We continue our series this week on ten benefits of faith to our mental health.
A fourth and basic affirmation of Christianity is that every human experience has been touched and transformed by the God who became human. This includes depression and mental illness. In the words of St John Paul II: ‘Christ took all human suffering on himself, even mental illness…This affliction configures the sick person to Christ and gives him/her a share in his redeeming passion’ (John Paul II, Address to Participants at the International Conference Sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, 11th December 1996). From the Gospels, we see when and how Jesus suffered from mental anguish. He grieved when the disciples could not understand him (Matt. 17:17; Mark 9:19; Luke 9:41). He wept at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35) and over Jerusalem, the city of David that would reject him (Luke 19:41). With his agony in the garden, he cried out in mental anguish - ‘my soul is sorrowful onto death’ (Matt. 26:38; Mark 14:34) – a distress so great that it caused his sweat to fall to the ground like great drops of blood. At the height of his torment on the cross, he cried out in despair: ‘My God my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34).
With the mental suffering of Jesus, God did not take away mental agony but filled it with his presence. Our God does not console us by abolishing anguish of the mind but by entering it and sharing it. United to us in our darkness, Jesus invites those of tortured mind to transcend the darkness with him towards the light of resurrection. By embracing humanity, sorrow and mental pain are no longer foreign to God but have been taken up into his life to be transformed into hope. For those who suffer in their minds, they have a friend and refuge in the sorrowful heart of Jesus in whose suffering they participate. Yet, Christ did not just experience sorrow but teaches about it - ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted’ (Matt. 5:5; Luke 6:21). With the beatitudes Jesus teaches the paradox that in order to experience blessedness it is essential to mourn – to mourn what we lack, what we have lost and what we will never have. No one can have everything and there is a freedom in accepting that. Having much and trying to feel good all the time does not guarantee peace of mind. Feelings come and go but the blessedness Jesus speaks of is a more permanent state that leads to gratitude, harmony and joy.
PART 5 NEXT WEEK