Praying for Those Who Have Mental Illness
By Marianne Komek - see: Advisory Committee of the Guild of St Benedict Joseph Labre
If we are going to truly empathize with and accompany those who have a mental illness, as Christians, we must pray for them. Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Although medication and therapy can alleviate symptoms, we must take a holistic approach when dealing
with any type of sickness. A mentally ill soul is a child of God and needs his love and care. Just as we pray for physical needs, God is the ultimate Healer who can bring comfort and relief to those who suffer from the distress of the mind. We should pray for them. It is also vital that the person who is ill prays, if he or she is able to. But some illnesses may make that difficult or even impossible. So it is important, that family and friends “storm Heaven” on behalf of those individuals and also those who can pray but need spiritual
sustenance. As Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta says on our Guild website, those who have a mental illness
are represented by Jesus’ Crowning with Thorns, the third Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary. This
can be interpreted in two ways. First, his sacred head, which contains the brain, is being
disfigured. The brain contains the faculties of the mind. People suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and such have illnesses emanating from chemical imbalances and distortions of this organ. Secondly, in this mystery, Jesus is being mocked and ridiculed by the soldiers who are treating him as one who is “crazy” for believing that he is a king and the Son of God. They are crowning him with sharp thorns, piercing his forehead with blood, spitting upon him, hitting him with blows, and taunting him. His treatment is echoed by so many of our brothers and sisters who are faced with ridicule because they suffer from mental and emotional disease. Many have suffered cruel physical torments in some mental institutions. Surely, Jesus shows his solidarity with those who suffer from mental illness because even though he was perfect, Jesus endured such harsh treatment. He can understand the pain of stigma and torture.
There are also references in the New Testament in which some of his family members seek to silence him because they say that he is mentally ill. How crushing this must have been to him! He was totally misunderstood just as those with mental illness are often treated in our society.
Also, in the First Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary, Jesus undergoes the greatest anxiety attack when he is in the Garden of Gethsemane, contemplating his coming agonies and crucifixion. He hemorrhaged blood and asked his Father to spare him. He was frightened. “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” He looks to his friends, the apostles, for comfort and they have fallen asleep. He feels deserted, but God sends an angel to strengthen him. After this, he prays, “Not my will, but yours, be done.” Venerable Patrick Peyton, the great promoter of the family rosary, said, “When we feel alone, deserted by those we love, we must pray to God who will comfort us, just as he sent an angel to comfort Jesus.”
Finally, within the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” For those among us who have depression or love those who have it, we can surely relate that in that moment, Jesus felt totally alone, without his Father’s comfort and connection to him. That swirling dark demon of depression which plagues so many, confronted Our Lord, too. Yet Jesus does not despair or lose faith, but accepts his torment and says, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” If while meditating on these mysteries of the rosary, we pray for those with mental illness, Jesus and Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, will hear our prayers and bring healing and comfort to them. It is also important for the Church to include petitions for the mentally ill during the celebration of the Mass. As a reader, I am always happy when we I can present such petitions to my faith community. Just as there are healing Masses in general, there should be healing Masses
specifically for the intentions of those who suffer from mental and emotional disease and for
their families, friends, and caregivers. It is my belief that many are judgmental toward those with mental illness because they have never encountered it personally. They are afraid of what they do not understand. Because some of my family members and I have suffered from it, you never heard derogatory words or ridicule from us toward those afflicted with the illness. My family was always caring and understanding.
We must expand our efforts to educate and encourage all members of our society to have compassion on those who have mental illness. The Church should lead the way, especially in a time when Pope Francis has urged us to reach out to the marginalized. Our Church should be a welcoming place. We should try to eradicate the stigma by our compassion in reaching out to
our suffering brothers and sisters. And we should see in their faces the image of Christ, the Suffering Servant. It is only in this way, that we can begin to be a true loving family of God.