace, through your prayers, she may be better able to say ‘yes’ to God.” (That is why John Paul II called each of us “mini co-redeemers” — because we can share in Christ’s act of redemption).
The priest added, “In the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, she records that Jesus visited the despairing soul three times to save it from hell (Diary, 1486), so we can infer that the souls of our loved ones have the chance to repent, say ‘yes’ to Him, and be saved.”
I said, “Father, we’re good here then, because there’s no way my grandmother will not say ‘yes’ to Jesus when she sees Him. This is awesome! Thank you, Father. Have a great day.”
Blinded by sin
He stopped me: “Hold on — there’s a problem. You said she had fallen away from the Church. Do you know if she received the Sacraments?”
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“The problem,” he said, “is your grandmother, for whatever reason, may have turned her back on God. If this is the case, she may not recognize Jesus when He comes.”
“Oh, man,” I said. “I thought all was good, but now I am worried that she could be lost because she might not recognize Jesus, and therefore be unable to say ‘yes’ to Him!”
“You didn’t let me finish,” he said. “She may not recognize Him without your prayers. But with your prayers, she will be given more grace through intercessory prayer allowed by the mercy of God. That is why Mary said at Fatima that there are many souls lost to hell … because there is nobody to pray for them! Your prayers are like a squadron of dive bombers coming in from 2003, to aid in the war being fought for her soul back in 1993. They are coming in on the hands of Mary, back to your grandmother during her personal judgment (again, because God is outside of time). The graces from these Chaplets you pray for her may be enough grace for her to turn around and say ‘yes’ to God when otherwise she wouldn’t be able to.”
The priest went on, “What happens when we sin and turn our backs on God? We put a veil between God and ourselves, blurring our vision of Him. But your prayers can help to lift that veil so that your grandmother may see God more clearly, and she has a much better chance of recognizing God for who
He is. But remember, she has to say “yes” — you cannot say “yes” for her. But you can certainly help. This is the whole point of intercessory prayer.”
My confessor continued, “Your grandmother is like a wounded soldier who cannot help herself as she lies on the battlefield, in danger of death. Your prayers come in like a fellow soldier, putting her on your shoulders, and taking her to safety. Now, she still has to cooperate and let you assist her, and she needs to have the will to live. That choice is hers. But your prayers, Chris, can offer her the help at the moment of her judgment to determine if she survives or not — meaning salvation.”
I said, “Father, this is absolutely amazing.”
Hope for those who’ve committed suicide
I said, “I heard that the Church says that those who commit suicide are condemned to hell and lost forever.” He said, “The Church doesn’t teach that.” What does the Church say about suicide? The Catechism tells us:
Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. 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 (2282- 2283; emphasis added).
“So there is hope!” the priest said. “The Church says that we entrust these people to the mercy of God. So your prayers even now, 10 years later, can make a difference. And the Chaplet of Divine Mercy is one of the most powerful prayers you can offer for someone in dire need of God’s mercy.”
We then talked about a relative who had died after 20 years in which we all prayed for a conversion — and this person never converted, never came back to the Church. I told the priest that my dad said, “Well, there’s 20 years of prayer wasted.”
Is that true? No! Again, he referenced St. Faustina’s Diary, and this added the final straw to the proverbial camel’s back that was my former life. I was now changed forever.
Saint Faustina wrote:
God’s mercy sometimes touches the sinner at the last moment in a wondrous and mysterious way. Outwardly it seems as if everything were lost. [This is what it looked like for my grandmother.] But it is not so. The soul illuminated by a ray of God’s powerful final grace turns to God in the last moment with such a power of love that, in an instant, it receives from God forgiveness of sin and punishment, while outwardly it shows no sign either of repentance or of contrition, because souls [at that stage] no longer react to external things. Oh, how beyond comprehension is God’s mercy! … Although a person is at the point of death, the merciful God gives the soul that interior vivid moment, so that if the soul is willing, it has the possibility of returning to God (Diary, 1698).
Share God’s Mercy
I broke down in disbelief. I said, “Father, we have a God so merciful, so loving, so generous, that He will allow my grandma this chance for salvation? And He will allow me to still help her even though I missed my chance so many years ago?”
He said, “Yes, this is the power of the Chaplet, even for those who have taken their own life or who have died years ago.”
He made it clear that a soul cannot be removed from hell — this is Church teaching. What he was saying, however, is that as part of the Mystical Body of Christ, we can aid in each other’s salvation through our prayers. As Jesus told St. Faustina, “Help Me, My daughter, to save souls. Join your suf- ferings to My Passion and offer them to the heavenly Father for sinners” (Diary, 1032).
I said, “Father, I need to spend the rest of my life spreading this message of God’s Divine Mercy.”
Now, this message is the foundation of my priesthood.
So, if you have ever known someone who appeared to be a lost soul, especially those who committed suicide, don’t give up! There is hope! You can help, and this is all possible because we are members of the Body of Christ.
Pray for the dead!
Therefore, I ask you all to pray for your loved ones who have died, even if they’ve died 10, 20, or 50 years ago. We should never conclude that a soul is definitely lost. As Jesus said to St. Faustina, “There are moments and there are mysteries of the divine mercy over which the heavens are astounded. Let our judgment of souls cease, for God’s mercy upon them is extraordinary” (Diary, 1684).
Jesus, I trust in You!
Note: Ordinarily we pray for people and events that occur in the present moment. However, God may desire that in particular cases we pray for somebody or something in the past — things that pertain directly to us, like family members or loved ones. The Lord entrusts certain things to us to pray for, but perhaps not all things, such as world events that happened centuries ago.
Father Chris Alar, MIC, is the current “Fr. Joseph, MIC,” the honorary title given to the director of the Association of Marian Helpers.
From Signs and Wonders: Gregorian Masses are a beautiful way to pray for the dead and for those who have committed suicide. Request Gregorian Masses here!