“The effort wearied me, I could not bear it”

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

This year has been dominated by the worldwide spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its impact has been felt not just at the level of health, but the efforts to restrain its spread has led to many other issues that have affected our lives. The lockdowns, the closing of borders, the restrictions on human interaction, the loss of employment and financial stress are all having a significant effect on the mental health of many members of our society.

This year the bishops have chosen the topic of mental health for the annual Social Justice statement released this Sunday. The Social Justice Statement is entitled, To Live Life to the Full: Mental health in Australia today.

The statement mentions that most people will experience a mental health problem at some point over the course of their lives. It raises the question of how we respond to people who are suffering mental health issues.

We all know that life presents challenges in all sorts of ways that tests our mental and emotional wellbeing.

In the first reading today we listened to the anguish of the prophet Jeremiah. He knew he was called to be a prophet, but it came at great personal cost. He says, “I am a daily laughing stock, everybody’s butt.” He adds that his role of speaking God’s word to the people has caused him “insult, derision, all day long”. He was clearly suffering at the mental level.

In our contemporary world one of the areas where people are very vulnerable to criticism and personal attack is in the various expressions of social media. It is at times a brutal environment which has caused great mental suffering to many. People have found themselves hounded and derided in the most awful of ways. In some cases this has led to terrible results.

Similarly, the intense scrutiny of the media on political leaders and on anyone accused of wrongdoing can cause great personal anguish. The media can be a harsh and uncompromising world, lacking in compassion and forgiveness, quick to condemn and rarely showing mercy.

In the Gospel the Lord speaks of his own destiny. He says that he is to “suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes”. This suffering is not just at the physical level, but will entail derision and rejection. His mental anguish will be great. He will give expression to this in his desperate prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. From the cross he will cry out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  The Lord himself knew mental anguish.

Today we can firstly touch those elements of mental anguish which have marked and continue to mark our lives. It is good to recognise and name them.

In acknowledging our moments of mental suffering we can learn from Jeremiah. He wanted to run away. He wanted to escape his lot in life. This is always a temptation. In his mind he struggled with the thought: “I will not speak in his name any more.” He feels that there is a fire burning within him, calling him to this mission, and he feels trapped and is wearied. Jeremiah, despite all his personal struggle, does not abandon his mission.

He does not give up. Neither will the Lord. He accepts his fate. He expresses a profound truth: “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Reflection on the Scriptures today and a quiet examination of our own lives and the daily struggles that we face, leads us to have a compassionate stance towards anyone who experiences mental health issues.

The bishop’s statement speaks of the dangers of stigmatisation of those who suffer in this way. It urges us not to draw away from or push away a person who suffers mental illness. This statement invites us to be aware of those around us who struggle with their mental health. We can examine our conscience as to how we have treated them.

In the end we know that each person has an inherent dignity as a human being, loved by God. Today we acknowledge those who care for people suffering mental illness, especially when they are family members. We also acknowledge those who work as counsellors assisting people with their mental health issues. It is an opportunity to acknowledge those who serve in our Catholic organisations like CatholicCare Tasmania, and Bethlehem House, and Blueline Laundry. We can be proud of the many services that the Church offers to those with some form of mental impairment.

Jeremiah, in the face of his personal anguish, said: “The effort to restrain it wearied me, I could not bear it.” Our own efforts to address mental anguish or deal with people suffering mental ill health can be overwhelming. We seek divine assistance when we know our own capacities are so limited.

Reflecting on our own life situation today, let us, in the words of the psalmist today, turn to the Lord expressing our need for his presence and support in our life:

O God you are my God, for you I long

For you my soul is thirsting.

My body pines for you

Like a dry weary land without water.

Archbishop Julian Porteous

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Tags: Homilies