Q: I am an elderly widow concerned about the fate of a friend’s son. Raised as a Catholic, he divorced and remarried—twice. After his divorce he had little contact with the Church. Recently he had need of bypass surgery and died on the table. No priest was called before or after the surgery. The whole situation left me unsettled and somewhat at a loss concerning what to say to my friend.
What is your take on situations where Catholics drop their faith and die without receiving the sacraments? Can you say anything to ease my mind?
A: Three things came to mind as I read your letter. One was a scene in Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh. An elderly family member lies dying. He has lived a life without God for many years. But just before he dies, he is seen making the Sign of the Cross.
Waugh’s point is, of course, we must never give up on the mercy and grace of God. We do not know what God does in the last moments of a person’s life. We should trust and go on praying for those near and dear to us.
The second was a story about St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, which I have previously mentioned in this column. A friend had consulted him about a dear one who had jumped off a bridge and committed suicide. The curé responded that between the bridge and the water God overtook the man.
As a young priest, I too was called to a suicide scene. It was clear the woman had changed her mind after cutting her wrists and throat. She was sprawled outside the kitchen doorway after crawling for help—too late for help but not for grace and forgiveness.
My point is simply that we must not despair. God is wonderfully good and merciful. With hope and love we can place those who seem removed from God in his caring hands.