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The Tragic Story about Alana

alana

There is the story in the news about a Colorado family angry with the Catholic Church over counseling and conversion therapy that they claim played a role in a young woman’s suicide. Alana Chen was, according to all accounts, a beautiful lady, a talented musician and an avid Catholic. As a teenager she thought about becoming a nun. When she questioned her sexuality, she sought out priests at the parish that ministered to students at Colorado University. The bishop assigned the Sisters for Life to mentor students in the cause of life and chastity. Against her wishes, the young woman’s mother said that the sisters convinced her daughter to take conversion therapy. Her mother interpreted the religious intervention (counseling and therapy) as an extended “emotional and religious abuse.” Alana became increasingly “depressed, distraught, and suicidal.” At 21 she had formerly attempted suicide and three years later apparently succeeded. I cannot imagine the pain that her mother and family experienced and still must face each day without her. While left unsaid, I have to think that the priests and sisters involved deeply grieve her loss as well. Most priests are haunted men, always praying for and unable to forget those whom they feel they have failed.

St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center in Boulder released the following statement regarding the accusations:

“We are devastated over the death of Alana Chen and cannot begin to imagine the pain and grief of her family and friends. Our prayers will continue to be with them during this incredibly difficult time. For those of us who had an opportunity to know Alana, we will remember her as a young woman who was eager to serve God and others and had a tremendous love of the poor. She will be greatly missed. Striving to be a community who welcomes anyone and everyone as Jesus did, we reject any practices that are manipulative, forced, coercive or pseudo-scientific. We believe that every person is a beloved child of God and should be treated with dignity, mercy, and reverence.”

I hope that she has found the peace that alluded her in this world. Rest in Peace.

3 Responses

  1. I do not know how you can be so positive and soft about a person who commits suicide. Suicide for whatever reason is a mortal sin. I do not buy that such an act of self-murder can be excused for psychological reasons. Most people who kill themselves are distressed and trying to run away from something— so what? Killing is killing. I refuse to feel sorry for what is moral cowardice. It is also an unforgiveable sin as it makes repentance impossible. You and the modern church are quick to look for hope where none exists. I am sick of funerals that eulogize such people as in heaven. If I had my way they would not even get church funerals or be buried in consecrated ground. The act of murder utterly dishonors God who is the source of all life. It is a grievous sin to throw this gift back into his face. Clergy should tell the hard truth. Your loved one is not in heaven and is not even in purgatory. The person who has killed him or herself is now suffering the eternal fires of hell. Otherwise the justice of God would be a sham.

    Optimism in this regard is another symptom of the current tendency to canonize even the worst of sinners and to presume that pretty much everyone sneaks into heaven. It is longstanding Christian teaching, from both Scripture and private revelation that the majority of folks go to hell. The sin of presumption is even observed by those who acknowledge the ancient doctrine that “outside the Church there is no salvation.” Some suppose that since they were baptized as Catholics that they have a free ticket to heaven. But faith can sour and one can forfeit sanctifying grace through the commission of even one single mortal sin. What does this mean? It is likely that most if not all non-Christians are doomed to perdition. Despite the lie of ecumenism, Catholicism can learn nothing from false religions where the deities are demons. The home of demons is hell. Heretics are also outside the juridical “true” Church and will burn for their rebellion. Catholics cannot pray with Protestants or associate with heretical worship. Otherwise, we will share their lot. Freedom of religion is a lie; error has no rights. The pretension of ignorance will hold no reign before the divine tribunal.

    The unprecedented optimism has infected the official catechism promulgated by the Catholic Church. Children are often left unbaptized because there is a deadly presumption that a good God would not condemn an innocent child. However, we are born in sin. No one is innocent. The early Church Fathers and even St. Augustine, himself, taught that unbaptized children, prior to the age of reason, were cast into hell. Salvation is a gift. No one deserves it. Apart from Christ, no one can merit it. This is one of the reasons that whole households (including babies) were baptized in apostolic times. It may be that the philosophical concessions made by St. Thomas are correct in that aborted and miscarried babies go to limbo where they are naturally happy but forever deprived of the beatific vision. Lest this seem satisfactory, we must remember that the loss of the beatific vision is a chief element in the definition of hell. All the scholastics have done is to imagine that babies will know a less painful region of Gehenna. Yes, neglect the baptism and faith formation of your children and you will forever deprive them of seeing God in heaven!

    We should take to heart what the Blessed Virgin showed the Fatima visionaries: “Mary opened her hands once more, as she had done the two previous months. The rays of light appeared to penetrate the earth, and we saw, as it were, a vast sea of fire. Plunged in this fire, we saw the demons and the souls of the damned. The latter were like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, having human forms. They were floating about in that conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames which issued from within themselves, together with great clouds of smoke. Now they fell back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fright.” Those who try to escape the pain they feel in this life are only embracing a far worse suffering. They have yet to really what genuine pain is about. The infinite dishonor of almighty God through serious sin is deserving of eternal torment and punishment. Otherwise, there is no true justice and the reality of God as God becomes questionable. It is no wonder that a growing atheism has precipitated a disavowal of hell or feigned believers argue that no one goes there.

    While your post speaks of the poor girl as a good Catholic, you failed to say that she was buried on Sunday, December 15 from Saint Ambrose “Episcopal” Church in Boulder. Even if her death were an accident, she did not receive the benefits from the Church’s public prayer and Eucharist. (The Episcopalians have neither a valid priesthood nor a spiritually effective Eucharist.)

    FATHER JOE:

    I do not know who you are but if you were a priest then you would be precisely the kind of harsh and rigid minister about which the grieving mother of this young woman complains. You distort what the Church actually teaches. The very reason why we pray for the poor souls is because there is a pastoral presumption that the dead are in purgatory and are destined for heaven. Those in heaven will know no more suffering and pain. All tears have been wiped away. Those in hell have deliberately rejected God’s love. The souls in purgatory love the Lord and others. Purgatory is an opportunity for purification and healing. Like surgery at a hospital it may entail pain but the objective is healing. The souls in purgatory rush into the fire of divine love.

    Yes, the Church does not teach universalism. However, we are a faith that preaches love and hope. God does not forget his children. He knows our hearts. Even those who take their lives might repent at the last moment. The Lord appreciates that we are broken and wounded. We come into the world suffering the effects of original sin. If this were not enough, sometimes others amplify our pain and confusion with their rigidity and, dare I say, meanness of spirit. You sir are mean and your words come across almost as diabolical.

    We leave ultimate judgment to almighty God. He is both the Divine Justice and the Divine Mercy. The ministry of Christ in Scripture demonstrates that his mercy comes to us in an infinite measure. You would be the self-righteous Pharisee or the scribe condemning Christ for forgiving sins or healing on the Sabbath. You would be the mob with rocks, not only ready but eager to stone a desperate woman brought before Christ. You would be the one to condemn Christ and his ministry as being empowered by demons.

    Yes, suicide is a serious sin, but issues of mental health do matter. Who knows how the story here would have continued had there been more in the way of understanding, acceptance and an affirmation of persons. This young woman was brave in so many ways. She lived her faith and tried to make a positive difference for the poorest of the poor. I wonder if you have ever done anything for anyone other than yourself. When she was hurting and confused, she sought help. I cannot say for sure whether she got the help she needed. Obviously, something was missing and bad decisions were made. As a priest I can well appreciate that we are flawed and often say the wrong things. Maybe part of the problem is that those with leadership positions in the Church often act like all-knowing sages instead of as fellow pilgrims and searching sinners on the way of Christ?

    When it comes to funerals I have always erred on the side of mercy. Years ago I was roundly criticized and sanctioned for officiating at the funeral of a famous dancer who had killed herself. I did not know that she was famous until the day of the funeral. The bishop and my pastor read about her and the upcoming funeral in the newspaper. She had embraced a somewhat scandalous and bohemian lifestyle. During the remarks at the end a couple of celebrities came forward to offer condolences and remembrances. Everyone was respectful to the rituals and solemnity was maintained. Did I cause scandal? I suspect it is a more terrible scandal to deny a child of God the funeral rites of the Church. I know priests who still refuse to do certain funerals. A regular excuse is that he or she is not a “registered” parishioner and churchgoer. Sorry, but I often do these funerals when others refuse. We cannot control either the disposition of souls or the benevolence of God. However, as a priest I can seek to make sure that as many as possible avenues of grace are open for those who travel this earth with us. When we come before the judgment seat of Christ, we may be surprised as to whom has entered the kingdom and those shut out. I make no claim to being impeccable or always right about such things; however, I have to live in conscience with the decisions I make. When I feel that I may have been a wall instead of as a bridge to the Lord, I am filled with regret and sorrow.

    Your emphasis upon Divine Justice would make a sham of Divine Mercy. Indeed, the scales of God may not be perfectly balanced as he seems to weigh more heavily upon mercy. How can I say this? It is because by rights we all deserve punishment. God is gracious to a people who brought upon themselves the situation of sin, suffering and death. We cannot force God’s hand. Left to ourselves, we can neither merit nor compel forgiveness. While mercy is undeserved, God offers us forgiveness all the same. You would turn a gift into a commodity.

    Yes, clergy should tell the hard truth; but make sure you know what constitutes that truth and then utter it with compassion. As for how many go to heaven and how many to hell, I do not know. I know that both are real and I do all I can to help people go to heaven. As have written before about my poor ambition— all I want is to go to heaven and to take my friends with me. The forgiveness of sins is the most sacred commission given to each priest.

    Yes, there is no guarantee that if one is baptized a Catholic that one will automatically go to heaven. Faith and baptism opens the person to the sacramental life and a spirit-filled discipleship. Catholicism defines a saving faith in terms of two themes: obedience and charity. Saving faith is made real through a loving discipleship. It is not the keeping of a morals manual or an ecclesial rule book.

    Yes, the Church is the great mystery of sacramental encounter with Christ. None are saved apart from Christ and the Church is his saving mystical body. The late Cardinal Dulles reminded us that there is one covenant. God first called to himself the Hebrew people and promised that if they obeyed him then they would be his people and he would be their God. This covenant is fulfilled and confirmed by Jesus Christ and makes possible a new People of God. There is still one covenant. Salvation comes through the Jews. The Church intercedes and prays for everyone: atheists, non-Christians, Protestants, Jews and even Muslims and those in the Eastern religions. There is no compromise upon the significance of our Lord: Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. We know that the Church is the great sacrament of salvation but we acknowledge that God can save whomever he wills.

    While the differences between churches are often significant, we should never dismiss the elements of Catholic faith purloined by the reformation churches. Further, those who love Jesus and trust his holy Word are brothers and sisters to us, even if appreciated as “separated brethren.” How can anyone who is a friend of Christ be an enemy? How can it ever be wrong to recite the Lord’s Prayer with anyone, even a Protestant believer?

    When it comes to unbaptized children, the universal catechism is hopeful. This hope is founded upon an appreciation of the loving hearts of Jesus and Mary. Every child is a reflection of the Christ Child. When a child is lost we often think about the Holy Innocents, judged as martyrs and saints of the Church. Admittedly, there is conjecture about this as our Lord did not spell out what happens to them should they die. But Jesus tells his disciples to allow the children to come to him unhindered. It may be the desire of parents or of the Church herself often suffices. Limbo was a Scholastic theory that may or may not be true; but there is little in Scripture that attests to it. Maybe the lack of follow up is in itself a sign that Jesus makes a special provision for babies who die prior to baptism?

  2. Indeed, conversion “therapy” can be fatal. Just leave people alone.

  3. […] via The Tragic Story about Alana — Blogger Priest […]

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