Priest preaches at funeral, world falls on his head – UPDATE – HOMILY TEXT

UPDATE 17 Dec 2018:

Canonist Ed Peters has a post about the text of the sermon that Fr. LaCuesta gave at the funeral for the young man who committed suicide.

The family fueled the usual hyped-up MSM faux reporting.  (NYT … can you believe it?  NYT covered it? was shameless and ultra-lib bedmate La Croix was also dreadfully unfair) The priest’s reputation has been trashed and he was sidelined by the diocese.

Peters received a copy of the text of the sermon.  I’ve read it too.

Peters comments:

[…]

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 real 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 [That’s a huge part of this.] 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? Crimeny.

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.

Want to read the text of the homily for yourselves?  HERE
______

Originally Published on: Dec 15, 2018 

I was sitting in the Delta lounge at LGA this morning waiting for my flight and, across the room, I saw on soundless CNN something about a priest who made a young person’s suicide “worse”.

It seems that, in Michigan, a priest gave a sermon at the funeral of a young man who committed suicide and that people didn’t like it.   Dr. Peters also wrote about this and the canonical aspects of funeral sermons in relation to this incident.  HERE

I haven’t heard a recording, but from what I can tell, the priest spoke about suicide, which caused pain to the loved ones of the young man.  However, from news reports it also seems that they were upset that the priest didn’t treat the funeral as a “celebration of life”.

For example HERE:

A funeral should focus on the way an individual lived, rather than the way he died, Jeff and Linda Hullibarger said.

That’s why they’re upset at the way a local priest, the Rev. Don LaCuesta at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Temperance, Mich., handled the service for their 18-year-old son, Maison, who died on Dec. 4. The couple said the priest disregarded their requests for an uplifting homily and instead chose to sermonize on the morality of suicide.

“He basically called our son a sinner, instead of rejoicing in his life,” Ms. Hullibarger said.

[…]

“We heard he was talking about suicide,” Mr. Hullibarger said. “We looked at each other, and said, ‘What is he doing? We didn’t ask for this.’”

[…]

Mr. Hullibarger approached the priest during the sermon to ask that he end it, but he said the priest did not acknowledge him. The couple said they had to again intervene in order to share their own reflection before the recessional hymn, which they had also previously discussed. They asked that Father LaCuesta not accompany them to the cemetery after the service.

No, a funeral is not a celebration of life.  That doesn’t mean that the priest had to dwell on the issue of suicide.

Also, people don’t get to prescribe what priest’s preach about.

Then the father went up to the priest during the sermon… nope.  You don’t get to do that either.

In another news account HERE,

“He basically called our son a sinner, instead of rejoicing in his life,” said Linda Hullibarger, Maison’s mother, the Toledo Blade reports. “It was what he wanted. He said nothing about what we asked him to say.”

Funerals are delicate and funerals of suicides even more so.   However, I have a sense that, perhaps, there may have been a somewhat comprehensive lack of long term catechesis in the lives of the loved ones of that unfortunate young man.

Of course since this is now the Era of Outrage, some are baying for the priest’s head.   And the diocese has not deemed to give the priest much support.

It is entirely possible that this priest went a bit overboard in what he said.  Again, I have not heard or read that sermon.

However, I would not be surprised if some element in this sad story involves those involved having a presupposition that everyone, except perhaps Hitler, goes to heaven pretty much automatically and that’s why funerals are celebrations of life.  No.  Funerals are for praying for the mercy of God on the soul of the deceased, no matter how he dies.

Finally, I hope that family can find some peace without taking out the rage on that priest and trying to ruin his life – a funny way to “celebrate life”.  I also will say a prayer for that young man who took his own life.

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62 Responses to Priest preaches at funeral, world falls on his head – UPDATE – HOMILY TEXT

  1. Julia_Augusta says:

    I am confused. I thought people who committed suicide don’t get a Catholic burial. Has it changed?

    [Yes, according to the circumstances.]

  2. fishonthehill says:

    I figured I would read about this on your blog.
    Yes Father Z you are correct, “funerals are delicate and suicides even more so”; and I do not know what in fact the priest in this situation actually said. As one who has always been in a parish that could be called funeral central, I have had my fare share of funerals and suicides. What I find jarring in this situation is that, similarly, I have always mentioned the fact that a suicide has occurred but do not dwell on it. Too often people speak in whispers about the cause of death and it becomes a pall over the entire situation. I lift the pall (figuratively) and proclaim the faith clearly. To help the family see that we are not at the funeral because of a death but because of our faith; a faith that demands us to pray for the deceased and the mercy of God. Perhaps this situation was compounded by the reality that this man was quite young. Its an awful reality for the preacher to confront yet in my experience it can be confronted with tact, care, and compassion… and a little common sense. I pray God’s mercy on this young man’s soul and a consoling peace to this family in this most difficult time.

  3. Sawyer says:

    Although it is true that nothing in the Church’s Canon Law nor liturgical norms suggests treating a funeral as a “celebration of life,” there is this in Sing to the Lord, the USCCB’s document on music in the liturgy: “244. The Church’s funeral rites offer thanksgiving to God for the gift of life that has been returned to him.”

    Yes, that stupid statement was approved by the US bishops.

    Of course, hardly anyone has read Sing to the Lord, so that’s not where people get the wacky “celebration of life” idea from. It’s poor catechesis and our culture’s general discomfort with death and with sin and with thinking about the possibility of eternal damnation.

  4. Benedict Joseph says:

    There is no awareness of the tragic reality of personal sin and its relation to mental disorder, let alone of ontological reality of original sin and its existential impact on the human person. To transmit this rude reality of human existence to children would scare their tender tiny psyches. Now these tiny psyches are reproducing. Could it be otherwise? Surely Baptism is merely for the adoption of an individual into the “khristian kozy” and not for the remission of sin, original and actual, and of all punishment which is due for sin.
    Sin? People make mistakes but there is no reason to get judgmental and use the term sin.
    And funerals are merely local canonization ceremonies which confer a provisional halo until the solid gold one can be crafted in Rome…
    Sixty years of no catechesis or erroneous catechesis – presently on steroids — what is one to expect? I only became aware today that Cardinal Coccopalmerio “suggested” back in the summer of 2017 that Anglican order are not invalid. Is it any wonder the misinformed laity don’t know up from down, right from wrong, reality from fantasy, faith from wishful thinking?
    What is going on?
    Really?
    God help the poor priest celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of this funeral Mass. He has a case of PTSD for sure. And when the world falls on your head there is a lot of collateral damage.

  5. roma247 says:

    First of all, I was under the impression that once upon a time, suicides were not allowed to be buried in hallowed ground or to have a funeral Mass. I guess that is one of the things that changed with VII?

    Whatever the current regulations are, while I certainly understand that suicide has certain implications from a strict Catholic point of view, at the same time, one does have to question what on earth made this priest want to rub that in the faces of the mourners, as if they are not already torn to pieces.

    As someone who has first of all experienced more relatives’ suicides than I would like to recall, and who moreover has a teenage son with mild autism and chronic depression who I seriously worry about 24/7, I would not want to be subjected to a scolding of this sort either. Suicide is something that truly ruins the lives of those who are left to “clean up the mess.” My aunt and uncle lost their son over 25 years ago but the loss is still as raw, and my poor aunt was the one who had to find him. He put a gun in his mouth. I’ll leave you to imagine what she had to go through.

    She would not have deserved something like this from a priest.

    I would never, ever advocate a “celebration of life.” They make me sick.

    But the families of suicides need compassion, not fire and brimstone.

    I will pray for all parties involved. What a mess.

  6. Roble says:

    I have been tempted to suicide on several occasions. At such times the thought of damning myself definitively was all that prevented me. At the root of contempleting suicide is a person’s desire to escape Hell, not enter it eternally.

    How the diocese has wasted this opportunity to help the vulnerable: to give them some pause before they try to kill themselves. A “celebration of life” of a suicide is not what someone tempted to that sin needs to see.

    I too pray for the young man and his family and the priest, but especially for anyone living whose temptation to suicide is not lessened by its destigmatization.

  7. tho says:

    Perhaps the priest might have been a little heavy handed. But suicide is a contradiction of God, who created us with eternal souls, and it is blasphemous for us subvert his mandate. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away was once imprinted on every catholic child. Of course you can theologically debate about a sound mind and all that stuff, but the fundamentals of Catholicism should never be brokered. There were once restrictions about being buried in consecrated ground, but emotion has triumphed over centuries of right and wrong.
    Having said all that, I think a kind and sensitive priest would have explained to the family in private, what church law requires, and not purposely embarrass anyone.

  8. Man-o-words says:

    Yeah, I have seen this one all day. I keep thinking that this story absolutely captures the sad state of Catholicism today, or more accurately, humanism under the name of Catholicism. Apparently we now decide a persons fate after they die, and we do it based on what we want to happen. Our will be done and dont you dare say otherwise.

    I have to wonder, if the 17 year old knew the Church’s teaching on suicide, would there have even been a funeral? Someone let this kid down, maybe his parents, or maybe his parents were also victims of priests who did boyscout homilies instead of teaching truth. Their ire certainly suggests either invincible ignorance or innocent ignorance.

    As for the priest, perhaps a poor judgement call on timing or perhaps he realized that, in that particular funerary congregation, there was another likely candidate for a future funeral. Better to save one soul and pay hell for it here on earth.

    My vote is for the priest, and if he ever needs help, put him in touch with me. I suspect he shortly will.

  9. Father Flores says:

    It may be the priest was concerned about any youth that may have attended confusing hopeful and uplifting as tacitly approving the young man’s actions.

    Youth who would not been taken or go to Mass otherwise would have encountered an atmosphere that sees suicide as a sad yet valid response to suffering.

    Continued prayers for all involved here and throughout.

  10. I will not comment on how the priest, family or diocese handled this, because of the paucity of information I have. So I will keep my yap shut about those matters.

    I have been called to help in an apparent suicide three times. You don’t forget those situations. I offered the funeral Mass in one case. In that case, there was, in my case at least, a genuine doubt about whether it was suicide versus an accident. I will say no more, out of consideration to the family, who could read this, after all.

    When I talked to the sheriff’s deputies at the scene, I tried gently to suggest the possibility of it not being suicide. I was thinking of the terrible burden that falls on the family in that case, who carries a terrible burden in any case. I simply cannot imagine being a parent in that situation, and my heart breaks as I remember those parents, right now. I don’t know what the sheriff’s office or the coroner eventually determined.

    In my homily, I did not talk about suicide, because: I did not really know (regardless of what I suspect). I did talk candidly, but carefully, about the psychological difficulties the deceased young man had. Everyone knew about that. He lived in a periodic darkness. He knew, too.

    Was I too subtle, too easy? I don’t know. Was I cowed? Could be. It was one of the hardest funerals, and homilies, I have had. In such moments, one entirely entrusts oneself to Jesus, and asks him to take over, because really, what do we know? It is like being in a minefield, and you don’t dare take a step in any direction.

    I did talk about the ned to pray for the soul of the deceased. Prayer and grace beyond our sight does things we cannot fathom. And I remembered, and shared, those signs that this poor tortured soul was longing for God.

    Was I trying to console the family, the wrecked parents most of all? Of course! I did not lie or exaggerate. I did not thunder or threaten. I neither canonized nor condemned him. Did I get it right? I really don’t know. I think of that young man often.

  11. Sword40 says:

    My wife and I have had several long discussions with our 7 grown children. We are elderly so we decided to plan our funerals so that there are NO arguments after we pass. All the kids, except one have fallen away from the church. We told them there is to be no eulogy (not a problem as we go to an FSSP parish). I told them that if they want to do stories about us after the Requiem Mass, then do it in the church hall after the Mass. Our pastor is fully aware of our wishes as everything is down on paper.

    At first the kids didn’t want to talk about it. But we insisted, that it was nothing to fear and was a healthy way to remove any questions. (a refresher in catechesis).

  12. thomas tucker says:

    Sorry, the days of pray, pay and obey are over. Priests don’t get to do whatever they want with regard to the laity any more.

    [Not a terribly thought-filled contribution to this topic.]

  13. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    If the priest who says my funeral doesn’t mention how grevious of a sinner I was or mention purgatory or my need for prayers and Masses offered for me or the 4 last things…

    Catholic funeral masses aren’t about the family as much as the deceased.

  14. APX says:

    But the families of suicides need compassion, not fire and brimstone.

    Indeed. Yes, objectively speaking, committing suicide is a grave sin, but that doesn’t automatically mean it’s a mortal sin and the person is in hell. How many people are prescribed anti-depressants without much thought, despite the numerous warnings that one of the risks, especially in youth and adolescents is the increased risk of suicide? Post-mortem studies have shown substantial changes in the brain that are not present in the brains of those who don’t commit suicide. Mental illness is real (contrary to what many Catholics of an overly Traditionalist leaning seem to believe) and unfortunately the suffering that people with mental illness have to endure without support from others (our priest went so far as to refer to the mentally ill as “whack jobs” in his Catechism class not knowing that there were those suffering from mental illness present) can seem unbearable and like it will never end at that moment.

    My cousin’s husband was a veteran police officer who unfortunately developed severe PTSD that never really gave him any relief. His wife said he described it as movie screens that would constantly alternate as re-plays of the horrific events he encountered throughout his career. Despite being placed in an office setting, going for therapy, etc. He still succumbed to it and lost his battle and shot himself at work with his service weapon one day last year. Why they let him keep his gun despite knowing he had PTSD is beyond me. Anyways, I couldn’t afford the flight home to attend his funeral, and for whatever reason he didn’t get the Catholic funeral he would have wanted, so I had a Requiem Mass with Absolution at the catafalque offered for him. One of my fellow schola members made a comment wondering why we were even there singing and having a Requiem Mass offered as the Church had something to say about those who commit suicide (implying my cousin’s husband was in hell so there’s no point in offering a Requiem Mass for the repose of his soul). Who even says something like that?!? I take consolation in knowing that at least at some point in his life he prayed at least one Hail Mary, this asked for Mary’s intercession at the moment of his death and was granted it and that somehow he had repented before his actual death occurred.

    It’s pretty crappy when someone commits suicide. There’s no need to make it worse by dwelling on the worst case scenario. You don’t need to canonize said person (I was at another funeral for someone who committed suicide where the priest said he knew so-and-so was in heaven now, etc and it just felt really weird.

  15. e.e. says:

    I’m fairly local to this story… On top of whatever the priest did or didn’t say in his homily, there was also drama at the funeral over the young man’s former football coach. Apparently the parents had passed word to an intermediary that they didn’t want the coach to attend, and he either didn’t get the word or disregarded it because he showed up, and then the young man’s brother strongly requested he leave the funeral. So even before the homily, there was drama. (Then, the coach went home and posted unkind statements on social media, and the local school district fired him as coach.) The Detroit Free Press has some more details in their article: https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2018/12/14/hullibarger-bedford-suicide-gofundme/2308094002/

    It’s a shame that so much additional drama and pain had to occur at their son’s funeral. I hope and pray they find peace as they grieve their son’s sudden death.

  16. There is a pervasive attitude that persons who take their own lives are now “free” and “no longer suffering.” I remember seeing a lot of this at the time Robin Williams committed suicide. And I once attended the non-denominational funeral of a person I knew who committed suicide. I have to give the minister a lot of credit for the tender and gentle way she handled the topic of this woman’s suicide, without however suggesting that it was good that she did what she did. On the other hand, one of her “friends” who got up to speak about her gave us to understand how glad he was now to have her as a sort of guardian angel. (???!!!)

    What are we to take away from all this? It’s true that we want to take into account any evidence that mitigates guilt, and that only God knows the person’s true state of mind. But we are in danger of crossing over into suggesting that it’s a good thing the person committed suicide, or that suicide is a legitimate way out of trouble and suffering. Possibly that was the priest’s concern. He does after all bear responsibility for the souls under his care.

  17. @ APX, I think you have some very good points. It is extremely sad and strange to hear such a lack of discretion and just plain unnecesessary display you and others experienced in that catechism class. It’s sadly ironic actually. Anyhow, whack jobs need prayers too, right? Good grief. People say and do very strange things like you experienced in that class and from schola member. I would think the majority of folks who read this website take the gravity of suicide and it’s consequences very seriously. Also, the need to pray and do penence especially for the soul of the departed and their loved ones. Prayers for all involved.

    How do people not understand that they are in effect commiting a suicide-so to speak- by habitual and actual grave sin? Or the slow death of and bleeding out of deliberate venial sin? When I hear of suicide, this us what I think of…what am I doing, if anything to prevent that awful death of my immortal soul? If our sin affects the body of Christ.. ..well, may God have mercy on me..

    Priests must have such a hard time with this especially. Ministering to the families..I just cannot imagine the agony for a good priest who loves our Lord. This morning at the Rorate Mass that exact thought weighed on me enough to bring tears. Everything seen and unseen good priests endure. What consoles me is our Lady’s love and intercession for them.

    Every evening my children and I pray for priests and add, *especially those in danger of dying or despair.

    Just let someone tell me not to pray for someone who committed suicide….God is outside of time. I cannot deny the gravity of that sin which is why I am compelled pray all the more.

  18. Felipe says:

    It always saddened me, and still does, when the priest and the deceased person never knew each other. I think this whole situation with the suicide would be entirely different if there were a closer connection between the family and the priest. That thought helped encourage me to rediscover my Faith after attending the funeral masses of some of my closest friends who died because of gang violence. The funerals were often sad because these very young men were obviously not living out the Faith of their parents. The priest usually didn’t know anything about them or anything good to say about them so they would talk about the need to pray for their souls and the ignorance of violence. To this day I still pray that the Lord have mercy on their souls. I know for me being a young person seeing my friends lying dead in a casket, it was a reality check that I needed. I hope the young people in attendance of the suicide funeral got the reality check twofold. I’m sure it upset them but I bet they won’t forget what he said! I pray that the Lord have mercy on the soul of that young man, the parents and the priest. (See, because the priest did what he did, now more people are praying for this young mans soul!)

  19. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Sigh. A bad situation all round.

    First, this “kid” was a college freshman, and it’s very unlikely that he was under 18. No matter what bad stuff happened in high school, he was in a new place and away from his parents and whatever “bullies” he may have experienced. Given the timing, it seems that the real motive must have been the sadly traditional “bad grades for the first semester” or “unwillingness to return home for Christmas because unhappy with performance.” (Although the traditional romantic breakups, makeups, and new romances of the first year may have been part of it.)

    I notice that nobody interviewed the UT parish priest, or asked him to do the funeral. There are no comments about his college life. It’s as if everyone involved in the story wants to forget his adult student life, and turn him into a helpless minor. Kinda strange.

    Second, it would seem that Father de la Cuesta is from the Philippines. So it’s likely that this is more of a cultural clash than anything else, but apparently the reporter was not going to delve into that. Given the thick accents that some Filipino priests have, I wonder if the parents even understood correctly the words that he was saying.

    I have heard people get amazingly offended about things that a foreign person didn’t actually say. Maybe it’s about tones of voice being misinterpreted, maybe it’s a guilty conscience turning words into a Rohrschach blot. Of course, I don’t know if that’s what happened here.

    In general, I would say that any kind of “twist” sermon is a bad idea in today’s society, because very few people are going to have faith enough in the speaker/priest to wait for the twist. You would almost have to put the twist in the first two sentences. Certainly, people are going to be too mentally numb at a funeral for any kind of complicated sermon. But again, I don’t know if that’s what happened here.

  20. robtbrown says:

    Sawyer says,

    Of course, hardly anyone has read Sing to the Lord, so that’s not where people get the wacky “celebration of life” idea from. It’s poor catechesis and our culture’s general discomfort with death and with sin and with thinking about the possibility of eternal damnation.

    It’s something that was prior to catechesis. The liturgical changes after VatII included–and to a certain extent were based on–a move for the de facto suppression of Purgatory. Consequently, presumption rules–and the choice becomes canonization or condemnation.

    I have known people who have committed suicide. The reactions of family were often anger and confusion more than sadness. A few years ago the husband of a good friend, who is very nice, did himself in–fortunately, the kids were gone, the youngest having just finished medical school. When she saw me a week later, she said, “If he were here right now, I’d slap him.”

    There are incidents in life, and suicide is one of them, when the only recourse is to the Ineffable Mystery of the Divine Mercy.

  21. majuscule says:

    A fallen away family asked to have the funeral of a loved one at our church. The parents of the deceased had been very active at the church years ago and had been among those in the community who got the present church building built.

    Our Nigerian priest was going to say the Mass. The family asked to bring in the (Catholic) chaplain of the organization the deceased had once worked for. He presented the priest with readings and what they wanted done for the funeral. Father, who had always seemed mild mannered put his foot down and said that could not happen. Lay chaplains do not conduct services in the church. Or tell the priest how to do it.

    At first family members were upset about not getting their own way. And sadly, since they were not really Catholic it seems, they held their own “service” at a nearby venue and the decedent did not even get a Mass. I heard later that a horse was involved at that service, so just as well…

  22. Dismas says:

    Scenario 1: Fr. goes off his rocker. It happens rarely, but it gets national, sometimes international attention when it does. I hear stories passed around between aunts and uncles about Fr. Soandso, and his early onset dementia, or drinking problem, etc. Let’s pray that this is not the case, though the papers love it.

    Scenario 2: Fr. was always serious about the Four Last Things. He did not dwell on the matter of suicide, but even this was too much. Had the family gone to Mass more frequently than Christmas and Easter, perhaps the culture shock would not have hit them, or they might have sought a different parish.

    Scenarios 3-47 are somewhere in between.

  23. aviva meriam says:

    I read Professor Peters commentary and, am usual, am grateful for his measured, logical approach.
    I view this a somewhat different perspective: at a funeral there are two separate sets of obligations… first and foremost the obligations to the deceased and second to the mourners.
    Our current culture makes a series of assumptions … namely that the deceased is automatically “in a better place” and that their “suffering ended”. Judaism (traditional) never taught that or assumed that for the average person and neither does Catholicism. Unfortunately, most people don’t know that. And many who do know better, don’t want to accept the inevitable conclusions that knowledge leads too.
    Furthermore, the idea that anyone can control the words of another person…. especially a priest is arrogant and inappropriate.
    One of my closest friends committed suicide 6 years ago. She was a lapsed Catholic (from a devout family). Her death devastated all of us close to her. Her funeral was NOT held in a Catholic Church. There are many of us who offer prayers for her, have had masses said for her, and who have performed various acts of charity in hope that they would benefit her soul. I don’t assume to know where her soul currently resides, but have the hope that she is either in Purgatory or Heaven.
    In general, people don’t know how to behave at a funeral or a wake/visitation of the family. The first rule is do no harm: if you don’t know what to say, just tell them how much you care, and then listen…. let them talk. False hope or placating statements are destructive.
    One last thought: in this information age, it’s very easy to assume any one of us virtual bystanders has complete knowledge/understanding of a situation and therefore render judgement…. that’s also arrogant and a product of self deception.

  24. scotus says:

    Nowadays, the family of the deceased seem to have a large say in the arrangements of a Funeral Mass. They decide the readings, they decide the hymns, they decide what type of instruments they want played and they decide the content of the eulogy which, at all the Catholic funerals I have attended – simply because they co-incide with the time of the normal weekday Mass – have been delivered by someone connected to the deceased. (In one case the priest had been quite complimentary in his homily concerning the deceased’s attachment to the faith. Then the person giving the eulogy said, in effect, that the deceased had had very little attachment to the faith.) I can’t remember what it was now but at one funeral a piece of secular music was played. Am I right in thinking that all this lay input post-dates the Second Vatican Council or does it go back further than that? As with weddings there seems to be a desire in many cases to ape non-Catholic or even civil ceremonies. ‘The celebration of life’ syndrome certainly comes from that source. At their funeral services Protestants have little alternative but to ‘celebrate the life’ of the deceased. The service cannot serve any other purpose.

  25. nycdreamr says:

    The funeral of an 18 year old calls out for compassion and deference to the parents of the deceased. The priest here failed, badly, on both counts. If he were the pastor at my parish, I would have found a different one for Mass today.

  26. Grabski says:

    Thomas Tucker. As are the days where parents storm the altar

  27. e.e. says:

    Did anyone else see the N.Y. Times article about this? It actually includes some quotes from the homily… https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/16/us/maison-hullibarger-suicide-funeral.amp.html

  28. e.e. says:

    CNN has a document online that seems to be the entire text of the homily, released by the archdiocese:

    https://cdn.cnn.com/cnn/2018/images/12/16/father.lacuesta.homily.maison.hullibarger.funeral.pdf

  29. Akita says:

    After update of December 17th:

    Father, help me. Is the visible, institutional church the “ape” church? Will faithful, diocesan priests be increasingly humiliated publicly by their episcopal superiors? Will the sheep continue to be fed poisonous crumbs? How many souls will be lost to this evil state of affairs?

  30. Chuck4247 says:

    Also missing here is the context of how this priest had been preaching prior to this at the regular Masses: If Father was normally a true fire-and-brimstone preacher from the pulpit, then this should be heard as gentle concern, given that the parents were actually regularly-attending parishioners there.

  31. YoungLatinMassGuy says:

    As one who has suffered, and still suffers, from extreme depression, and has been deep in nihilistic existential crises contemplating eternal oblivion after death, I have only one thing to say about this whole ordeal:

    I will pray for the soul of that young man.

  32. Sue says:

    I just read the text of the homily. How sad the parents missed the hopeful, compassionate message. I printed it out to keep in the event that someone I know takes their life. I thought it was beautiful and truly pastoral.

  33. Nathan says:

    While I’m unqualified to comment on the particulars of this incident, it strikes me as indicative of the very difficult position that good parish priests are in, given the Situation in the Church (writ as large as possible). It also strikes me as there being a huge gulf between what is and what ought to be.

    What ought to be is a priest’s freedom to preach at any funeral on the Four Last Things and the teaching of Holy Mother Church on things like suicide, all aimed for the salvation of the souls of those in attendance, focusing them on the need, in charity, to pray for the soul of the deceased.

    However, what is currently going on makes it a minefield. The priest has to, at the end of the day, be accountable to Almighty God for not saying or doing what needed to be said or done. But he faces:

    –A culture where, the more tragic a death is, the less we can admit that it happened and one where often the grieving family, often through no fault of their own, expects a funeral to be a “canonization ceremony.”

    –A Church where, perhaps, the grieving family members went to a Funeral Mass in the few months prior to the incident for someone who had not practiced the Faith or lived an openly and unrepentantly sinful life, yet was told by that celebrating priest that the person was already in Heaven.

    –Or perhaps worse, a grieving family member had been to a Funeral Mass down at the Cathedral recently where His Eminence also assured them that the Honorable So-And-So, after years of publicly working, from a position of influence and power, to destroy the Church and deny her teachings, was clearly not only already in Heaven, but should be considered a saint and a doctor of the church!

    What’s a good, holy priest to do then? How can he reach those who need both comfort and truth? Outside of an extraordinary intervention by the Holy Spirit, it seems like a really tough situation to be in. I’d be tempted not to preach at all, but that’s why God didn’t call me to the priesthood….

    In Christ,

  34. APX says:

    I can understand how a grieving family could have heard something other than what was being said. Grief and emotions can do that to a person, but I do think it’s unfair for them and the media to smear his good name.

  35. John Grammaticus says:

    I thought the Priest was actually quite sensitive, at the very least he got that those of us who commit / try to commit suicide don’t want to stop living, we simply just want to pain to stop and see ending our own lives as the only viable option.

  36. tlawson says:

    While there is some truth in what you say, having the parents virtually be “in charge” of the homily and related matters is totally wrong. While we do live in the midst of a feeling-centered culture which has even been allowed to invade Christ’s Church, true followers and true shepherds must know to resist this onslaught.

    This priest whom you have criticized (wrongly) did and said exactly what he was obligated before Our Lord to do and say, unlike the majority of others today.

    If you want a feel-good always “priest” and “homily,” they are far too easily found today.

    Finding a priest who puts Our Lord and His Word first is an ever greater rarity.

    This priest surely stands before The Lord with a clear conscience, with upright reason and Faith. Most today unfortunately just live in, and want to continue to live in, their feelings, regardless of whatever Our Lord says about anything.

  37. Julia_Augusta says:

    Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables.
    2 Timothy, 4:2-4

    This is the Bible passage that came to my mind after reading the homily. This is a very difficult time for our priests.

  38. Marissa says:

    How is this international news? The BBC is covering it.

  39. Malta says:

    Father Longenecker said it well too: “We hope that person is headed toward heaven, but we don’t know. Therefore a funeral homily should at best, be open ended about the state of the person’s soul. We should say something like, “We commend this person into the Lord’s love and care.” or “Let us pray for the eternal rest of this person.”

    We should also remember the reality of purgatory and the efficacy of offering masses for the repose of the souls of our loved ones. This too is a great source of ongoing hope and help for the bereaved as well as offering supernatural assistance for the dead.

    There is another reason why we should not say the person “is better off now” or “he is in a better place”. If we suggest that a person who commits suicide goes straight to heaven–not only is it not true, but we may be encouraging others to take the same short cut.”

  40. Ave Maria says:

    “If the priest who says my funeral doesn’t mention how grevious of a sinner I was or mention purgatory or my need for prayers and Masses offered for me or the 4 last things…”

    I am with Atra here. I recently lost my husband and I wanted either black or violet vestments. Well Novus Ordo does not use black so that was out. [YES! It does.] So the purple or violet and, golly, the deacon did not know about that but then my husband was buried on All Souls Day–so, guess what? Violet vestments could be used after all! I want that for my funeral too.

    This “celebration of life” is a protestant thing. If this is what is wanted then any protestant community could oblige. I read the priest’s homily and it was not out of line. The parents were out of line in their demands and expecting to be obeyed. Yes, it is a terribly sensitive and painful time, no doubt about that but the funeral Mass is not a party to be orchestrated. Again, that “celebration of life” can be held elsewhere.

    And shame on bishops that do not back up their priests when their priests speak the truth. Look where that has got us.

  41. Benedict Joseph says:

    Given the contemporary penchant for funeral homilies to focus on the deceased, I don’t know how Father could have composed anything other than the beautiful reflection he offered. In that context I find it an orthodox, affirming, sensitive and deeply comforting sermon. The family of the deceased should be profoundly grateful for this prayerful reflection offered by their pastor.
    But no, and one has to wonder why. Just what is operative there?
    I have always been of the opinion that the deceased should not be referenced at their funeral. There are other venues for that. The funeral mass is a time and a place to focus on the grace filled mystery of human existence – temporal existence and eternal existence – the promise always at hand offered by Jesus Christ in life and in death. While we sit in mourning at a funeral we should be in awed contemplation of the mystery of eternal life and the possibility that our loved one is simultaneously in the presence of God, or will be after a purgation that they are enduring lovingly because they know they are saved and only long to conform to their Creator and Redeemer. The souls enduring purgatory are holy souls indeed.
    As for those who we fearfully perceive as having lived an existence unworthy of Heaven we are ultimately in the dark as to how our Blessed Lord understands their culpability. We are not far afield if we promote within ourselves an awareness that for God all things are possible. He said so Himself. We have not an iota of knowledge of what transpires in the last microsecond provided for conversion. If I can have hope for my salvation I can certainly hope for what appears unlikely to be realized for another.

  42. L. says:

    When a well-known Protestant politician in our state died, our now-former Bishop publicly praised him and pronounced that he was in heaven. This to me seemed unlikely, at least without the passage of a decent interval, but I was in no better position to know that than was the Bishop. This mitigates the view of some family members who, after a family funeral, were incensed that the presiding Deacon had had the effrontery to suggest that prayers for the soul of the deceased might be of service to him, as if he were not immediately received in heaven at his death. Why should they know any better than our Bishop?

  43. MrsMacD says:

    Holy St. Joseph guard this priest and find him a good home. Obtain for his bishop the courage and wisdom to shelter him from the attacks of the evil one. I think this priest must be enduring this for something like that for which Father Z endured getting hit by a motorcycle. He must have converted someone and the devil hates his guts, so he’s punishing him. Well, good for him. May he be given the grace to persevere. The media is just proving how much they are into ‘fake news’ by vilifying this priest. Anyone who reads his sermon and knows his faith is bound to find him innocent. Mary Mother of the Clergy- pray for us.

  44. hwriggles4 says:

    Here’s a thought:

    “If a Baptist minister preached a similar sermon at a funeral service, would the New York Times, the Dallas Morning News, CNN, and MSNBC find it newsworthy?”

  45. teomatteo says:

    I read the homily and was thinking that if that was read at my funeral (not ending my life that way) how pleased i would be. I found it solid. I think an apology is in order. Somewhere.

  46. aroc981 says:

    The only reason I havent killed myself is because hell exists and suicide is a sin.

    If we truly believe suicide grants instant salvation, is there really any reason not to do it?

  47. John Grammaticus says:

    aroc981

    I know how you feel, trust me

  48. veritas vincit says:

    Having read Fr. LaCuesta’s homily, my reaction is:

    What the heck was wrong with it?? It was short, compassionate, and hopeful.

    I can understand this as a reaction from grief-stricken parents who are likely dealing with guilt feelings, as loved ones of suicides often are (and who likely were poorly catechized as well). But the bishop, and the diocese, should have had this priest’s back.

  49. Il Ratzingeriano says:

    The homily was a relief to me. I had read the press reports and believed that some idiot priest had at the funeral preached fire and brimstone before the parents. Having read the homily I now know that this is not at all the case. I cannot imagine a more painful experience than having a child commit suicide. If however I were to have to endure it, I would want to hear the message that this homily conveyed: While suicide is a terrible wrong, God’s mercy is great enough to forgive it.

  50. Hidden One says:

    It’s good to see the text. It seems like a pretty good homily! I’m sure I could nit-pick here or there, but I can’t be certain that any change I might suggest would actually improve it. May God have mercy on all involved.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if, down the line, it comes out that that homily has (or will have) prevented a suicide attempt or two.

  51. jflare29 says:

    I’m struck by a thought that, …this sort of reaction to a homily helps explain why otherwise good priests may go so terribly bad. In the years since Pope Francis’ ascension to the throne of Peter, he has emphasized accompaniment many, many times. Well, here’s where that accompaniment would be most crucial. We have a young man having committed suicide, of all things. For the sake of his flock, he cannot honestly say the young man died well. So, what is he expected to say? If anything, he offered the only real help the priest CAN offer in a homily. He didn’t condemn the young man, nor his family. If anything, he offered the chance to heal, to pray for the y0ung man’s soul.
    Too often, we treat these events as almost one-time matters, assuming that life will go on somehow. Life will go on, yet these parents have really more need now for this priest than they had before. Very tragic that the bishop evidently can’t see that.
    I’d say prayers for the young man’s soul and those of his parents are in order.

  52. Titus says:

    This is why there should be bright-line rules, like “no ecclesiastical funerals for suicides,” or perhaps, moderated but still bright-line, “no homilies at ecclesiastical funerals for suicides.”

    Hard cases make for misunderstandings and disputes over judgment. It is easier to run a society when you sacrifice a bit of accuracy (in this example, public funeral rites for some persons whose circumstances permit reasonable hope of diminished culpability for their acts) for the sake of consistency.

    “Just do whatever will work out best” might be good abstract advice, but it’s a terrible law. Unfortunately, it’s what a lot of civil and canon law has been boiled down to. Thus we get messes like this, where even a good homily creates a firestorm.

  53. OrangeBlossom says:

    Our Lady of Mount Carmel is near the parish that we attend. I have read Father La Cuesta’s homily. I am a wife and a mother of seven children ages 19 to 3. I found great encouragement in his homily. I do wish he emphasized prayers for the deceased and acts of penance. I also read in the Detroit Free Press article that the family gave a eulogy after the homily ignoring Father’s request to wait until after Mass.
    I’m writing a letter to our auxiliary bishop along with the Archbishop of the Diocese of Detroit. Currently, the diocese has a mission to Unleash The Gospel. https://www.unleashthegospel.org
    How can our diocese Unleash the Gospel when the bishops do not back the truth?! Father’s homily was truth yet he’s promptly relived of his ministry when someone views something he said as hurtful.

  54. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Father’s homily was theologically sound, no doubt. But as a matter of prudence, it was a fail.

    The loss of a child, especially so young, occasions an unspeakable grief in the parents. And this is one time where “unspeakable” is not dramatic. Add to that, the searing circumstance of a suicide, and a pastor in a parish cannot be too careful. What could Father have talked about? 1) the infinite merits of the Precious Blood 2) Jesus’ prayer that not one of those entrusted to Him would be lost 3) the Sorrowful Mother and her example of trust in God, at the foot of the Cross 4) the Garden of Gethsemane, where an angel comforted Jesus 5) the love of mom and dad, and siblings, which converts to an eloquent prayer if they unite their grief to that of the Redeemer, who said “I am sorrowful unto death 6) the infinite merits, the power of suffrage, of the sacrifice of the Mass, by which the Church makes motherly intercession for the dead. There are many more topics from Scripture and Tradition that I have preached from, for the funerals of children.

    What the pastor should NOT bring up in a homily: 1) our “anger at how such a thing (a suicide) could happen” (Telling the congregation that we are angry at what the young man did? Don’t go there). 2) “We must call what is bad good, what is wrong right.” In the parents’ ear, you might as well have said, “Your son did bad, he did wrong.” Duh. Is the mom supposed to jump up, do a fist pump, and say, YES! She and the dad know this was bad, thank you very much.

    3) “Taking your own life is against God.” Yes, it is, but the homily is not directed at the sin of the deceased. It just isn’t. Is this a fair summary of all that this kid meant to his family? Are the parents to go out into the street and tell everyone–“Too bad we put so much into raising that boy, what a waste of time he was for us. Oh well, thank God we still have other kids who haven’t killed themselves.”

    4) “Things are left unresolved, even if it felt to (your son) like this was the only way to resolve things.” Unless Father was a personal friend of the young man, he is in no position to say what things felt like, for the kid. And to repeat, this focus on the suicide itself, on the taking of his life, is not what the homily is for and not what the parents need. Priests do not have children, for the most part. They have not the faintest clue what it is like to bury a son who committed suicide. In fact, the vast majority of parents do not know what it is like to bury a young child who committed suicide. Who needs to hammer home to these parents that things will be left “unresolved”??

    5) “(God) knows not to judge a person’s entire life on the basis of the WORST and LAST choice the person made.” We do not know that this was the “worst” sin of the young man, because in a certain psychological state, there would not even be sin. We also do not know it was the last choice, because depending on the manner of death, a suicide might have a split second to repent before the manner of death ends the life of the person.

    6) “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.” Again, we return to the crime, to the sin, to the “choice” of the young man. And we remind the parents and family that God must take this “seriously.” Again, theologically correct words. But each and every parent, whose child I have buried, would have felt these words as a salt in the open and bleeding wound. There is no doubt that the priest said some beautiful things about God’s mercy. No doubt. But what he felt the need to add, was not prudent, not consoling, and not necessary for a funeral homily.

    What is necessary, for every homily, is that the hearers be placed in the disposition and mindset to joyfully and thankfully offer the Sacrifice of Calvary, soon to take place on the altar. If the words of a priest or deacon, no matter how well intentioned, do not act as a balm on the burning anguish of the parents’ hearts, and do not lead them to calmly trust Providence, then they are ill prepared to be joyful or thankful at the altar.

    It is not that preaching sound doctrine is a problem. The question of prudence goes to the heart of “In this particular circumstance, with these particular people, are these the right words, and is this the best way to bring to bear, the timeless teachings of the Faith?” When I visit the teen classes in CCD, I have many, and strong words, to say about suicide, and give an entire presentation on this subject. However, I do not use the same words, and the same presentation, for a funeral of a suicide.

  55. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Under #2 of the second full paragraph, the correct quote is “We must NOT call what is bad good…”

  56. Andy_P says:

    Reading all which you posted Fr. I’d echo 1) the lack of catechesis of the parents and 2) their consciences did not like what those words, which to me were very generous, were making the *ahem* feel.

  57. otsowalo says:

    I had a discussion with an OFM “friend,” and he kept on harping that the priest was abusing his authority, and he should be lumped together with clergy sex offenders. I was really scratching my head. Where in the world did he get that?

    Apparently he based his views on this articles:

    https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2018/12/14/hullibarger-bedford-suicide-gofundme/2308094002/

    They really have an axe to grind.

    Lord have mercy on the young man’s soul.

  58. KateD says:

    Solid homily.

    Anytime I see a pastor suffering for bringing the Word to the people, feeding HIS sheep as commanded to do, I look for God’s action in it all….it’s always there. What I see here is the national broadcast of an excellent homily on suicide. This priest intended to speak to a single church full of attendees at a funeral…instead he has preached God’s TRUTH and compassion to an entire wounded nation via the enemies own propoganda system…

    WOW!

    Of course there is going to be blowback, the enemy hates to loose. But this priest should take solace in the fact that his words have made it to the ears of innumerable isolated people who otherwise would have no access to such succor….and God deemed this pastor’s words worthy to be delivered to them on His behalf.

    Again, WOW!

    That sounds like a “Well done, My son!”, if you ask me.

    Have courage.

  59. e.e. says:

    @OrangeBlossom

    You seem to be closer to this parish than I am, so I’ll ask you. Is it true that Bedford school district has had 3 suicides of students and 1 suicide of a recent graduate (this young man) in the past year? I’ve seen that claim on social media by several commenters in/near Temperance. If that is true, that’s a lot in a very small community! If true, that also might add additional context to why Fr. LaCuesta thought it would be appropriate to discuss this young man’s cause of death in his homily.

    I saw in the news that the archbishop of Detroit will be meeting with the family this weekend.

  60. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Andy_P:

    “Their consciences did not like what those words…” The pastor of souls, when seasoned by many years in the sacred ministry of parish life, will acquire a certain knowledge of the state of mind that people have at a funeral.

    I just ask priests to take into account that when you are buying your 19 year old son, from suicide, you are not in your rational, normal, healthy mind. You are in the deepest, darkest night of sorrow which is akin to mental torture.

    Theological points on the sin of suicide to prick their conscience, or using the occasion to “speak to the community” or to drop “truth bombs” on the uncatechized, might be useful in a blog combox. But they are useless to the liturgical setting of those barely holding on. Scripture says of the Messiah when He faces broken spirits: “The bruised reed he shall not break, and smoking flax he shall not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). Let the Word of God comfort the fragile parents, and prepare them for the Sacrifice of the altar. If a priest impresses himself with his homily, but alienates the family, he has not conferred the sacraments with spiritual fruit for the parish life. How does he expect to be able to visit the home for follow up, after the burial? That’s the point of being a pastor of souls.

  61. Mightnotbeachristiantou says:

    Unless you read the homily, it would be hard to comment. They decided on a Catholic Mass. He could not lie and say he was in heaven no matter the circumstances of his death. Catholic doctrine is that one goes to purgatury before one enters heaven. I encourage everyone to read the homily. It was a perfect homily that could have been given at any Christian funeral. The whole point was nothing can seperate us from the Love of GOD. How much more comforting can you get? He spoke of mercy. It seems to me he was trying to answer the questions that would be going through the minds of everyone at the service.
    Not speak of our anger. Everone is angry at a suiside to not bring it up and deal with it is not helpful or honest. Suicide effects everyone not just the parents, but every person that hears of it. The preist has a duty to everyone not only the family. He spoke what was on people’s mind and he gave them the Word of God to answer those questions. This should be given the ministers of all denominations. It was a good sermon.
    Their son is not in heaven. He did not say that they wasted time on raising their son. Just the opposite. In their grief, he was trying to give them hope. I thought we wanted to help people in their mental problems. Saying nice thinks about a person when they die just shows if I want to talk nice about me I’ll just kill myself. Healing can only begin with the truth. The only they have is God’s love and mercy. That is what he was trying to give them.

  62. Hidden One says:

    Fr_Sotelo,

    To the extent that my own comment earlier was opposed to your two subsequent comments, I hereby renounce it. In my desire to support a much-maligned priest, I erred in assessing the homily. I stand corrected.

    Thank you, truly.