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VEN. ROSALIE CADRON-JETTE: BEYOND THE JUDGMENTS OF THIS WORLD

VEN. ROSALIE CADRON-JETTE: BEYOND THE JUDGMENTS OF THIS WORLD

MEMORIAL: APRIL 5th

…Venerable Rosalie Cadron-Jette… was born in Lavaltrie, Canada, in 1794. During her lifetime in her part of Canada, who would take care of unmarried pregnant women: shelter them, feed them, and provide medical attention before, during, and after the births of their children? No one, it seems, except Venerable Rosalie.

LOVE AND CARE FOR THOSE IN NEED

Venerable Rosalie grew up on a farm, her father earning a comfortable living. Even at a young age she showed love and care for those in need. She would help orphaned and abandoned children, mend clothes, take food to the hungry and visit the sick. According to the custom at that time, Venerable Rosalie married a man much older than herself: she was 16 and he was 33. She gave birth to 11 children, four of them dying at a young age. However, Venerable Rosalie became widowed at the age of 38, her husband dying from a cholera epidemic.

ONE NIGHT, A FRANTIC KNOCK SHOOK HER FRONT DOOR

The providence of God led Venerable Rosalie to her eventual ministry. One night, a frantic knock shook her front door. Hysterically, a woman begged to be let inside. She screamed that two sailors were chasing her with a hatchet intending to kill her. The woman was hidden in the house and the two sailors arrived. Having not found the woman in the house they eventually left. It later emerged that the woman, whose name was Jean-Marie, was working as a prostitute. Venerable Rosalie encouraged Jean-Marie to change her life. (Many years later Venerable Rosalie received a letter from Jean-Marie thanking her for her help and advice and stating that she had emigrated to the United States and was now happily married).

THE “HARMFUL TALK OF LOCAL PEOPLE”

For many years after her encounter with Jean-Marie, Venerable Rosalie dedicated her life to assisting single pregnant women and prostitutes, this at a time when being single and pregnant created a great stigma. Word spread that Venerable Rosalie helped people in need and the local Bishop asked her to help six children who had become orphans. Within a few days homes had been found for all these children. When more prostitutes and pregnant women were coming to Venerable Rosalie and staying with her to be looked after, some members of Venerable Rosalie’s family confronted her by saying that she was dishonouring the family name and that her reputation was being ruined by the harmful talk of local people.

“I AM STAYING HERE”

“It makes us feel bad to hear the things that people are saying about you. You are going to come home with us”, they said. They picked up her belongings and waited for Venerable Rosalie to come out and come home with them. Instead, Venerable Rosalie said, “Take everything I own, if you want; but as for me, I’m staying here.”

DOING GOD’S WILL

After all, she felt she was doing God’s will by looking after these women. Venerable Rosalie obtained bigger premises and never turned away any woman in need of shelter. Eventually, other caring women joined her in her work, leading to the formation of the Institute of the Sisters of Misericorde. Sadly, Venerable Rosalie then became ill with a kidney disease. As her health worsened she prayed for the pregnant women and prostitutes in need of help and advised her sisters to always love their work of caring for them.

SACRIFICES AND WORKS FOR GOD’S GLORY

Her Bishop came to her with the Blessed Eucharist and said, “My dear child, you may die now; go and receive your crown in heaven which God has lovingly prepared for you to reward you for all the sacrifices and works which you have so generously undertaken for His glory.” The next day, 5th April 1864, Venerable Rosalie died.

The cause for her canonisation was presented to the Vatican. In 2013 Pope Francis declared that Rosalie should be called ‘Venerable’, a step on the road to being declared a saint.

Some years after Venerable Rosalie’s death, one of her sisters declared at a religious meeting that ‘Rosalie placed herself beyond caring about the judgments of the world, when she placed before herself only conforming to the holy will of God.’ Good advice for all of us!

– From: Spiritual Thought From Fr. Chris, 4/2017

 

 

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THE COMFORT OF OUR MOTHER MARY

We need not to be told of the comfort that a good mother is to her child. We know how such a mother from the earliest days of her little baby has surrounded and protected it by her constant and unwavering love and tenderness: how eager she is always to come to the assistance of the child when ailing or in distress of any sort: how anxious to promote by all the means in her power the well-being and happiness of her little one.

THE WELL-BEING AND HAPPINESS OF HER LITTLE ONE

We know, too, how when the child has grown in years and has become independent in many ways of a parent’s help, the good mother’s love still persists and is ready to befriend or take up the defence of son or daughter, when perhaps he or she has gone wrong and done something that brings what may be well-merited punishment and disgrace. History alone gives us innumerable examples of the sacrificing love of good mothers for their children. And many of us, no doubt, can recall among our happiest memories the love that our own mother had for us, and how often she shielded us in times when we were in some danger or difficulty, and we were left with no one else, perhaps, to stand by us in our urgent need.

STANDING BY US IN OUR URGENT NEED

We may well thank God for a good mother; but for no mother may we be more grateful than for that Heavenly Mother whom, as His last legacy and as an earnest of His own infinite love for us, Christ bequeathed us, when dying on the Cross He said to His disciple John and in his person to each and every one of us: “Behold thy Mother.” [John 19:26-27].

THERE IS NOBODY WHO CANNOT CLAIM MARY’S PROTECTION OR AID

We cannot question the fact that Mary is the Mother of each one of us, as is so often declared to us by the infallible teaching of the Church. There is nobody, however worthless he or she may be, who cannot claim her protection and aid. But what we have to impress upon ourselves, as perhaps hitherto we have not done, is the reality of this relation that exists between us, and how anxious her Divine Son is that we should look upon Mary as our true Mother.

MARY, OUR TRUE MOTHER

How evident this has been made by the countless graces and favours that God has granted to men through the intercession of her whom He always delights to honour! Throughout the history of the Church it is this great Mother who, after her Divine Son, takes a foremost place, so that we can hail her as the “Mediatrix omnium gratiarum”. It was she who helped by her prayers to prepare the first apostles to receive the Holy Ghost [Acts 1:14] and to go forth with all the gifts they had received to preach the Gospel of Christ to all nations, with a success so great that it was in itself a miracle and is one of the proofs of the divinity of the Church which they helped to found.

And so we find Mary, the Mother of the Church and of all Christians, in each successive age exercising her power and giving proof of her solicitude for the maintenance of the Faith. It is she who is invoked to exterminate heresy, as when, for instance, St Dominic with his devoted sons employed the devotion of the Rosary to stem and suppress the Albigensian heresy in the thirteenth century.

And when we come down to our times, how clearly God has given us proof that it is to His Holy Mother that we must have recourse for succour, both spiritual and temporal. Think of the apparitions to that poor little peasant girl (now St Bernadette) at Lourdes and of the millions from all parts of the world who have made pilgrimages to that famous shrine ever since, many of whom have been recipients of miraculous cures that the closest medical investigation cannot disprove. And even as late as 1917 Our Lady’s intercessory power with God was again made manifest by her apparitions to the three little children at Fatima at Portugal, and there resulting, as at Lourdes, in many miraculous favours bestowed on soul as well as on body.

It would be an incredulous person, indeed, who, having studied closely and with an open mind the wonderful effects of Mary’s intercession throughout the ages of Christianity, would still refuse to accept as a well-authenticated fact that it is through His Mother that Christ would have us find favour with Him and get into closer union with Him, thereby more certainly securing our own salvation.

AN IMMENSE COMFORT

This is the immense comfort that every good Catholic can enjoy, that Mary is in very truth his own Mother, as truly his mother in the supernatural order as the mother of whom he was born in the natural. Remembering the words of St Bernard in the familiar prayer of the Memorarethat “no one ever had recourse to her protection or sought her mediation without obtaining relief,” he should be emboldened to turn to her in his every necessity. In these bitter days of suffering and multiplied woes, it is well for all of us to re-enkindle our devotion to Mary and to ponder more deeply on all those prerogatives of hers which are recounted in the Litany of Loreto. She is the Virgin-Mother of God, and because of that very fact she is the Virgin most amiable, the Virgin most powerful, the Virgin most faithful to all her duties as a Mother to each and every one of her children. She is the “Seat of Wisdom” who will bring home to us those supernatural truths, so infinitely more important than any mere human knowledge or learning. And even if our lives have been lives of the most grievous and terrible sins, so many and so great that we may shudder and fear when we think of them, approach to this good and merciful Mother is not barred to us, because has not she made herself the “Refuge of Sinners”? And as the “Help of Christians” and the “Consoler of the Afflicted”, be they afflictions in soul or in body, has she not shown in countless instances that through her intercession we can be relieved of all our ills, that our sins will be forgiven and forgotten, and that we can enter into a peace of soul that she as the “Queen of Peace” can infallibly procure for us?

PEACE OF SOUL

She stands so infinitely higher than all the rest of God’s creatures that no human measurements or comparisons can give us an adequate idea of the distance that lies between her and them. She is far above all the Angels, Archangels, Dominations, Powers, Cherubim and Seraphim in all their ascending ranks of glory: she is above all saints, martyrs, confessors, and virgins.  She is the Queen of them all, the one and only human creature conceived without the least stain of sin and so verifying the truth of the poet’s words, “Our tainted nature’s solitary boast”.

OH, THAT WE MIGHT TAKE IT DEEPLY TO HEART

Oh, that we might take it deeply to heart. She, this great Queen and Mother, so surpassing as she is in the grandeur and splendour of her soul, is our own dear Mother. Each of us can claim her for himself, seeing in her one who is incomparably more tender and loving than any earthly mother has ever been or could be, one who is ever so solicitous for our eternal salvation, knowing so well at what price her Son has redeemed us, and ever interceding on our behalf that the prodigal outpouring of His Precious Blood on Calvary, of which she was such a close witness, may not be fruitless.

“MONSTRA TE ESSE MATREM”

Often, then, let us turn to her during the day, even as we go about our work, with such prayers on our lips as “Monstra the esse matrem” (Show thyself a mother), or with some indulgenced invocation as “Sweet Heart of Mary, be my salvation”. The more we run to this good Mother, as little children run to their mothers, and the greater our love for her grows, the easier we shall find it to face the hard conditions of our lives, and the more consolation and comfort we shall enjoy under her protecting mantle.

– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949

 

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HOW TO OVERCOME LONELINESS

LONELINESS

The feeling of loneliness may be considered one of the afflictions of this present life. There are some who try to escape it by mixing with the world’s crowds among whom they hope to find recreation and distraction and to get away from themselves.

“GETTING AWAY FROM ONESELF”

No one can always get away from himself however much he may try to do so. There are times when he will realise that even amid a crowd he is in some respects a solitary and sees himself isolated and alone in a world, which in most cases is not very aware of his presence and entirely forgets him when he is absent or dead. As men and women get older and lose by death one after another of their close relations and intimate friends, this sense of loneliness is apt to be felt more and may give rise to a certain sadness and a disposition to repine that there is no one left on whose sympathy and understanding they can depend.

FEELING ALONE IN SPITE OF BEING SURROUNDED BY PEOPLE

But at all times of life loneliness is a feeling to which all are liable, irrespective of age and the circumstances and conditions of life. True and lasting, for instance, as may be the love that exists between husband and wife, creating close companionship and a certain intimacy of thought and feeling, yet there will always remain in each of them secret recesses unknown and unexplainable to the other, which produces at times a feeling of loneliness. Owing to the complex nature of the human heart and mind and to the varying moods to which men are subject, the fact is that nobody can be thoroughly and perfectly understood by another, even by his closest companion and most intimate friend.

LONELINESS IS A FEELING TO WHICH ALL OF US ARE LIABLE

And it is in God’s design that this should be so. He has created us for Himself, to find in Him the only complete happiness and satisfaction. All men consciously or – more commonly – unconsciously are ever seeking and striving after this Supreme Good. If they think to find it in creatures, they are sooner or later disillusioned and disappointed. It is then they feel most lonely. The Catholic poet, Aubrey de Vere, has expressed this in the following poem which he entitled Reality:

Love thy God and love Him only

And thy breast will ne’er be lonely.

In that one great Spirit meet

All things mighty, grave, and sweet.

Vainly strives the soul to mingle

With a being of our kind:

Vainly hearts with hearts are twined,

For the deepest still is single.

An impalpable resistance

Holds like natures still at distance.

Mortal, love that Holy One

Or dwell for aye alone.

When we are told to love God only, the meaning, of course, is not that we should not love others who are, and should be, naturally dear to us, but that our love for them should be entirely subordinate to our love of God, so that we love them only in God and for God. If we make God our absolute and supreme love, merging and therefore ennobling in it all other love, we shall become increasingly aware of God’s constant presence and so effect such a close union with Him as to make us indifferent to the loneliness sometimes experienced on earth among our fellow beings.

THE PROCESS OF BECOMING ENTIRELY INDIFFERENT TO THE LONELINESS ONE “USUALLY” WOULD EXPERIENCE

But to arrive at such a love of God is not the work of a day. It may take a lifetime to reach it in its fullness and perfection. It means a life of daily self-sacrifice and mortification, the renunciation of all things to which we are inordinately attached. An inordinate affection for any person or thing, even when there is no sin, is enough to exclude that very close union which should subsist between the Creator and the creature. In short, we are not complying fully with the terms of God’s first and greatest commandment, which says: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind”; and until we do so love God, we must feel loneliness of heart.

THE NEED TO GET RID OF INORDINATE AFFECTION

So it becomes plain that to possess a perfect love of God, we must not only get rid of all sin but of all affection to sin or of anything that may lay open the way to sin, such as an inordinate affection. As we know, this can only be done by the grace of God, which is obtained by prayer and the sacraments. By the right use of the Sacrament of Penance we will gain a truer knowledge of ourselves and our weaknesses, a greater sorrow for, and an ever-increasing horror of, sin. What helps still more effectually to the love of God is the frequent, and if possible daily, reception of the Body and Blood of Our Lord in the great Sacrament of the Eucharist. As there, Christ, the God Man, out of His infinite Love gives Himself entirely to us, and that at the price of His death upon the Cross, so we should give ourselves entirely to Him, continually making sacrifices as a proof of the love we bear Him.

VIVIFYING AND PRACTICAL REALITIES

These are familiar truths which we have often heard or read, and the mere repetition of them, as with other spiritual truths, will have little or no effect upon us unless we pray earnestly to the Holy Spirit of God that they may sink very deeply into our mind and heart and become vivifying and practical realities.

THE NOBLE PURPOSE OF FEELINGS OF LONELINESS, DISILLUSIONMENT AND DISAPPOINTMENT WITH FELLOW HUMANS

That feeling of loneliness that sometimes comes to us is one of God’s ways of drawing us more closely to Himself, as every kind of suffering which falls upon us is permitted for a like reason. God is ever pursuing us with His love to gain ours, and so He wishes to disentangle us and free us from that love of creatures that apart from Him can never satisfy us but, so often, can only hurt. So that another Catholic poet, Francis Thompson, in his great religious lyric, The Hound of Heaven, has rightly attributed to God, the “tremendous Lover”, the words:

All which I took from thee I did but take,

Not for thy harms,

But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms.

All which thy child’s mistake

Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home.

Rise, clasp my hand and come.

During and since the days of war, of how much of those things we have been stripped in which once we found our pleasure, comfort, and consolation. But we may reflect that even when we had them, often enough we experienced that feeling of loneliness which nothing of this earth can always dispel. It is in God’s loving design that from all our losses and afflictions we should draw good, and thereby be led always to turn to Him, the Supreme Good, in the perfect love of whom all sense of loneliness disappears.

– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949

 

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2016 in Words of Wisdom

 

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WHAT A HABIT OF HOLINESS, WHAT COMMAND OVER SELF!

There is no position subject to so many petty annoyances as that of the mother of a family or the mistress of a house. It frequently happens that they are interrupted many times whilst writing a letter or making out an account. What a habit of holiness, what a command over self must not one possess in order that no impatience may be shown, and that these trifling contradictions may be met with equal serenity!

To discontinue one’s work without exhibiting trouble, to reply with a smile, to wait patiently the conclusion of a long conversation, to resume calmly the interrupted work – all this is the mark of a self-possessed soul, and which God also possesses.

Oh! how much good such souls effect about them, but, alas! they are but too rare.

– From: Golden Grains, Eighth Edition, H.M. Gill and Son, Dublin, 1889

 
 

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“BEWARE OF PROMOTING A TYPE OF EMANCIPATION WHICH ABANDONS THE FEMININE”

“Pope Francis said women’s ‘vocation and mission’ today remain essentially connected to their capacity for motherhood, but warned against unjustly restricting their participation in the Church or civil society on that basis.

‘Many things can change and have changed in our cultural and social evolution, but the fact remains that it is the woman who conceives, carries in her womb and gives birth to the children of men,’ the Pope said.

THE DIGNITY OF WOMEN

The Holy Father made his remarks in a speech to participants at an academic conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Laity to mark the 25th anniversary of Blessed John Paul II’s apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem (The Dignity of Women). Pope Francis described it as a ‘historic document, the first of the papal magisterium dedicated entirely to the subject of woman.’

TWO OPPOSED EXTREMES THAT DEMOLISH WOMAN

Pope Francis warned there are two ways of betraying women’s maternal role: ‘Two opposed extremes that demolish woman and her vocation.’ ‘The first is to reduce maternity to a social role, to a task, albeit noble, but which in fact sets the woman aside with her potential and does not value her fully in the building of the community.’

But he said there is the ‘other danger in the opposite direction: that of promoting a type of emancipation which, in order to occupy spaces taken away from the masculine, abandons the feminine with the precious traits that characterise it.'”
– This article entitled “Motherhood should not diminish women’s role” was published in “The Catholic Universe” issue 20th October, 2013. For subscriptions please visit http://www.thecatholicuniverse.com (external link).

 
 

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“WORKING FOR LONG HOURS JUST TO PAY BILLS AND HAVE NICE THINGS ISN’T ME – INSTEAD I AM A LAY MISSIONARY ABROAD, EMPOWERING EXPLOITED WOMEN, AND I LOVE IT.”

‘YOU ARE VERY GOOD’

“A-Hang (a pseudonym for the purposes of this article), a 29 year old Vietnamese caregiver, arrived at our shelter as a victim of rape. She was working as a caregiver for an elderly man and his son, who was her employer, raped her repeatedly. She arrived in the shelter in August 2005. I had worked as a nurse in a hospital in the Philippines (Pagadian, Mindanao) and was head nurse when I resigned to join the Columban Lay Mission programme.

However, I had no experience with trauma counselling so I did not know how to deal with A-Hang’s case. I would see her looking out of the window with a vacant look on her face. I knew she was so lonely and probably depressed, but I felt that I could do little more than be silently present to her. My Chinese language was quite limited at that time even though I had done one year of full-time language study. I soon realised that by being present to her I was comforting her. One day she said to me, ‘You are very good’.

BEGINNING THE ROAD BACK TO RECOVERY

After about four months A-Hang started talking to me about how she had been raped. She cried and let me see her feelings. I knew that was good, that she was beginning the road back to recovery. She also started participating in activities and talking with others in the shelter.

When the time came for her court hearings, I helped her prepare herself for the ordeal. We looked at a movie about a court case dealing with rape and that made her hesitate. She told me she was afraid to relive the feeling of being raped. I told her that if she showed such feeling it would help her case. I advised her to be focused, not to worry whether or not she cried or felt bad, and to consult the translator if necessary.

‘THIS IS MY TIME TO SPEAK THE TRUTH’

I admired her sense of confidence, her strength and courage. She would say, ‘I am doing this because I am fighting for my rights. This is my time to speak the truth.’ A-Hang won her case. Her criminal employer was sentenced to time in jail and was obliged by the court to pay her compensation. She was also the first migrant worker to win the right to a cross-sector (caregiver to factory worker) transfer.

Like so many others A-Hang had arrived at our shelter weary of life, depressed and seemingly broken. She found the inner strength to gradually come back to life. We at the shelter were privileged to accompany her along the road of that difficult year long journey. Her facial expression told me that she was moving on. In fact, she was the first of many I have seen make a similar comeback after being abused or exploited in some devastating way.

‘I HAVE NEVER REGRETTED THE PATH I WALKED’

A-Hang’s case confirmed for me in a striking way that I had made the correct decision when I applied to join the Columban lay mission programme. When I was a young nurse I had the timeline of my life worked out – profession, good job, better job, migrate to U.S., marry, have a family and a nice home. A Chilean couple, both of whom were lay missionaries with the Columbans, began to help me see radically different, undreamt of possibilities.

I had the idea that only Sisters and priests could be missionaries. The Chilean couple showed me that was not so. They had a baby and lived in the small town of Midsalip. Life was not easy there. I noticed that they also spoke our language (Cebuano) among themselves. I knew Columban priests who came to the hospital at times – Frs Larry Ryan and Mick Sinnott, so I asked them about the Columban lay mission programme. I applied to join the programme, was accepted, did the initial orientation course and was assigned to Taiwan. Following Chinese language study I expressed my preference for work in the mountains with the indigenous with whom I thought I’d have a good chance of improving my Chinese. I ended up with the migrant workers who generally speak Chinese poorly. The story of A-Hang and so many others has ensured that I never regretted the path I have walked.

‘THIS WORK IS VERY WORTHWHILE’

I visited my sister in the U.S. To see what life was like there. I still wondered whether I might like to work and live there. I soon realised that it was not for me – working for long hours to pay bills and have lots of nice things. Here I am empowering women who have been abused and exploited. This makes so much more sense to me. I also learn a lot from the different cultures of the women who come to our shelter.

At times, it may be tiring, frustrating and disappointing here because many women feel hopeless and give up when they are only part of the way into their court cases. Still, the A-Hangs of this world assure me that this work is very worthwhile. In August 2010, A-Hang came to say, ‘Goodbye’ to me. She told me, ‘I’ve earned enough money for my daughter’s education. I’m going home now.’ I asked her how she was, whether the troubles of the past still affected her. She laughed and said, ‘The past is over; I just want to move on with my life’…I know she finds a steady strength in her religious faith.”
– This article entitled “A Valiant Woman” by Beth Sabado was published in “Far East – Magazine of the Columban Missions”, issue July/August 2013. For information about the Columban missionaries and for donations please visit http://www.columbans.co.uk and http://www.columbansisters.org (external links)

 

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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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