Here is the cyber-version of my homily for the Third Sunday of Easter:
The Presence and message of Christ in God’s Word today bring together the sorrow of His Passion and the hope and joy of His resurrection. The sorrow-filled denial of Simon Peter is confronted and redeemed by a merciful Christ on the shore of Galilee. In that restoration St. Peter receives the commands from Christ that affirm his calling and commission as leader of the Church. In the Gospel story itself, and with St Peter’s apostolic succession that blesses our church, we are brought to look at another series of events of recent days and weeks. These tragic events have brought to our attention a subject that most would rather not face, the challenges of mental health in our society. Today’s message, while more specific than most that I share is, I believe, very relevant to far more people than we may want to realize. It brings us to seek to reconcile resurrection realities and mental health needs.
The immense tragedy that occurred at Virginia Tech this week is increasingly being recognized as a mental health tragedy. Nothing can minimize the wrong that was done and the suffering that resulted by the actions of this man. Yet the very victims of this wrong cry out for answers, why, what could have been done to prevent this from happening. Also we realize that the victims include the families of those who have died, the family of the gunman and in a real sense the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho (joh sung-wee) himself.
Even in our own county the tragic needs and problems of the mentally ill have been very evident. Both those suffering from mental illness and family members have died violent deaths in recent weeks as a testimony to the inadequate response and care of those suffering from mental health issues.
And I share from my own experiences, as a father of a much-loved son who has serious mental health needs. While his life is not what he, or his mother and I would have ever asked for, it has, however, taught us so much of God’s mercy, love and hope. In his intense struggles my son has shown a courage and tenacity to live of which I am very proud.
What then, if any, is the connection between today’s resurrection promises and realities and the mental health needs we face?
First let’s hear the words of a recent successor of St. Peter himself, on this subject. John Paul II said in 1997: “Whoever suffers from mental illness ‘always’ bears God’s image and likeness in himself, as does every human being. In addition, he ‘always’ has the inalienable right not only to be considered as an image of God and therefore as a person, but also to be treated as such. “It is everyone’s duty to make an active response; our actions must show that mental illness does not create insurmountable distances, nor prevent relations of true Christian charity with those who are its victims. Indeed it should inspire a particularly attentive attitude…”
The words of St. Peter’s successor bring us to be “fed and tended” as Christ commanded so long ago. Also in those words we start to learn and live the answers of the resurrected Christ to the needs of the mentally needy, God’s precious sheep.
Mental Health needs: Our Psalm expresses well the anguish of one in anguish of soul and mind. Psychology, the “study of the soul” is a study and response to one of the most major parts of our soul, the mind. In the Psalm King David expresses this anguish that is felt when the soul, specifically the mind is traumatized or wounded by life. In looking to those realities we can understand that mental illness is not a trauma but a sickness of the soul and mind that brings the same and at times more intense anguish, despair and fear. (Some mental illness may result from mental trauma, however). While it is a soul sickness it entangles and infects soul, body and spirit. The needs of the mentally afflicted cannot be consigned to just the mental health professional. It is a need that requires the care of mind, body and spirit. Yet that care is lacking.
Mental illness is still suffering with a stigma that builds walls of fear instead of bridges of relief. Many other causes are politically correct and popular. But funding and support for mental health is chronically cut, under-supported and left to glean non-existant budget leftovers. Families and those suffering are often feared, shunned or left to experience the reality of the criminalization of mental illness. When those with mental health needs repeatedly experience the failure of care that is often so prevalent, tragedy may result. This brings us to ask: What should be done? What can or should I do?
The Mental Health response: As the late John Paul II instructed: “It is EVERYONE’S duty to make an active response”. This response calls us to::
Share Knowledge: Education and sharing of information and resources for mind, body and spirit is essential. No one place or person has the entire answer, except God. And it is Christ who calls us to share and act on His behalf. Learn about mental illness. We probably have here today those who experience mental illness as well as their loved ones. Learn that they and their loved ones are…people, created in God’s image. And learn how to help them.
Share Acceptance: The delusional world of the mentally ill is real to them. That reality needs to be accepted and respected. It does not mean that we have to agree or support false delusions. It means that in accepting their reality we can then perhaps accompany them to better, true realities.
Share Hope: Despair and loneliness is one of the most common conditions experienced by the mentally afflicted and often their loved ones. That despair can lead to fear and anger resulting in tragedy. Calm, real hope, rooted in God’s love may well enable someone to receive the scope of care they need and deserve. That care can result in improvement and stability.
Share Love: God’s love will conquer fear, stigma and ignorance. Christ’s love nurtures, it encourages and fosters acceptance that leads to healing. Love does not always need to understand the struggles of mental illness. It simply shares in real compassion, the shared passion of Christ where resurrection realities are found.
Some may ask: Where was God that day in Virginia Tech? God may ask: “Where were we when the cries for help came? Where are we when cries come yet again from those in anguish, rejected and tormented by the realities of mental afflictions, sorrow or hopelessness?
May we each, instead of building stigma and fear, reach out and, share in the healing stigmata and love found in the wounds of Christ where the hope and healing of His resurrection is made real.