November is the traditional month for Catholics to remember their departed relatives and friends. All Saints' Day falls on November 1st and All Souls' Day on November 2nd. I have attended three consecutive Requiem Masses celebrated by Father Joseph Lee on All Souls' Day in our St. Anthony's Church for the departed souls.
Included among the departed souls, we should also pray for those who have committed suicide. Hong Kong ranks among the top in the world's suicide rate. The Hong Kong Medical Journal reported that the overall suicide rate in Hong Kong jumped 57% in the last 20 years and ranked the sixth leading cause of death in 2001. Among Hong Kong's teenagers, suicide is the number one cause of death.
Undoubtedly, the concept of reincarnation also plays a major psychological role in the Chinese committing suicide. What is reincarnation and why did it affect a person thinking about suicide?
Those who accept reincarnation believe that a person's soul after death is reborn into another body. This rebirth may transform a soul into a lower form of life like an animal, nevertheless the life cycle continues - birth, life, death, and rebirth. In a sense, there is no death and life goes on forever. This belief is traditional for the Buddhists, Taoists, and followers of other religions although no major religion would encourage its followers to commit suicide,
Prevalent in the Chinese culture, folklores, novel, movies and television continuously propagated reincarnation. Many - particularly teenagers - grew up falsely believing that everyone has a second or even an unlimited chance to be “happy.” We often hear someone promising to repay gratitude or to seek revenge in the next life. Newspapers also reported lovers ending their lives together with a promise to seek out each other and to remain faithful in their next reincarnation.
When I was a kid, I often heard the grown-ups repeating their wishes to be reborn into a different family. Some women wished to be reborn as men and some poor to be wealthy. Thus, many children and teenagers were misled into this wishful world of fantasy. Like in the movie making, if they don't perform well, they can always ask the director for a “take two” or even more repeats.
Thanks to the influence of some celebrities like actress Shirley Maclaine, this belief spreads rapidly in the West. A Gallup poll found that 25 percent of Catholics in United States believe in reincarnation. Cardinal Francis Arinze attributed the new belief as “the desire to escape the consequences of one's life choices and modern stress.” Deacon Gerald DuPont of St. Mary's Seminary said, “If people have many different lives to lead, then they can play around a lot more and be a lot more experimental about how they conduct themselves morally.”
Should we, Catholics, believe in reincarnation? Our Church's stand is an unequivocally “No.”
The Catechism clearly states 'When the single course of our earthly life is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives…There is no 'reincarnation' after death” (CCC #1013). In his Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul said, “Human beings die once, and after this [comes] the judgment" (9:27). We cannot escape the “judgment day.” We have only one life in our journey on earth but our merciful God of Love gives us every chance to go back to Him while we are alive.
As parents and elders, it is our duty to correct any misconception regarding reincarnation. By rectifying this unhealthy aspect in our traditional Chinese culture, we can contribute to the reduction of suicides.
We should not forget that “the Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death” (CCC #1014). During this coming month of November, let us remember this prayer to St. Anthony for a Happy Death:
Good St. Anthony, In God's infinite goodness you have enriched the lives of those who rely on you with many spiritual graces and material favors as well.
by Ricardo Liong
June 7, 2006