Keven was calling me and asking me to light a candle for Joe - he knows I am a committed Catholic (some say I am a Catholic who should be committed but I ignore them) and he also knows that Joe is a committed Catholic.
My heart broke when I heard the news - not just because of the scandal of a Catholic man choosing to take the most precious of gifts from his Creator but because I owe a great deal to Joe.
Holy Mother Church teaches:
(CCC 2280 - 2281)
2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.
2281 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 neighbor 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.
2282 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.
Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.
2283 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.
I include these teachings because there are many misconceptions, even among Catholics, in regards to the issue of suicide. In the 'old days' an obvious victim of suicide was denied a Catholic Funeral and even denied burial in Sacred ground. These actions, while harsh, were based on the sound teaching that suicide is a mortal sin as well as the limited knowledge we had regarding mental illness and/or alcoholism/drug addiction.
Like any sound Doctrine, as our knowledge of the world grows our interpretation of that Doctrine may change. In the middle ages, for instance, it was believed that a child in the womb did not really exist until the mother felt the child move in the womb. Referred to as 'the quickenning', this happened around the third month of pregnancy. Because we did not have the knowledge regarding human conception, we have the writings of people like St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas which seem to okay abortion before the third month of pregnancy. It is those writings that people like Nancy Pelosi rely upon to argue with Church Teaching that life is sacred from the moment of conception to the end of natural life. The essential teaching that abortion is immoral has not changed. What has changed is that we know more about human beings and science and genetics than St Augustine knew.
The Teaching, therefore, that suicide is a mortal sin is not wrong. However, we know more today about mental illness, alcoholism, depression and more than we did in the first century. We know today, for instance, that the people who chose to end their lives rarely meet the conditions required for one to be guilty of mortal sin, the most important of which being that they are freely choosing to do what they are doing, unhampered by any outside influences or coercion.
Let's face it - if you suffer from an illness that kicks you physically, mentally and spiritually so that every where you look you see despair and no way out, you are not freely making a choice to do anything. You are so deep in the pit, so covered with the darkness you are not clearly deciding anything. Frankly, all you want is for the pain to stop.
I find it difficult to believe that the man I knew, albeit not as closely as some, freely chose to end his life.
What I believe is that the despair and anguish he experienced chased out any chance he had of making a sound decision.
Let me tell you about Joe.
I arrived in Modesto from the Bay Area with six years of sobriety, an attitude that I was doing everything right and enough fear of the unknown to keep me from making friends or reaching out to people. I could not let anyone see how frightened I was - the new kid on the block, so to speak - and so I worked hard to appear competent and confident.
My sponsor had instructed me to get into service as soon as I arrived and so I went to the business meeting for Northside Fellowship and raised my hand when the need for a Birthday Night Chairperson was announced.
I asked questions, was told how they did it and immediately decided they were doing it wrong. Joe, the chairperson for the fellowship at the time, just smiled and said, "Go for it". I wrote out a format, I organized people to help, I got a speaker - and the night I chaired my first birthday night the members of the fellowship were thrown for a loop when this strange woman stood up, with a notebook in hand, and started their meeting.
Afterwards, Joe told me, many went to him and wanted to know who the HELL I thought I was to do what I had done - change things without asking - and he told them all to back off, let me do the deal and if they didn't like it then they needed to show up six months from now and volunteer to be birthday night chairperson.
That usually shuts people up in AA. The minute you point out to people that a complaint can lead to actually DOING something, they back off.
Joe ran into some problems later, leading to a relapse and some legal troubles that we do not need to discuss here. He served his time, got back on the water wagon (as Bill W. called it) and came back to Northside Fellowship. I, meanwhile, fell in love with a phony Vietnam Veteran, made a fool of myself at group level and had to make an amends to the entire fellowship, got another college degree, began writing for the Modesto Bee and started studying to be a Catechist at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
A couple of years ago a man by the name of George began stalking me online. He would get drunk and then post my name along with several slanderous and outright bizarre accusations: I am a drug addict, I have slept with everyone at Northside Fellowship and have been banned from attending AA meetings there, I am hated by everyone in AA, blah blah blah. It got really ugly - the man threatened members of my family, threatened my job, etc.
I knew that most of his threats were ridiculous, made in the middle of a drunken rampage and were not to be taken seriously, but I was worried about Northside. I do not get to attend very often because of my work schedule and my worry was that someone online would read George's posts and not go for help if they needed it. I also knew George had to be allowed to continue attending, but that his online crap had to stop.
So....I went to Joe.
Joe took care of it - he and another man spoke directly to George about his behavior. While George denied it was him (he always has, unaware that his IP address had been captured and LE had traced all the emails, online posts etc to him or his office), the craziness began to disappear. Now, with the exception of occasional flare ups by George or his little friend Robert, the problem no longer exists.
You can understand why Joe and his beautiful wife Marie hold special places in my heart. I do not get to hang out with them or go to dinner or movies or parties - I work out of town and sleep when most people are awake - but whenever I needed his help he was there.
I am going to miss him. I know, I believe that at the moment of death Joe asked Jesus for help. I believe that Joe is on his way to heaven - being purified of all detachments and sins he had upon his entry into the next world and I believe that, if I persevere myself, I will meet him again in heaven.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May Our Lady meet him at the gates of heaven and lead him to her Son.