With tears, even now, I write this. One week ago today I received that terrible bang on the office door. I was just about to take my kids to choir practice, but John’s uncle Robert was there, breathless, somehow trying to explain that John Rogan, Jr. had taken his own life. John was a very intelligent and gifted young man of 16 whom I had Confirmed only three years ago. I yelled (literally) at my wife that she had to take the kids and dashed out the door with my Pastoral Care Agenda. So began a tragic week for the Rogan family, our congregation, and my family, as we dealt with all the anguish and pain that follows such a terrible act. We all loved John and the whole Rogan family. They have been an important part of our church their whole lives.
Yes, the Lord has blessed this first week and helped us get through it. The church was absolutely packed and standing to the back for the funeral on Saturday – a great affirmation of love and comfort for the family. The congregation was absolutely stellar in coming together and providing a wonderful luncheon after the funeral. GOD WAS SO GOOD – even in the midst of our stricken lives.
Of course, no matter how we try, we will never understand completely what drove Little John to do what he did. We are hoping for a few clues perhaps from the police investigation. But no matter the outcome, we will most likely always be haunted by so many questions. And we will always be struggling to forgive ourselves for not understanding John while he was still alive, for somehow not meeting his needs, for not seeing through his happy appearance to the despairing young man that he evidently was. Where was I as a pastor, even? When was the last time I paid any special attention to him? Other than greeting him out of the church, the last time I gave him any special attention was at Christmas when I sent him a facebook message asking to see if he could acolyte Christmas Eve like he had for several years previously. He came to Christmas Eve service, but he hadn’t seen my message, and by then I had already gotten someone else to do the job. I then told him I wanted him to do it the next Christmas. I will have to find someone else.
Of course, the MAIN concern for John’s parents, John and Carol, was John’s eternal destiny. John (sr.) grew up in the Catholic church and was taught that anyone who committed suicide was not able to receive eternal life because they were unable to confess and repent of their sin of murdering themselves. What are we supposed to think about a person’s faith if they despair enough to kill themselves? Can they still have faith? Can God still save John? These are difficult questions to tackle. But they are SO important. I sat down with the family and we discussed it all and they were very comforted that yes, God can and does save His most beloved sinner/saint children – even those who take their own lives. They were very concerned that we share these things with as many as possible and so I worked up a bit of a piece which we printed up for the funeral bulletins and for the congregation. I hope that it might also be helpful for any reader, that they might be comforted by God, but also inspired to ever more love and encourage one another in God’s grace and forgiveness. It is as follows:
In our grief and pain at the death of our John Rogan, Jr., there are many questions that arise in our minds.
HERE ARE SOME IMPORTANT THINGS WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT TAKING ONE’S OWN LIFE
+ The taking of your life is against God’s fifth commandment: “You Shall Not Murder”. It is also against the First commandment to have no other God’s before Him. In suicide a person attempts to circumvent the will and gift of God to live, usurping God’s place and authority. Christians understand that “their” life is not really their own: it is God’s. We are in fact the temple of the Holy Spirit.
+ As Christians, we are the children of God, having been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism and made holy by the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. This is not a theoretical thought exercise. It is an objective reality. We live in a state of forgiveness. We have been “justified” in the sight of God, not by any choice of our own, but by the gracious power and merciful acts of God.
+ Although we have been justified by Christ and have received forgiveness through the spiritual gifts of repentance and true faith, Christians are yet still sinners. We are “Sinner/Saints”. As sinners our trust and hope in God sometimes shines brightly. Other times it is very dim. But the Bible says that although we are often faithless – God is faithful!
As St. Paul struggled with his condition of being a “sinner/saint”, wanting desperately to do good, but always instead doing exactly the opposite, he writes:
Rom. 7:21 “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
John Rogan was a child of God who lived in the “state” of forgiveness.
John Rogan, Child of God, was also a sinner, attacked in his mind and heart by the devil in ways we cannot imagine.
John Rogan, Child of God, confused about life and mired in a hopelessness we will never understand, forgot the promises of God and took his own life.
The Lord God, however, does NOT forget his promises to John. He IS John’s Savior.
John is proof again that tragic sorrow and anguish lurk just below the surface of so many of our lives. In these evil days, we desperately need to encourage one another (young and old alike) in the refrain of God’s grace and forgiveness proven to us in the cross of Calvary. Let us shout it to the world. There is nothing more important to keep front and center in our lives. Let us follow the command of our Lord to love each other as He has loved us, to love one another like we have never loved each other before.
As John himself confessed: “I am a sinner, but Jesus is my Savior.”
Praise be to God for His great mercy on us all.