Officer Eric Talley’s life honored and celebrated during funeral Mass at Cathedral

By Jonah McKeown/Catholic News Agency

A funeral Mass was held Monday in Denver for Officer Eric Talley, a Catholic father of seven who was killed while responding to last week’s mass shooting at a grocery store in Boulder, Colo. 

“Eric has shown what is best about the service you give to our community, our cities, and to our country,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila said in remarks to the shoulder-to-shoulder packed congregation, many of whom were police officers. 

“As police officers, I want to honor you, because too often you are taken for granted. And yet in situations like this, you are the ones who protect human life,” Aquila said. 

The Mass was celebrated in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite by Father Daniel Nolan, FSSP of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Littleton, Colo. 

In addition to a packed congregation at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Denver, more than 1,400 people tuned into the livestream of the Mass. The Archdiocese of Denver covers nearby Boulder as well as much of northern Colorado. 

Talley, 51, was reportedly first on the scene in response to a gunman opening fire at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder on March 22. The gunman shot and killed Talley, along with nine other people. 

Talley’s casket, wrapped in a black-and-gold shroud, sat in front of the altar in the basilica throughout the Mass. 

Before the start of the Mass, officers in a line of police vehicles, including dozens of police motorcycles, had processed along Colfax Avenue to the cathedral to pay their respects.

Archbishop Aquila offered the “condolences of the entire Catholic community, for your husband, for your dad, and for your son.” 

Talley gave his life to save others, Aquila said, and he quoted the words of Jesus: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Aquila said based on the testimonies of Talley’s fellow officers, “Eric lived that.” 

“It is evident he was a man of God, one who put Christ first in his life,” Aquila said, offering prayers for the police officers in attendance.

Talley joined the Boulder police department in 2010 at age 40. 

“May our Lord continue to comfort you…in the days ahead,” Aquila concluded, speaking to Talley’s family, which includes seven children ranging in age from seven to 20.  

Father James Jackson, FSSP, pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, said in his homily that the tragedy of the shooting in Boulder “broke God’s heart,” and told the congregation that Jesus bore the pain of the shooting at his crucifixion. 

The priest read from a sermon on the Agony in the Garden by St. John Henry Newman, which reads in part: “[Suffering] is the long history of a world, and God alone can bear the load of it.”

Jackson said the purpose of a requiem Mass is to give God worship, and to thank God for the creation of the person who died. 

“What a creation he was,” Jackson said, calling Talley “a faithful and heroic officer of the law.”

Nevertheless, Jackson said, Talley would not have wanted to be “canonized” at his funeral, preferring instead prayers for his soul and for his family, recognizing that Talley was a human being in need of God’s salvation.

He noted that Jesus’ redemptive suffering and resurrection on the cross was done for Eric, and for all: “Even for his enemies.”

Police have arrested 21-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa in connection with the shooting. He is facing 10 counts of first-degree murder, Boulder Police said. Officials have not discussed a possible motive for the shooting, though his defense attorneys have requested he be assessed for mental illness.

A non-denominational memorial service is planned for Talley on Tuesday, March 30 at Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette, Colo. 

A GoFundMe page created to support Talley’s family has raised nearly $1 million as of Monday. 


Featured image by Daniel Petty

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.