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home : bishop : columns

10/19/2017 9:00:00 AM
Those who suffer in silence
CONSECRATION COMING
The next diocesan-wide preparation for Marian Consecration begins Nov. 5. Check here next week for Bishop Scharfenberger's invitation to join him on this powerful spiritual journey. To learn more about Marian consecration or order the book
CONSECRATION COMING
The next diocesan-wide preparation for Marian Consecration begins Nov. 5. Check here next week for Bishop Scharfenberger's invitation to join him on this powerful spiritual journey. To learn more about Marian consecration or order the book "33 Days to Morning Glory" by Rev. Michael Gaitley, MIC, in advance, visit www.rcda.org/MarianConsecration. Above, last year's consecration. (Nate Whitchurch photo)
'Jesus often encountered people who were beset by various illnesses that manifested themselves in ways that suggested demonic possession to people of His time. That may well have been such, but it may also have indicated that the person was mentally ill, epileptic or suffering from a psychotic condition, whether chronic or acute. Whatever the causes or signs, Jesus treated them with patience and gentleness, and He healed them.'
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


By its very nature, illness is a destabilizing, isolating experience. Even without a diagnosis, feeling sick interrupts the ordinary flow of events, including sleep, meals, traveling and the work routine.

Should hospitalization or professional treatment ensue, the waiting, the examinations and the prodding and poking with medical instruments create a sense of being objectified or treated more like a thing than a person.

Sickness affects the whole person -- not only the body or even the diseased part of the body, but the mind, soul and relationships of the subject.

The effects of mental illness on a person, though often undetectable on the surface, are no less unsettling and often more agonizing, even terrifying.

Signs may be present, though not always obvious. Mental health issues can be layered and nuanced, sometimes made light of or even mocked by those not in tune with it. In fact, the person who seems a little "off key" may or may not even be aware of their relational or social dissonance.

The current manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-5) lists more than 300 disorders. Some -- like depression, bipolar and anxiety -- we may know, but others are not so familiar, like functional neurological symptom disorder. The person who bites their nails, twitches, overreacts to seemingly small slights and talks too much or too little may be carrying inside themselves an emotional load of pain and disorientation much greater than meets the eye.

Even slight symptoms can lead others to avoid or keep a distance from such a person, as many people living on the streets experience - and even some close to home.

Just this morning, outside the diocesan Pastoral Center in Albany, a little boy from St. Catherine's Center for Children next door was lying on the ground of the parking lot. Multiple workers were trying to calm him and get him in the center's van. He was fighting them the whole way.

A colleague shared with me how this made her tear up, wondering what that little boy has been through in his short life that has made him that way. Grownups are probably a lot like that too, except we can't lie down on the ground and kick and scream. (Although that might be beneficial! Tiffany's department store on Fifth Avenue in New York City reportedly has a "scream booth" where salespersons can let off steam from encounters with difficult customers.) We have to act like nothing is wrong.

Meanwhile, many of us are carrying burdens -- sometimes, just issues, but often mental illness -- that no one else sees and that our world still stigmatizes; and so, people keep it secret.

We are in the midst of observing Mental Health Awareness week. You may find an insert in your parish bulletin with an article titled, "An Inclusive Church is Like a Stained Glass Window." We will be including prayers for the mentally ill in our general intercessions at liturgies. Parents of children in our schools and faith formation programs will also be receiving information on the signs and symptoms of mental illness in children.

Jesus often encountered people who were beset by various illnesses that manifested themselves in ways that suggested demonic possession to people of His time. That may well have been such, but it may also have indicated that the person was mentally ill, epileptic or suffering from a psychotic condition, whether chronic or acute.

Whatever the causes or signs, Jesus treated them with patience and gentleness, and He healed them.

As people of faith, we want to be patient and compassionate with those among us who suffer, often in silence, whether they be as close as a family member or someone we encounter at our workplace or on the street.

No one wants to be singled out, let alone stigmatized, for being mentally ill. In the course of a given year, professionals tell us, one in every five persons among us will suffer from some form of mental illness, however episodic.

May our prayer and presence sustain us as we walk with one another with Jesus, our divine physician, and seek the healing for brothers and sisters who may be suffering in silence.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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