Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Life-Giving Journey Featured

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In his homily at the Chrism Mass in Rome this past spring, Pope Francis spoke of the anointing of Aaron as being an anointing that must go to "the edges" and "the fringes." He lovingly referred to the mission of the Church as reaching out to the "existential outskirts." Such wonderful language has encouraged all of the faithful to reach out to the fringes in our own societies and parish communities.

It is not always easy to reach out to fringe groups or individuals who feel themselves on the outskirts of our parish community. Fear, stigmas, or our own biases and bigotry prevent us from going into the darkness to encounter the broken, the alone and the lost. As a Church we have often been slow to respond to the needs of the community. I remember so fondly the AIDS epidemic of the late 1980s and the lack of support that existed for families and individuals suffering from this devastating illness. I remember too the great sacrifice made by Ursuline Sr. Callista Arnold who courageously stepped into the middle of this darkness and offered hope and comfort to those who were affected by the disease. Many days, Sr. Callista walked the journey alone escorted only by the Lord she loved and the One who was drawing her into such a ministry.

The courage of people like Sr. Callista has allowed us to reach into other areas of the darkness. In the last few years we have become a Church comfortable in speaking about breast cancer. There is not a priest in the diocese who has not been called to minister to women and families affected by this cancer. My own comfort in speaking about it has been the result of being present to my sister Kathy in her own battle with the disease. I know too that there is growing comfort in speaking about prostate cancer and I am convinced that the more we speak about it the more ministry we can accomplish.

When it comes to real "fringes" in our world today we need to desperately look at and speak about mental illness. Recent statistics state that as much as 18% of the population deals with some form of mental illness. Members of our parish communities and the community at large suffer daily with depression, heightened anxiety, post-partum depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, and the list goes on. For many of these individuals they suffer alone. The stigma of mental illness is such that they hide from the world, they keep their diagnosis a secret to all but their closest family members and they suffer. And for some the suffering is extreme. The lack of knowledge, understanding and compassion in regards to mental illness is appalling at times and yet, if the statistics are anywhere near accurate, then we know that mental illness affects EVERY family.

The first step in such an anointing of the fringes is to realize that mental illness is a disease. It has never been and never will be a disgrace! It is a disease. And as such it needs to be treated as a disease just like we treat cancer, heart disease, diabetes and the list goes on. Even identifying how strapped is the medical world in terms of resources we cannot continue to somehow sweep mental illness into some back corner.

As Christian people we need to first proclaim boldly that mental illness exists and that our ministry and mission is one that accepts and honours those who suffer from the disease. Our second proclamation must be that we will talk about the illness and we will open our doors and our hearts to those who walk this journey of darkness. Our final proclamation is that we will pledge to be beacons of light in the midst of the darkness of the disease. For many who suffer, knowing there is a sanctuary of safety where one can speak from the heart can be a most positive thing in the recovery process.

Today there is a Resurrected Christ who is pushing us and challenging us. There is a Christ who is calling us to anoint. There is a Christ who is asking us to walk with those who suffer. There is a Christ who desires to use us as a vessel to heal the "existential outskirts."

This call has been most pressing in my own life. In the past 8 months I have accepted the mission to offer spiritual care and counseling to individuals suffering from mental illness. I know that I will never have enough time to effectively minister to all who suffer. But, I have never received so much grace and joy in my heart than what I have received in walking this life-giving journey with those afflicted with mental illness, for, in inviting me to the "fringes" our Lord has invited me to see his face in the flesh.

Let's stop every stigma and every misunderstanding about mental illness.

Let's have the courage to enter the journey with these remarkable women and men.

It's a disease. It's never been a disgrace.

Read 46961 times Last modified on Thursday, September 19, 2013