New Website for Catholic Parish Resources

There is a new website for Parish support for Mental Health Ministry at

This website has resources for support groups, prayers and more.


Conference on Mental Illness in Bellevue Illinois

The Victorious at Our Lady of the Snows, Bellevue, Illinois are holding a mental health conference "When Mental Illness Hits Home" on Friday August 25th. This conference was created to be a resource for family members and now offers CEU’s for mental health professionals. There is a hotel here on the grounds and a restaurant. Click here for the brochure:

Mental Illness Conference Brochure


The Following Is a Eulogy Given by Mary Kate Arend for Her Brother

My Remarkable Brother

My brother, Mark Douglas Long, was a most unusual and wonderful person. Born on November 4, 1956, to our loving parents, Norbert and Patsy Long, Mark was the third of four children: John, Cynthia, Mark and Mary Kate. Mark had a brilliant mind; a loving nature; a gentle spirit; and a deep, unshakable faith.

Raised by devout parents and grandparents, Mark became a Christian at an early age. Even as a young boy, he was kind. Although Mark was 11 years older than me, I remember him as a fun-loving, attentive playmate who was creative, curious, mechanically minded, and a lover of nature. I have many fond memories of our make-believe army battles, complete with costumes and pillow forts. Other special memories involve our rascally dog, Rags; electric trains; snow forts; our father’s raspberry patch; Mark’s guitar; and his beloved circuit board.

These happy days were interrupted by Mark’s troubled teenage years and eventual diagnosis with acute paranoid schizophrenia. He had just graduated from high school, and was barely 19 years old at the time of his first admission to Barnes’ Psychiatric Unit. For the next 41 years—the rest of his life—Mark quietly endured the daily torment of auditory and visual hallucinations. His schizophrenia was severe and treatment resistant, and though he tried valiantly to attend college and study computer science, he was unable to complete a degree or pursue a profession.

Instead, Mark’s vocation seemed to be one of patient suffering. For years it was all he could do to face each day, living as a hermit in his downstairs bedroom. Noises of any kind triggered hallucinations, and he couldn’t even bear the sound of normal dinnertime conversation—Mama usually took a plate to his room. With the help of a newly developed medicine called Clozaril in the early 1990s, Mark began to venture out once a week to Chestnut Mental Health Facility, or “The Clubhouse,” as he and my father lovingly nicknamed it. He greatly benefited from the group therapy he received there, and he especially enjoyed working on Chestnut computer projects, sketching in the art therapy room, and socializing with the other patients. After Daddy passed in 2009 and Mama moved to an Alzheimer’s Unit in 2012, Mark was placed in a difficult new role: that of living independently in our family home. We siblings planned to support him heavily, but none of us—including Mark—knew whether he would be able to function successfully on his own.

That’s when God stepped into the picture! The first week that Mama was out of the house, Mark agreed to go to mass with John. St. Paul’s welcomed them with open arms, and miracle of miracles, Mark wanted to keep going! He put tremendous energy each week into washing and ironing his new dress clothes, and waking up early on Sunday morning to get ready for mass. In 2013, Mark agreed to go through the RCIA program, and a kind and devout man became his sponsor. Paul Ray Capelle became a wonderful friend to Mark, and he introduced him to the rosary. Mark began to pray the rosary multiple times a day—the repetition and meditation afforded by the prayers brought peace to his soul and serenity to his mind. Mark had never been more content, and he told me every time we talked how good it was to be a “visible Christian” in our hurting world. Three years ago at St. Paul’s Easter Vigil Mass, I couldn’t stop crying as Mark professed his faith before hundreds of people.

Mark’s spiritual growth spilled over into every facet of his life. He began planning simple meals, writing grocery lists, washing his own laundry, and cleaning up around the house. He became industrious with his free time, studying physics, calculus, and theology, and working on his sketches. He began to enjoy talking on the phone (something he had never been able to do). He welcomed visits from each of us three siblings along with our families—even with all the associated noise! While Mark continued to deal with the daily challenges of schizophrenia, he became diligent about taking his medicines correctly, and he functioned better than ever before. My siblings and I were able to build relationships with him, and we were so grateful for that opportunity. God blessed us richly during those four joyful years we had together.

Our happy time with Mark was cut short by the brain tumor that claimed his earthly life on May 10, 2017. As I have struggled to make sense out of all the suffering Mark endured in his lifetime, I have been stunned by the realization of what goodness and holiness grew out of that suffering. For many years, I had recognized that my brother was perhaps the most remarkable and courageous person I had ever known. His quiet fortitude through years of fear and mental anguish showed me what determination looks like in the face of overwhelming pain. His uncomplaining nature taught me so much about patience, and the importance of loving others—especially those who are hurting. His gentle spirit, despite all of his shattered dreams, manifested Christian humility and reminded me to appreciate the tremendous gifts we are given in one another. But during the past four years, Mark’s impact on me has grown exponentially. Whenever I was around him, I experienced a deep and abiding peace. A peace that I couldn’t find anywhere else. A peace that I longed for in my own hectic life filled with the comings and goings of five lively children. Mark had the abiding peace of Jesus. Mark’s gratefulness, his joy, his holiness, and most of all, his faith, had all come at great cost, born of many trials, and as a result, he valued those spiritual gifts above everything else. One day in the hospital, Mark confided, “Little sister, I’ve come to realize that Jesus Christ is all that matters in life.”

Mark’s unshakable faith allowed him to understand and accept that his 41 years of suffering were not meaningless, but in fact held great value. His suffering had brought him face to face with our Suffering Savior. May we, like Mark, allow God to work through our struggles and suffering to draw us to Himself. Then we can honestly and even joyfully pray these closing words to one of Mark’s favorite prayers—The Divine Mercy Chaplet:

“Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless, and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us, and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments, we might not despair, nor become despondent, but with great confidence, submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy Itself. . . . For Jesus is our Hope: through His merciful Heart as through an open gate, we pass through to heaven. Amen.”


St. Dymphna is the patroness of people who have mental illnesses and May 15th is her feast day. There are St Dymphna Feast Day Celebrations At:

Monday May 15 at the 8:45 AM mass at Queen of All Saints, Chicago. The Chicago Archdiocese Commission for Mental Illness and the St. Dymphna Society will sponsor a Mass for persons with mental illness and their families at Queen of All Saints Basilica. Veneration of St. Dymphna’s relic will follow the Mass. Holy cards, medals, and literature will also be available. Refreshments will be served afterward in the Rectory. For more information, please call (773) 777-6022.

Saturday May 20th at the 9 AM mass St Damian, Oak Forest. the St Dymphna Mass at St Damian will be followed by "Round Table" discussion on Mental Illness. All are invited. For more information contact St Damian's Pastoral Center at 708-687-1370


St Dymphna Presentation and presentation of the video "Welcomed and Valued"

On Tuesday May 23rd at Our Lady of Mt Carmel Parish at 7PM there will be a presentation by Deacon Tom Lambert on the life of St Dymphna and how devotion to her witness of holiness led to the town of Geel, Belgium welcoming and supporting people with mental illnesses into their community. The presentation will be followed by the DVD "Welcomed and Valued" produced by the National Catholic Partnership on Disbility depicting how parishes can support people with mental illnesses and their families.

St. Dymphna is the patroness of people who have mental illnesses and May 15th is her feast day. There are St Dymphna Feast Day Celebrations At:

Monday May 15 at the 8:45 AM mass at Queen of All Saints, Chicago. The Chicago Archdiocese Commission for Mental Illness and the St. Dymphna Society will sponsor a Mass for persons with mental illness and their families at Queen of All Saints Basilica. Veneration of St. Dymphna’s relic will follow the Mass. Holy cards, medals, and literature will also be available. Refreshments will be served afterward in the Rectory. For more information, please call (773) 777-6022.

Saturday May 20th at the 9 AM mass St Damian, Oak Forest. the St Dymphna Mass at St Damian will be followed by "Round Table" discussion on Mental Illness. All are invited. For more information contact St Damian's Pastoral Center at 708-687-1370


St Damian, Oak Forest, Illinois

Mental Health Awareness Support Group

St Damian has started a support group for individuals and families living with mental health difficulties and disorders.

St Damian's support group was formed to raise an awareness of mental health conditions while supporting family and friends through education, encourgaement, and prayer. Also, to create healthier mindsets of those individuals with mental health conditions in a spiritual and confidential environment.

For more information call St Damian's Pastoral Center at 708-687-1370


May is Mental Health Month

What Can You and Your Parish Do to Support Those with mental Illnesses and Their Families

On the "Support and Education" page we list a number of resources and ideas for mental health awareness. Please take advantage of these resources and if you have any questions, let us know. We would be happy to help you.

Deacon Tom


National Catholic Reporter Interview on Recovery Model and the Catholic Church

The National Catholic Reporter did an interview with Deacon Tom Lambert, from the Archdiocese of Chicago's Commission on Mental Illness, Jan Benton from the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, Archbishop Wenski from Miami and several mental health professionals about how the Church can be a key component in the recovery model for helping people with mental illnesses. To view the article click on: National Catholic Reporter article "Catholic church can aid treatment of mental illness"



On a Sunday in October,the Archdiocesan Commission on Mental Illness and Faith and Fellowship will again sponsor the Annual Mass supporting people with mental illnesses, families, friends, and healthcare workers. The mass will be at 2PM at St Gertrude's parish, 6200 N. Glenwood, Chicago.

All are welcome! For more information or to volunteer, contact Deacon Tom Lambert at 773-525-0453 x221



The American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychiatric Foundation have put together an excellent resource for Faith Leaders called "Mental Health - A Guide for Faith Leaders" and an accompanying "Quick Reference on Mental Health for Faith Leaders." This guide was put together by psychiatrists and faith leaders from around the country. Every parish should have one or more! AND ITS FREE!

Both can be downloaded from their website - click on the following to go to webpage: American Psychiatric Association Faith Leaders Guide



Our call to serve comes from our call to love God and love one another. Often we hear that some one has a "disability." Whatever the "disability" is, it really can be an "ability" to see things in a different way and serve others. It is an opportunity to connect and support others who have similar experiences. I often think of the many people and families who face a mental or physical health issue for the first time. Their experience is not totally unique or new to others. While no two experiences are exactly the same, there is much to be learned from others who have similar experiences. Others have been "through it," can support and care for those who are faced with what can be a crisis in their lives. That is our call, to serve one another.

Peace and Joy


Mental Illness and Spiritual Support

The following is written by Judy Beckman. Judy uses the NAMI 12 Principles of Support and adds a reflection to each as well as a bible verse as an uplifting meditation. I hope you find it helpful in your prayer life. Deacon Tom

Twelve Principles of Support Meditation ____________________________________________________________________________

NCPD Webinar on Suicide Prevention available at NCPD

If you missed the webinar on suicide, "Pastoral Supports and Prevention Strategies¯led by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, and Claire Woodruff, moderated by Dr. Thomas Welch, you can get it in a download at



Death by suicide is a critical issue for our communities. The following is an excellent pastoral resource for those grieving the loss of a person who died by suicide. LOSS of Catholic Charities Chicago, Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide,is a non-denominational program supporting those who have lost a loved one by suicide. Click here to go to their website: LOSS PROGRAM ____________________________________________________________________________

Catholic Social Teaching and Mental Illness

The following is written by Mair Moran who recently completed her training in pastoral ministry for the Diocese of Oakland, California. She tells a compelling story on why we as church are called to reach out to people with mental illness and their families from both a real life situation and our Catholic social teaching. Thank you Mair for sharing this with us.

Catholic Social Teaching and Mental Illness by Mair Moran



Video available from NCPD Council on Mental Illness -

"Welcomed and Valued:Supporting People with Mental Illness in Parish Life"

This excellent video can be shown in parishes as a way to inform the parish about people with mental illness and their families and how parishes can be more supportive. The video shows people with a mental illness and family members talking about the importance of faith in their lives. For more information on how to get the video go to the National Catholic Partnership on Disbaility's website and look under resources. For more information contact Deacon Tom Lambert at or call 773-525-0453. He will be glad to come to your parish and introduce and lead the discussion about mental illness, church and family involvemnt.


Resource Binder from NCPD Council on Mental Illness Now in Spanish

"Welcomed and Valued:Supporting People with Mental Illness"

The resource binder "Welcomed and Valued" is one hundred pages of information for people who are ministering to people with mental illness and their families. This much acclaimed binder is now available in Spanish. Please go to to get your copy.




When we see a stain glass window in a church, we are struck by the beauty of the story it tells. The window usually depicts a story from scripture or an aspect of our faith. Taken as a whole, the window gives a complete picture of a particular story or inspiring moment. When we approach the window and look closely at the art, we see that the window is made up of many pieces of glass. The pieces have different shapes and sizes, some are large and some are tiny. We see that the pieces are made of different colors. Upon closer inspection, we see that the pieces have flaws in them, some have lines or cracks, other have tiny air bubbles in the glass. But taken together as a whole, the unique pieces, big and small, of various colors, with all their flaws transcend their individuality and come together at the hand of the artist to give a dynamic story of faith. But what happens if part of the window is missing? What if we were to remove all the brown pieces of glass, or remove the large pieces, or the ones with bubbles in them? The picture would be incomplete. We would not get the whole story.

The body of Christ, the faith community, in one sense, is like a stain glass window. It lives the story of redemption and salvation in the realty of everyday life. The pieces of the story are made up of many kinds and sorts of people, young people, elderly people, married people and single people, people of color, people of different shapes and sizes, people who are divorced, people with different sexual orientation, people with various disabilities, etc. " Like the stained glass window, the body of Christ is made up of many parts. If we intentionally or unintentionally exclude, discriminate against or ignore one or more of the parts, we do not get the whole picture. We are missing the full story. The picture is incomplete.

Often people with disabilities are excluded from the body of Christ and leadership in it because of lack of access to our churches and sanctuaries or by attitudes that treat people with disabilities as less than a person. For people with mental illnesses, a less obvious disability, the societal stigma and misperceptions of the disease often keep people and their families from participating in our parishes because the stigma and misperception by society is felt within their own community of faith. Parishes, rather than mirroring the cultural biases of society, should be challenging those assumptions and accepting and reaching out to all people - to open doors and minds to the gifts of all God's people. Parishes that truly welcome and include everyone in a proactive way portray the story of redemption and salvation as a clear and beautiful image of God's Kingdom. In places where there are barriers, either physically or attitudinally, the image of the God's Kingdom is far less clear and the story is incomplete.

Parishes can be instrumental in reducing the stigma of mental illness and supporting people with mental illness and their families by raising the conscious of the faith community about the facts concerning mental illness and recovery such as:

One in four adults, approximately 61.5 million Americans, experience mental illness in a given year. One in 17, about 13.6 million, live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.

Approximately 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders in agiven year. For ages 8 to 15, the estimate is 13 percent.

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S.(more common than homicide) and the third leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24 years. More than 90 percent of those who die by suicide had one or more mental disorders.

Early identification and treatment is of vital importance. Yet stigma keeps many from seeking help. Stigma erodes confidence that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions. We have allowed stigma and a now unwarranted sense of hopelessness to erect attitudinal, structural and financial barriers to effective treatment and recovery. It is time to take these barriers down.

For more facts about specific mental illnesses go to

Faith is a key component to recovery from serious brain disorders. What can we do to support people with mental illness. We can create supportive parishes and encourage people with mental illness and their families by visiting them and staying in touch with them. Our website offers many practical suggestions and downloads of information that will help you and your parish.

Deacon Tom Lambert



1 - We will see the individual first, not the illness. "Understanding is the foundation of life for those who have it"Ā¯ Proverbs 16:22a

2 - We recognize that mental illnesses are medical illnesses that may have environmental triggers. "I will be glad and rejoice in your love for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul."Ā¯ Psalm 31:7

3 - We understand that mental illnesses are traumatic events. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."Ā¯ John 14:27

4 - We aim for better coping skills. ". . .whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable. if anything is excellent or praiseworthy..think about such things."Ā¯ Philippians 4:8

5 - We find strength in sharing experiences. ". . .encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone."Ā¯ 1Thessalonians 5:14

6 - We reject stigma and do not tolerate discrimination. "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, said Jesus, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."Ā¯ John 9:3

7 - We won't judge anyone's pain as less than our own. ". . .so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."Ā¯ 1 Corinthians 12:25-26

8 - We forgive ourselves and reject guilt. " far as the east is from the west so far has He removed our transgressions from us." Psalm 103:12

9 - We embrace humor as healthy. " cheerful heart is good medicine " Proverbs 17:22

10 - We accept we cannot solve all problems. ". . .in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."Ā¯ John 16:33

11 - We expect a better future in a realistic way. "The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped."Ā¯ Psalm 28:7

12 - We will never give up hope. "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11



By Deacon Tom Lambert

Holy listening, that is, listening in the context of the healing presence of God, means hearing what a person tells us and letting their story unfold. We respond and react to their story in a non-judgmental way with an unconditional love for the person. Holy listening allows and encourages people to relate their experiences in a supportive atmosphere that leads to comfort and healing. Holy listening brings one to a richer understanding of God's unconditional love for us through our acceptance of one another. Holy listening leads to a mutuality of understanding that allows the person who is ministering to another to begin to see that they are being ministered to as well. This supportive process leads to solidarity and mutuality that enriches faith and hope. The listener then becomes the learner and both journey the path to wholeness and holiness.

Such an environment in fact gives a person "permission"¯ to tell their story which they may otherwise feel too uncomfortable or too embarrassed or too stigmatized to tell.

- When someone comes to share their story of joy or pain it is a very intimate conversation.

- They come searching for answers, finding the why in suffering, what did I do wrong, is God punishing me, does God listen to me?

- Listening with a sense of sacredness for the person's life makes the sharing a Holy experience, that is listening in a way that allows God's healing presence . It is their story. It allows for healing.


When interacting with people with a mental illness we need to recognize that each person has dignity.

We need to recognize in ourselves any preconceived negative images and prejudices we may have toward people with mental illnesses.

We are not psycho-therapists who treat the symptoms of mental illness just as we are not oncologists who discuss remedies for a person with cancer. We are spiritual friends and companions who journey in faith with those who are in need or suffering and often isolated by their illness.

People with mental illness should not be defined by the disease they have but by the person they are. When we start labeling people as a disease we see them as problems rather than a person. So it is important to separate the illness and symptoms from the person.

Each illness carries with it symptoms that may affect how people interact with us and we with them. The intensity and severity of the illness impacts one's ability to communicate. Mental illness can affect a person's ability to think sequentially, to manage emotions or mood swings, and to be in relationship with others.

Understanding the symptoms of the particular mental illness of the person will help us to better communicate, minister, advocate, and pray with people with mental illness. Someone with depression may seem uninterested or distant. That is a symptom to be recognized but not indicative of the person they are outside the illness. A person with schizophrenia may hear voices or experience hallucinations which are very real to them and is their reality. It is important not to deny that they are experiencing those symptoms but to help them understand it is not what you are experiencing and that you are willing to learn more about what they are going through. A person who has a panic disorder may be uncomfortable in Church or at meetings so it is important to be sensitive to the person's need for space or need to get up and move around.



The feast day of St Dymphna falls on May 15th. In the 7th Century, St Dymphna's father, a Celtic king, became deeply depressed over the death of his wife. Tragically, he came to see his daughter as the re-incarnation of his wife and tried to force her to marry him. St Dympna fled to Belgium and the king followed her to Geel, flew into a rage and murdered her. There she was buried in a crypt beneath the local Church. Six Centuries later workmen uncovered the crypt and found a tomb made of a shining white stone that is only found hundreds of miles away from Geel. The town's people considered it a miracle that God had provided for her in this way and soon reports of healings spread across the area, in particular healings of people with mental illness.

The site became a pilgrimage center. In the 13th Century, a new church was built, the Church of St Dymphna and a makeshift hospital was located at the Church. People were coming from all over to find comfort and care for their loved ones with mental illness. The church soon was overwhelmed with patients and the parish priest began to ask people to take patients into their homes. In the way of life of the middle ages, this meant that the person accepted into the home was involved in the cooking, cleaning, farming and total way of life. For those who were too sick to work, there was a hospital that the townspeople supported but most were cared for in the homes of the villagers. Thus what we know today as "foster care"Ā¯ began in 13th Century Geel.

One of the many remarkable things about this story is that during this period of time, in other parts of Europe, people who exhibited symptoms of mental illness were believed to be possessed by demons. They were either locked away in prisons or banished from their homes and communities. Yet in Geel, truly a miracle of understanding and acceptance was taking place as people with mental illness were treated with dignity and compassion that enabled them to experience recovery from their illness. It should also be noted that in the early 19th Century, Napoleon ordered that all people who were mentally ill be committed to asylums. Despite that order, the people of Geel refused to hand over the ones they considered to be part of their family.

Today in Geel, there are over 700 hundred families hosting over 800 individuals in their homes. For over eight centuries Geel has maintained a history of compassionate loving care for those society often ignores or shuns. Geel's town symbol is a clock with no hands. This means that you have care for as long as you need! An ideal much needed today.

Unfortunately, in the state of Illinois we are still living in a dark ages mentality. Our state is ranked among the worst in the country for our dysfunctional system care of people with mental illness. People with mental illness and families looking for help often run into a system that is underfunded and overwhelmed. While there are pockets of excellence, tragically the systemic problems are not being adequately addressed. Currently, there is a plan to make even more drastic cuts (40%) to the state's human services budget essentially cutting off help to thousands of people who depend on the mental health services. These cuts often come at the expense of those who have no voice or ability to influence legislation.

Let us ask St Dympna to intercede for us, let us pray that we are able to experience the love and comfort of God in both mind and body. Let us pray for the grace to make the lives of others better by bringing them the comfort of a God who loves us and wants to walk with us. And let us pray and work for justice -- that people with mental illness and their families find a healthcare system that works for them - not against them.

Just as the paschal candle symbolizes the light of Christ, we are called to be the light of Christ to a world filled with the darkness of stigma and misunderstanding. For more information on what we can do, please send an email to Deacon Tom Lambert at


Bishop Michael Bransfield, Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston issues pastoral letter "Hearts Made Whole"¯ on the issue of behavioral health in West Virginia.

Bishop Michael Bransfield, Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston issued a pastoral letter "Hearts Made Whole" A Pastoral Response to Behavioral Health in West Virginia. It is an excellent letter outlining the issues and the needed response. Although it addresses the people of West Virginia it could be a model for the church and community of any state. I highly recommend you read the whole pastoral at

Some excerpts from his pastoral letter about the crisis of healthcare:

Part of the answer to this crisis will be to devote more funds to proven prevention strategies and treatments, a matter for legislatures, but a great deal of the answer lies in our response, as individuals and as members of communities, to those dealing with addictions and with mental illness. In A Church That Heals, I observed that "We know that a sense of being loved and supported best predict health. In contrast, isolation and loneliness best predict disease and injury.¯

As people of faith, we are called to bring those suffering from addictions and, or, mental illness out of a place of loneliness and isolation. Above all, we cannot forget that, "For Jesus, healing is never just the healing of the body but also mind, heart and spirit"¯; healing "is about hearts made whole, sins forgiven and a world healed."¯3

"Today the Church is being called not simply to change but to transform the health of her communities, rebuilding and restoring in such a way that equitable opportunities for health are available to all and a new vision of what it means to be a healthy community is created. We, as members of the body of Christ, can no longer, however, afford to let our fellow family members and neighbors wait until they are broken for us to reach out and attempt to support their health."¯

Reducing stigma is certainly in part a matter of investing dollars in education efforts, but it is largely a matter of sustained effort by people of good will. And this is precisely where we, as a Diocesan Church, called to be the Good Samaritan, can be the most effective. Recalling the context of the parable itself, we become the neighbor of those who are struggling with behavioral health issues when we treat them "with mercy,"Ā¯ binding up their wounds and pouring in the oil of compassion. This step, overcoming the social stigma placed on those living with behavioral health issues, is the one where, as a people of faith and A Church That Heals, we can and should provide the leadership and example.


Faith sharing talk by Peggy Juricek

The following faith sharing talk was given by Peggy Juricek,at a the Illinois Region 1 "Art of Recovery"Ā¯ consumer conference in Chicago. Peggy is a member of the Chicago Archdiocesan Commission on Mental Illness. She also appears on the NCPD DVD "Welcomed and Valued."Ā¯

I'll begin by saying I'm a cradle Catholic. I've almost always been a spiritual person, even since childhood. I owe that to my parents and family. Growing up I had trouble learning, especially in grammar school. For the most part I felt pretty stupid much of the time. However, in high school I really hit the books but still struggled to get C's in many of my classes. I gained a little more confidence in learning in high school and eventually made it to college. After college, when I went to work, I had a series of jobs that didn't work out. In fact, I've never quit a job. I've either been laid off or fired which I attribute to some form of my undiagnosed learning disability. In college, I took a class called "Religion and Atheism."Ā¯ That was where my first doubts of faith arose. I didn't understand my faith the way I understand it today. I did some un-Christian things in my early adulthood and lived to regret them. After my Dad died in 1981, I became a psychological mess. I was laid off in 1982 and because of some serious psychological problems, I attempted suicide. This turned out to be a profound blessing in disguise. In the hospital, I met someone who befriended me and made it his purpose to be sure to make the bible an important part of my spiritual life. In time, I began to read the bible and say the rosary every day. For many years during this, recovery was a very rocky road. I suffered paranoid symptoms, severe lack of confidence, and general depression. For years I spent a lot of time in my bedroom at my mother's house ruminating and contemplating my situation. I was very frustrated with myself, unable to come up with something I could do for a living. I prayed often during this time and was a faithful churchgoer. Finally the good Lord inspired me after many years of inactivity. I knew the good Lord did not create me to lay around being unproductive. So I asked Him to show me my faults and help me find some possibilities for myself. Gradually, I decided to start with some volunteer work for the church. I spent a few days a week helping the elderly in the parish. This was more rewarding to me than the help I was trying to give. After awhile my therapist encouraged me to go to a day program where I could socialize and learn some basic living skills. We had some group sessions, cooking and cleaning, as well as some recreation. After several months, around Christmas time, I wanted to move on and do some volunteer work for the Mental Health Association downtown. As I left the day program, we had a Christmas party. To my surprise, everyone had a gift for me and bid me some warm goodbyes. When I went downtown to the Mental Health Association, they enrolled me in the JVS training program for people with disabilities. I trained in several different clerical modules and practiced my typing. I was a poor typist, but had some skill on the calculator keyboard. After awhile, they sent me to their job club. They arranged for me to work for the EPA in another training program in their mailroom. There I had some challenging experiences, but this job turned out to be another blessing. Eventually they helped me acquire the job I've had for the last twenty years. I started out this job doing some basic duties in the supply room. Gradually, I gained some more responsibility without having to deal with too much pressure. To this day, I still can't handle the work load the average person can do, but since I started the job, all my supervisors have been the best because they try to stretch my potential as well as be supportive in whatever I can do. Today, I just about manage the supply room myself. Not only has God blessed me with a good job, He's blessed me with a wonderful husband. After working for three years at my present job, I met my husband Marty at a Catholic singles group. Very early on I sensed he was the right one. The night we met he came in and started talking to me and we developed a good rapport. Our first date was to Church and then dinner. He proposed after two months of dating, but we were engaged for a year and a few months. Our marriage is not problem free, but has a good spiritual foundation. Most of the time I feel God has blessed me with the most wonderful husband I could have dreamed of. As I look back on my life, the good Lord has always been there for me in all the people I have met from my family, to my friends and coworkers. I've been blessed by everyone. I know the good Lord does not promise a bed of roses, but through the small and larger miracles in my life, I know I can draw strength from Jesus in whatever challenges come my way.



In John's Gospel, Jesus passes a blind man and the disciples ask this question "Who sinned, the blind man or his parents?"¯ The question was embedded in the disciple's consciousness because in those days it was believed that sicknesses, diseases, and disabilities were God's punishment for sins committed by the person or their ancestral family. Some of these same perceptions can be heard today when we hear faithful people ask, "Why did God do this to me?"¯ "What did I do wrong."¯ or "Why does God allow suffering to exist.?¯ or when someone tells us "God gave you this cross to make you a better person."¯

Illness and suffering provoke questions about God and can cause a crisis of faith in the person affected by the illness as well as in their family and friends who love them. The questions go to the root of our beliefs about God. How can a loving God permit suffering to happen? What does God say to us about illness? When we ponder these mysteries we discover a few surprises about suffering: that it is redemptive and a source of grace in our spiritual journey and that it can actually be a gift as it gives us compassion for others and gives us insights into the communal body of Christ.

In John's Gospel, Jesus answer to why the man was blind was - it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.Some might take this to mean God actually gave the blind man this disease so that he can be a witness to God's miracles. In reality, God does not give anyone diseases or illnesses. As described in Genesis, chapter 1 verse 31, God created humanity and at the end of the 6th day, with creation complete, "God looked at everything He had made, and He found it very good."¯ Throughout the scriptures we hear about a God who loves us and creates good despite humanity's failures. Yet paradoxically suffering exists and even God's own Son suffered death on the cross. However, Christ did not come to suffer, He came to redeem us. As Christ said during His agony in the garden "My Father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will. Following the will of God uses suffering to help others. With great love for us Christ was willing to endure the suffering in order that we may be redeemed. The existence of suffering is rooted in humanity's inability to live in right relationship with God from the very beginning of creation. Yet the history of God's relationship with us is that God so loves us that He is always willing to embrace us and comfort us despite our shortcomings and failures. ¯

As part of our fallen human condition, diseases, illnesses, disabilities are caused by many factors such as genetic vulnerabilities, environmental factors, or poor lifestyle choices but not as part of God's plan. God gives us His unconditional love not illnesses. When as part of our human condition we have a disease or disability, Jesus showed us how God's grace is transformative. We can see light and be light even in the darkness of an illness or disease. Belief and trust in God gives us a vision of hope rather than a life of darkness.

The blind man in the John's gospel was sent to wash in the pool of Siloam - Siloam meaning sent. He was called to immerse himself in Jesus Christ so that he may be sent as a witness to the power of Jesus love. The blind man was transformed, he came to believe, and was a witness of God's love. So too we can be transformed when we wash in the pool of love of the one sent by God, we can become a sign to others in need. We can rise above our human condition to be the light of Christ to others. We can make the works of God visible to the world around us.

In our suffering we can identify with the suffering of Christ. The late Cardinal Bernadin, Archbishop of Chicago, suffered greatly from false accusations and pancreatic cancer. In his book "The Gift of Peace"¯ he states that "our participation in the paschal mystery - in the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ - brings a certain freedom: the freedom to let go, to place our selves completely in His hands, knowing ultimately that He will win out."¯ This redemptive suffering means we do not allow the suffering or illness to paralyze us or embitter us but rather it graces us. In her book "Sacred Therapy: Jewish Spiritual Teachings on Emotional Healing and Inner Wholeness"¯ Estelle Frankel says "spiritual healing is essentially about breaking out of the narrow prison of our own personal heartbreak to enter the heavenly palace of compassion and connection. It is about how the human heart can be broken open, so that the veils that keep us separate from one another and from our connection to the divine can be removed." As Catholics it means we allow the light of Christ to shine through us as we become visible witnesses of God's unconditional love which empowers us to use our suffering for the betterment of others. As Jesus suffered and showed us the way, we too are called to step out beyond our suffering. We are called not to be defined by our suffering of physical or mental disabilities, we are called to be people of hope known by our capacity to love and to bring God's grace into a world hurt by a lack of compassion and justice for those who struggle with an illness, are physically disabled or mentally ill. When we have suffered an illness or disability we have also been given a gift of compassion for others who have experienced something similar. By sharing that gift of compassion we can bring light and hope to those in darkness and despair.

Adding to people's suffering is the misperceptions about an illness or disease. The blind man in the gospel story could not worship in the temple because he was blind and labeled with the stigma that came with the disease. Unfortunately, we too live in a stigmatizing culture that looks down on people with disabilities and diseases. Disability or illness is sometimes viewed as a weakness. People with disabilities or diseases are seen by some as no longer useful. People, who are blind or deaf, in a wheel chair or mentally ill, are sometimes seen as less than whole. The stigma for people with mental illness and other illnesses is so great that some do not want to even come out of their houses. Rejected by the community they feel rejected by God. Yet in reality, people with disabilities show us the path to God they help us to see!

At an Archdiocesan meeting on disabilities were people in wheelchairs, people who were blind, people who were deaf and people who were mentally ill. They were there because they were leaders not because they were people with diseases or disabilities. One is a motivational speaker, another runs parish programs, another heads a program to distribute medical supplies. All were people letting the works of God be visible through them. The purpose of the meeting was to spread the word about the ABILITIES of all God's people. To tell us that people should be known not by their diseases or illnesses or disabilities but by the gifts they have to offer. That the body of Christ is made up of many parts each contributing to the life of the body. That when part of the body is missing the body suffers. The conference participants were transformed and now were bringing the message of hope to others.

At the close of John's story about the blind man, Jesus says to the Pharisees: "if you were blind you would have no sin, but now you are saying "we see"¯ so your sin remains."¯

Who are the blind in our world? Who are the disabled and infirmed? Are they those who have physical and mental disabilities? Or are they those who are disabled by their prejudices toward people with illnesses and disease and think they see but really don't!

Deacon Tom Lambert, Archdiocesan Commission on Mental Illness




The National Catholic Partnership on Disability sets forth the following framework as a guide to the Church's ministry for and with people with mental illness:


"One of the fundamental truths of Christian belief is that each human being is created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). The Catholic Church unconditionally embraces and faithfully proclaims this truth. It is the foundation for human dignity. Our commitment to this truth is measured through actions on behalf of the vulnerable and alienated in society, especially the poor and suffering."Ā¯ Affirming the Dignity of the Mentally Ill, Nebraska Bishop' s Conference, January 2005


"Whoever suffers from mental illness 'always'Ā bears God's image and likeness in themselves, as does every human being. In addition, they 'always' have the inalienable right not only to be considered as an image of God and therefore as a person, but also to be treated as such." Pope John Paul II, International Conference for Health Care Workers, on Illnesses of the Human Mind, November 30, 1996


"Those who share in the sufferings of Christ are also called, through their own sufferings, to share in (eschatological) glory." ¯ Salvifices Doloris, p22, Apostolic Letter from JohnPaul II, July 15, 1999


"The great strength of community is the uniqueness and giftedness of each member. The more each person uses their gifts, the stronger the community and the richer the relationships in that community. People are liberated if and when they use their gifts. People are imprisoned when they are prohibited or not enabled to use their gifts. Parishes are communities with great potential to receive and nurture the giftedness of people with disability. The Christian community is one in which all people can claim an equal place and contribute through presence and action."¯ A pastoral document for parishes, Bishop's Committee For The Family And For Life, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 2004

"It is everyone's duty to make an active response; our actions must show that mental illness does not create insurmountable distances, nor prevent relations of true Christian charity with those who are its victims. Indeed it should inspire a particularly attentive attitude..." Pope John Paul II, International Conference for Health Care Workers, on Illnesses of the Human Mind, February 11, 1984


"..To interpret sacred scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm and what God wanted to reveal to us by their words. In order to discover the sacred author's intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking, and narrating then current"Ā¯ Catechism of the Catholic Church #109, 110


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