Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7). By any human standard, this would be quite an offer! Except it isn’t a telemarketer or a carnival barker talking. It’s Jesus.

Anyone else making such preposterous promises might give one pause. Caveat emptor. Here we have the son of God inviting us to believe that what we most hope and dream for is not only possible, but inevitable — IF we are willing to pray for it and trust his word. The problem, Jesus suggests, is not that we ask for too much, but rather too little.

For all too many of us, the spiritual and emotional fallout from the pandemic has been even more devastating than the biological attack. So much isolation and loss. The absence of faces! In some ways, we have had an experience of being deaf and blind, unable to hear and see fully the natural voices and facial expressions of our loved ones. Many have suffered and died alone or been inhumanly deprived of family and loved ones, much as those who have been left in lost graves on battlefields. The only thing — the only One — who has sustained us and our hope has been the Lord of all life himself, who came to show us that God will never abandon us, who, suffering the vilest humiliation, returned only blessing.

While the pandemic has drawn so many into the depths of darkness and driven some to the edge of despair by its relentless uncertainties and undeterminable consequences, others have suffered in silence in ways unimaginable to those of sounder mind. All of us feel the pressures and strains attendant to this worldwide plague, sometimes fueled by the ever-rising network tallies at the end of the day. Lost in the count are many others who have not the mental or emotional coherence and stamina to maintain their psychic equilibrium without the support of medication and therapeutic oversight just to be able to enjoy functionality in performing the simplest of everyday tasks.

I am thinking here of the mentally challenged and disabled who live in a chronic state of semi-detachment from the world we euphemize as “normal,” even as we question (to ourselves) our own grasp on it. We are all a step closer to insanity each day, more often than we would perhaps like to admit. Our suffering amidst the chaos and upheaval over these past two years, however, can become more redemptive if we can find the heart to leave it in the hands of Jesus, the healer of souls, and to motivate greater accompaniment and compassion toward those suffering from mental illness, far worse than we might imagine.

October is a month for mental health awareness. More precisely, it is National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month. The focus is on awareness of the many forms of mental and emotional illness from which so many suffer: ADHD and OCD, for example, and the bullying that often accompanies such conditions that may be present in persons of all ages and circumstances. 

It is a scourge that cannot be addressed by mental health professionals alone, any more than the management of the effects of the pandemic can be assigned exclusively to public health officials and political leaders. Taking personal responsibility for our own physical and mental health, even if we might deem ourselves blessed with a degree of strength and stamina that others lack, may prompt us also to examine the state of our spiritual lives, so essential to our well-being.

During this month, many of us are preparing for the diocesan Consecration to St. Joseph on Monday, Nov. 1, the Solemnity of All Saints. It is also Respect Life Month and we have many opportunities to be present in forms of public witness and the raising of awareness of the many threats to human life in our society. The reality of domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual abuse and the abortion of innocent human livings from the wombs of mothers who, were they offered support and viable alternatives, may not feel so pressured into this fatal and fateful choice. All such ills are typically found in the same spiritual wasteland where the loving presence of a merciful and compassionate God is not available to those caught up in these vicious cycles.

Bottom line: we all need to dig deeper into Jesus, who himself is asking and seeking and knocking at the doors of our souls. He wants a place and has every right to claim his seat on the throne of our hearts. He has given his life for us so that no one would be lost, especially the most vulnerable lives among us. A conscious and deliberate effort on the part of each one of us to pray for deeper trust in the healing power of his personal presence, will not only warm our own hearts but those around us who will experience his presence in us.

On Oct. 1, we celebrated the feast of St. Thérèse the Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, known as the “Little Flower.” She said, “Our Lord does not so much look at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.” In a similar vein, Mother Teresa of Calcutta adds, “God does not require that we be successful only that we be faithful.” If we take to heart these wise and loving counsels, we will doubtless make the world a better place for ourselves and for everyone around us. 

Every human being has profound dignity rooted in our being created in the image and likeness of God that even the angels do not fully attain, a powerful and essential quality of being in relation with God and one another in a uniquely sacramental way. That is to say, the very essence of God, the love between and among the three Persons, is imaged in us human beings who are created for God and for one another. We exist and heal and grow in communion — and in a unique bond with Jesus, the Incarnate Word, who not only loved us enough to take on our very nature, uniting it with his own pre-existing divinity as Son of the Father, but who remains such in his mystical body, the Church.

Wounded and despoiled along our earthly pilgrimage to heaven by our own sins and those of others, we rise and thrive under the merciful gaze of the One who knows why and for whom we are made and forms us into the beautiful creation we are in the Father’s eyes, through which Jesus sees us in the Holy Spirit. “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). St. Paul uttered these words to secular men of his own time, who could not imagine a God so desirous of loving intimacy with human beings. Let our own fear of being unworthy to be embraced by so loving a God not deprive us of the joy of falling home into Him.

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