JOY BEYOND SORROW: Mental Health Awareness Week

Judas leaves the warmth and light of the Upper Room, separates himself from the grace of the Eucharist, and goes out into the cold night to betray Jesus for whom this must have been one of the most difficult moments of His life. Yet, what He says of that moment is this, “now is the Son of Man glorified!” What an odd thing for a condemned man to say. But He can say this because He has the grace and the courage to allow events to unfold as they must, the grace to wait until the conclusion which is in fact a glorious one, the glory of His resurrection. This is the grace offered by Him to us, that when our darkest moment comes upon us, we have the vision to see that there is light beyond the darkness, joy beyond the sorrow. This vision of grace does not mean that we ignore the feelings that come with darkness.  

As we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Week I’m very aware of the words of Prince William who said of his grief for his Mother Princess Diana, that it is a pain like no other and I welcome his invitation to get us to talk about our own mental illnesses, whether it be grief, depression or something else. The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is Body Image – how we think and feel about our bodies. We might also look at how we speak about the physical appearance of other people, the comments we make to them, comments that make them feel bad about themselves. An ongoing concern I have is how so many Christians loosely speak to others and about them in ways that are not Christian; how Christians are unwilling to take responsibility for the words they speak, words that can push others into depression. I’m really saddened when I hear that some of our children from the parish speak to each other in ways that are hurtful and damaging. It’s not what Jesus wants, it’s not acceptable to Him. 

And then, of course, when we encounter someone who suffers depression, we want them and may even say to them, “get over it!” When we see someone grieving, we want them to get over that too, maybe even suggesting that grief is selfish, that a Christian should not grieve. But let’s not forget that Jesus cried for Lazarus, that He himself felt the sadness, the fear, and the distress of His Agony; He felt the physical pain and humiliation of the crucifixion. He felt all of this intensely and by feeling so strongly he has provided us with a place of refuge when we suffer the fear and darkness of depression and our other mental illnesses. And let’s not forget that, as He went through His suffering, He also held on to the victory that was to come, a victory that He shares with us in our personal experiences.

The early songs of Neil Diamond have words that describe aspects of my life and in ‘Brooklyn Road’ he writes of school report cards that say “he’s just not trying.” When I was ten I became sad to the point that I was not able to do my homework and when my Christmas report came it said, “homework almost completely neglected since September.” Added to that I would mitch from school, spending time in churches begging Jesus for help. All hell broke loose and I was punished both at school and at home! Nobody ever asked why these things were happening and I had no way of expressing what was going. We are much more attentive nowadays to what’s going on in children but I still say to adults, never underestimate the sorrow or sadness of a child. Be attentive to what they’re feeling and let them say what they need to say. I come from a generation of children that was not allowed to speak and it has done quite a bit of damage to us.

For the first ten days of this month I had a really enjoyable time at home, and the highlight of course was giving First Holy Communion to my niece Laura – the radiance, the beauty and the joy of her!  But the event that has touched me most strongly is my final encounter with Father Noel in the hospice in Dublin. Saying goodbye to him, praying with him for the last time was very emotional, leaving him was a very lonely experience. His death, of course, was the best thing for him. He needed to go; his time had come. But I found myself back here alone in my house with this intense feeling of loneliness, the kind of feeling you get when someone close to you dies. And I desperately wanted to be with my community and with my family in Ireland, to be hugged by those who know and understand me best. And I came to realize too that, not only was I grieving but that grief had awoken my depression. I had to admit to myself this morning that I am depressed.

But God, who arranges everything so well in my life – He also arranged that I should be here alone with the grief that I was experiencing and I knew I had to trust Him in arranging things in this way.  So, when I read the gospel for today, I knew God was telling me that the moment of darkness is also the moment of glory and it contains within it what we read in the book of Revelation, the promise of something totally new – a new heaven and a new earth; God and His people together and He himself  “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new!” Easter calls us to look beyond the suffering we are experiencing now and see with the eyes of faith the glory that is coming to us. And I find myself longing for the new heaven and the new earth, for the fulfilment and the resolution of all things in Jesus. This longing is our prayer and in the time of our longing we find our nourishment in the Eucharist, in Jesus we already touch the reality we are yearning for.