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WHY DOESN’T JESUS JUST HEAL EVERYONE OF PHYSICAL SICKNESS; AND WHY DO WE BECOME ILL IN THE FIRST PLACE?

CHRIST CAME TO MAKE US CONSCIOUS OF THE NEED TO OPEN OUR LIVES TO GOD, TO HEAL OUR SPIRITS.

QUESTION: “Jesus has the power to heal. It must be obvious that healing people of physical illness would immediately bring followers to believe and follow Him. This is a problem I have and I would like you to write about it in your question and answer column.

ANSWER: To answer it we must start with asking why did Jesus come? He came that we may have life and have it in abundance. He came to bring us wholeness and completeness, to make us aware of His Father’s love for us, that we are important to God, that God is the purpose, the end, and the fulfilment of life, that without God we are nothing.

THE MEANING AND FULFILMENT OF LIFE

And so Christ tried to make us conscious of sin and of our need to open our hearts to God and accept his love and forgiveness. He came to heal our spirits and make us whole again which He does by bringing us God’s forgiveness.

Who hasn’t prayed for healing from the various illnesses which affect the human body? Most people suffer from one illness or another and those with faith will ask His help. In Lourdes, Fatima and other great shrines of Our Lady we see the healing hand of God at work where many miracles of physical healing have occurred. But Christ seems to be deaf to the prayers of the vast majority. There is no visible healing but our prayers are answered with a deeper healing – a healing of spirit.

OUR PRAYERS ARE ANSWERED WITH A DEEPER HEALING

This is why God became man. He answers our prayer in the way which will most benefit us on our journey to eternal union with Him. As we have seen this may sometimes mean miraculous physical cures.

Finally it doesn’t follow that a person who is cured of a bodily illness by divine intervention will follow Christ and be faithful to Him. Remember the 10 lepers who were cured? They, with one exception, didn’t even return to thank Him. (From St Martin’s Messenger, Ireland)”
– This article was published in “Don Bosco’s Madonna” issue July 2013. For subscriptions and donations please visit http://www.donboscosmadonna.org (external link) or http://www.dbmshrine.org (external link).

 
 

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“IT IS NO EXAGGERATION TO DESCRIBE THE WORLD AS IN THE MIDST OF AN EPIDEMIC OF DEPRESSION” – FAITH IN DARKNESS

DEPRESSION IS A DISEASE THAT KNOWS NO BOUNDARIES AND AFFECTS PEOPLE OF EVERY AGE; YET THE CATHOLIC APPROACH OFFERS HELP IN A WAY OTHER TREATMENTS DON’T

“In addition to the full flowering of spring, the arrival of warm air, increased sunshine and longer days, next month will also reveal a dramatic new change in how the medical community, policy planners and the population at large talk about mental illness, and especially one of the all too common types of mental illness, depression, with the release of the fifth edition of the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ (DSM-V).

Depression is a disease that knows no boundaries and affects the old, the young, the rich and the poor with equally devastating impact. It is one of the most common reasons for absence from work; it is one of the most significant drains on health care dollars. It animates art, music, literature, and it can drive families to despair and victims to suicide. And the irony is that we argue constantly about what it is and how to treat it.

It is no exaggeration to describe the world as in the midst of an epidemic of depression. One out of every four women experience at least one episode of serious depression in their lives. With men it is one out of every seven, but many think the number is much higher and that men are simply reluctant or think it unmanly to admit to experiencing depression.
A DELICATE BALANCE

The Church is attuned to the devastation that depression leaves in its wake and is vitally concerned with finding the delicate balance that results in effective treatment of a truly complicated disease. Many of the Saints and Church Fathers who inspire and guide the faithful lived lives marked by periods, sometimes long periods, of darkness and depression. And the Church is always keen to align true science with true faith.

In 2003, John Paul II addressed the 18th International Conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care and spent all of his talk dealing with the rapidly increasing scourge of depression: ‘Your work, dear participants in the Congress, has revealed the different complex aspects of depression: they range from chronic sickness, more or less permanent, to a fleeting state linked to difficult events, conjugal and family conflicts, serious work problems, states of loneliness that involve a crack, or even fracture, in social, professional, or family relationships. This disease is often accompanied by an existential and spiritual crisis that leads to an inability to perceive the meaning of life.’

And it is painfully obvious that depression can touch any of us, and one’s faith, however strong, is not a certain defence against an ailment that is as varied and difficult as depression. This was made painfully clear in the story of Vancouver Archbishop Raymond Roussin, who surprised and shocked North America when he implored the Vatican to release him from his duties because he was suffering from severe depression. The Archbishop spoke publicly and openly with Douglas Todd and other journalists about how his illness had developed over the years…’It was humiliating, I thought ‘How could I possibly be mentally ill? … I didn’t come to the point of despair. Despair would be a sense there’s no hope. Some days it felt like no hope, but I knew it was there despite the hell I was going through. There was faith in the darkness.’

THE WOUNDED HEALER

Archbishop Roussin’s willingness to discuss his own illness was, he and others think, partly due to the Church’s long experience in encountering and coping with the dark dangers of depression. Roussin credits the work of Henri Nouwen, the Dutch Catholic priest and spiritual director, most famous for his work, ‘The Wounded Healer’. That book ‘helped me recognise it isn’t the power of the world that really counts in being a success. The powerful – whether in business, in school or in sports – only seem to win. But it’s not really the case in the long run. The wounded healer is the one who is able to reach out to more and more people.’ Bishop Roussin’s appeal aside, it is becoming clear that lines are hardening between approaching depression as simply something dealt with medically or something more nuanced and more complex.

GRIEF EXEPTION

The release of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) comes with its own built in controversy. It became clear months before the official release of the manual that it had been decided to eliminate the ‘grief exception’ to the description and recommended treatment of depression. At the heart of this decision is the essence of the on-going vitally important argument over how to understand and treat depression. For critics of the decision, labeling grief over the loss of a loved one as mental illness, and then prescribing drugs to treat the same, is a step too far in the medicalisation of ordinary human experiences, such as sadness and loss. Supporters of the move ask why pain of any duration should be endured? It is, at its heart, an argument about what it means to be human and what it means to be depressed.

Depression is part chemical, part emotional, part physical and clearly part spiritual. It is getting to the heart of the exact mix and the appropriate response that pre-occupies so many people in the Church as they wrestle with the reality of a disease and a distress that affects so many.

“Praying that God may heal us of depression is an exercise in humility, and reminds us that we cannot be happy simply out of our own accord.”

COMPLEX AFFLICTION

Tim Farrington, author of ‘The Monk Downstairs’ and most recently ‘A Hell of a Mercy: A Meditation on Depression and The Dark Night of The Soul’ captures the essence of the difference between the opposing views. ‘Often depression is symptomatic of a gordian knot of social dysfunctionality, and the communal compulsion to treat the ‘identified’ patient with drugs to ‘solve the problem’ (and thus avoid examining the pathological elements of the social matrix itself) is strong.’

Farrington’s ‘gordian knot’ and John Paul II’s ‘existential and spiritual crisis’ seem to lie at the heart of the work of such groups as Catholic therapists who describe their mission as bringing ‘the healing love of Jesus Christ to those seeking psychological help and support’ as well as the numerous diocesan and parish programmes directed at those suffering depression and their families.

Walking the fine line between approaching depression as simply a chemical imbalance easily fixed with medication, and understanding the deep personal, societal and physical causes of a complex illness that manifests itself in a myriad of ways, is the life’s work of Catholic psychiatrist, teacher and author Aaron Kheriaty. His new book, ‘The Catholic Guide to Depression: How the Saints, the Sacraments and Psychiatry Can Help you Break its Grip and Find Happiness Again’, is a learned and erudite exploration of a difficult disease and the tools available to conquer the same. Describing depression as ‘physical, spiritual and mental in origin’, he takes great pains to explain that neither the tools of medicine nor a simplistic appeal to faith and perseverance is sufficient in approaching a ‘complex illness with many contributing factors’. Instead he says he wrote the book ‘as a way to bring the medical, social, and biological sciences into dialogue with philosophy, theology, and Catholic spirituality, in order to gain a fuller and more comprehensive understanding of this complex affliction.’

It is a delicate balance, as Dr Kheriaty appreciated, when he reflects on the decision to eliminate the ‘grief exception’ from the DSM-V definition of depression or even the ordinary experience of reading through his, and other books on coping with depression. Hopefully the reader doesn’t come away with the notion that all emotion, especially sadness, needs to be eliminated. And while deeply rooted in his Catholic faith, Dr Kheriaty notes that many faith traditions and even secular psychiatrists accept that ‘suffering is part of life in this fallen state and not simply something to be treated away.’

YOU ARE THAT AND MORE

So what is the proper mix of ‘Saints, Sacraments and Psychiatry’ in tackling the very real devastation that depression can and does inflict? ‘Each of these three things actually helps each of the other work better. The total result is greater than the sum of the parts, which is actually reflective of the Catholic approach to depression, which is to treat the whole person. You aren’t just chemicals, you aren’t just prayer, you are that and more.’ And it is this Catholic approach to dealing with and encountering the whole person that leads Dr Kheriaty to conclude that ‘the Catholic approach offers help in ways other treatments don’t.’

It is this Catholic approach that Aaron Kheriaty believes animated the comments John Paul II made to the members of the American Psychiatric Association and the World Psychiatric Association in January of 1993, when he said, ‘By its very nature your work often brings you to the very threshold of human mystery. It involves sensitivity to the tangled workings of the human mind and heart, and openness to the ultimate concerns that give meaning to people’s lives. These areas are of the utmost importance to the Church, and they call to mind the urgent need for a constructive dialogue between science and religion for the sake of shedding greater light on the mystery of man in his fullness.'”
– this article by Peter Kavanagh (abridged) was published in “Messenger of Saint Anthony”, issue April 2013. For subscriptions, please contact “Messenger of Saint Anthony”, Basilica del Santo, via Orto Botanico 11, 35123 Padua, Italy

 

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“WHY DON’T I FIND THE TRUE PEACE WITH ALL THOSE YOGA CLASSES, RELAXATION TECHNIQUE WORKSHOPS AND ANTI-STRESS HOLIDAYS I PAID ALL THAT MONEY FOR?”

“WHAT I DON’T ADMIT TO PEOPLE I TELL YOU NOW IN STRICT CONFIDENCE: I AM REALLY LIVING MY LIFE LIKE A HAMSTER IN HIS USELESS HAMSTER WHEEL…USELESS, ROUND IN CIRCLES, NEVER LEAVING THE SAME SPOT…AND NO PEACE, NO SERENITY. NOTHING THAT THEY SELL YOU FOR PEACE HAS MADE ANY REAL DIFFERENCE TO MY LIFE…”

“The real antidote to busy-ness must be sought outside the consumerist world…Finding sanctuary leads us from the problem of busy-ness to a real spirituality that brings peace. The quest for sanctuary resonates deep into the heart of several contemporary dilemmas and at the same time contains within it the solution to these dilemmas…

A consumerist place of refuge will always be insecure because it is not rooted in a sacred space.

The sacred cannot be manufactured by the consumerist society, because the sacred cannot be manufactured…the sacred is found when we recognise it as sacred; the sacred is not found when we recognise it simply as [something] we fancy or as a convenient pause for breath…

The basic starting point for entering sacred sanctuary is the quality of your day-to-day dealings with other people. You cannot mistreat [moan or gossip about people or entertain bad thoughts about them] one moment and then find sanctuary the next. Finding the sacred space begins with the recognition of the sacred in your daily living.

This truism needs to be carefully unpacked by any person who is sincerely seeking [true peace and] sanctuary. It must not be shrugged off with either ‘Of course,’ or ‘I’m interested in peace and quiet, not morals’…There is no peace without sacrifice and there is no peace without justice. Those simple insights are most commonly applied to peace between nations or races, but they also apply to everybody’s ordinary life and social relationships…

If you want to find the sacred space in your life, then you must want to ‘walk without blemish’. You will, of course, fail to live without blemish; but failing is quite different from not even trying.”
(From: “Finding Sanctuary; Monastic Steps for Everyday Life”, Abbot Christopher Jamison, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 2006)

A PRAYER AS A FIRST STEP TO FINDING TRUE PEACE:

God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, You gave Your Son, Jesus Christ, infinite power over all the forces that exist in the universe and on earth. Forgive all our mistakes and sins; free us from suffering and temptations, anxieties, discouragement and desperation, and take away the confusion in our head.

We ask You to drive away all envy and falsity from our homes and the homes of our relatives and neighbours, and to protect them against fire, assaults and robbery.

In Your infinite goodness, let our guardian angel watch over us at night so that we may tranquilly sleep and be refreshed.

Father, replete with goodness, we ask You to impede all of the evil spirits’ diabolical actions against me and my family. Cast fear, drugs, insane customs and blasphemous spirits far away from us. Free our country from the terrible consequences of its inhabitants’ lies, money grabbing and numerous other sins.

Dear Father, You don’t force Yourself on people; You have given humans the gift of free will and a very long rope. Your heart bleeds at all the suffering and injustice that is caused by people’s selfishness and greed. Still you give those people a chance to mend their ways. In Your infinite goodness and mercy, through Your Word, give health to the persons we now recommend to You (say the names of others dear to you, and mention yourself, too, and if you can, someone you don’t like). Be compassionate with them, restoring physical, emotional and spiritual health, courage, tranquillity and a taste for living in us so that we may give thanks to You with a soul filled with peace and joy. Through Jesus Christ, in the love of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

(Now say one ‘Our Father’. Tomorrow, say one ‘Our Father’ again.)

 

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