Father Brendan McGuire,
St. Simon Catholic Church,
Los Altos, CA
Illness to Wellness: I to We
“Master, I want to see.”
Irony is defined as the deliberate use of opposites or contradiction
to emphasize or to make a point.
Life seems to have a lot of irony built into it!
We all experience irony almost on a daily basis.
For example, we live in America one of the richest nations in the world
and yet, a whole portion of the country has no access to housing.
We are one of the most-educated nations on the earth
and we have yet the highest obesity in the entire world in our country.
We have arguably the best health care system in the world
and yet, a huge portion of our population no access to it whatsoever.
Currently, we are in a drought
but we are going to have floods in the next couple of days.
The ironies keep piling up.
In the gospel today, the evangelist uses irony deliberately
to make and emphasize a point.
In particular, Mark the evangelist,
has layers of irony that we are not meant to miss.
For example, the first is the connection to the gospel two weeks ago
when John and James, the two brothers, came to Jesus
and said we want you to do something.
The same question that Jesus asked Bartimaeus today,
he asked of them, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Bartimaeus asked, “I want to see.”
Whereas James and John, his own disciples,
wanted a place in his Kingdom.
They missed the point.
They were meant to see the obvious.
Or even more ironic that Bartimaeus, a blind man,
is able to see that Jesus is the Son of David.
And so he sees with eyes of faith but he is blind.
Yet he wants to see and of course, Jesus again emphasizes,
yes he gives him the sight
but he already sees more than the disciples do
because he calls him the Son of David.
Another irony is that Jesus is going to Jerusalem
and the disciples want to crown him king.
According to them he is going to be a Messiah King
who is going to save the world with strength.
But Jesus is going to save us through meekness
and by giving himself over completely to God’s will.
Yet Bartimaeus the blind man sees this and follows him on the Way.
Another and most important of all,
Jesus’ disciples scold Bartimaeus to not go anywhere near Jesus.
He is their king, after all.
But Jesus reverses this and goes and calls him.
Why does Jesus always reach out to the blind and the lepers?
It is very important for us to understand
that they represent a group of people who were always isolated;
they were always marginalized much like the orphans and the widows.
And why does Jesus attend to them?
It is because they represent the lowliest.
They represent those who have been isolated and put to the side.
And the question for us is “Who are the ones that are marginalized today?
Who are the ones who are isolated and often alone and suffering?”
And there are many.
Today, I would like to emphasize one,
which we rarely ever talk about:
those who suffer from all sorts of mental illness.
Let me explain this by talking about physical illness for a moment.
Just think of physical health as being on a continuum
from really excellent health to really bad physical health.
On one end of the continuum are those in excellent health.
They are physically in great shape;
they eat well; they exercise often; and they get plenty of sleep.
And so they have no health issues whatsoever.
Nothing. Everything is rosy. Perfect.
On the other extreme, we might be morbidly obese;
we might never exercise and have bad sleep habits;
we might have chronic health problems;
we might have even chronic hereditary health problems.
Some of our health problems we may have contributed to ourselves
by bad choices of food and lack of exercise;
or we might have inherited them.
We had no choice.
We just ended up that way through no fault of our own.
All of us are on the continuum somewhere.
If we are honest, very few of us
are feeling in excellent health all the time;
and hopefully few of us are in ill health or dying.
Mental health has the exact same continuum.
On the good mental health side,
we have a good sense of our wellbeing.
We take breaks.
We know what stresses us.
We are able to engage people emotionally
and let them know where we are at;
we have good support networks.
Life is good.
We never seem to have anything go wrong.
Stresses under control.
Nobody really arguing with us in our life.
Work and home life are all sweet as roses.
Then on the other extreme is ill mental health:
we suffer possibly from chronic depression or even clinical depression;
we may have a significant, really morbid illness
that affects us and is debilitating and chronic in our life
and we find life very difficult to manage in every way possible.
Daily life is a grind at best.
All of us are also on this continuum.
If we are honest few of us have a bed of roses in life.
We all veer down this continuum depending on circumstance of life.
Hopefully, few of us are on this end
but some of us might be suffering and going towards that end.
There are few of us who have everything going perfectly.
No arguments. No stresses in our life.
We are all just happy-go-lucky.
It’s wonderful! That is very rare indeed.
What is the difference between these two extremes
of mental illness and mental wellness?
If you notice the difference between illness and wellness is
“I” versus “we” or Illness. Wellness.
And that is one of the most important parts of
understanding mental illness and mental wellbeing.
With physical health, we often can take control of our own path;
it can be very individual path.
We can do really well physically
although when we move to the area
where we really want to be in top health,
we really need some support network.
Well that is even more so in mental health.
In mental health, we need to have others around us.
We cannot just pick ourselves up by the boot straps.
And sometimes, just as in physical health,
we might inherit some illnesses,
which is no fault of our own that we have this
and what we need to be well is to have a community;
to have a network of people who help us manage.
And just like physical illnesses,
most are able to be cured
but some cannot and they can only be managed.
The same is true for mental health and mental illness.
Most of the people are able to be cured
but some cannot and can only be managed.
So why do I bring this up?
Because today we know that the social and emotional impact
of the pandemic has been massive.
And it is not just to a small group of people; it is to all of us.
Now most of us have bandwidth on our continuum
and we can absorb it and we have a little more stress.
But some of us are closer to extreme already
and do not have much bandwidth to absorb this crisis.
The new isolation has really made their mental health dangerous.
So what can we do?
We are not doctors.
What we can do is this “I” to “we”
and we can check in with our family and our friends.
We can ask questions, “How are you doing?”
We can check in and make sure that they are not isolating.
The biggest struggle for people who struggle
with mental well-being is the isolation.
Like Bartimaeus and like any of the lepers,
the isolation is what does the greatest damage.
So what can we do?
First of all, we can ask the Lord to help us to see;
to help us to care when we look around at those of our loved ones
and see if they are isolating more;
are we checking them?
We do not need to be a doctor.
We just need to be human.
We just need to care.
That is what we do when we come to the Eucharist every week.
We come in as “I” and leave as “we.”
That is our promise.
When we come in here, we give up our “I-ness,” our individuality
and why do we do that?
So that we can receive Jesus to go out as
“we” into the world as a reminder
that we are now the Body of Christ once again for the world,
not just for ourselves,
but for the entire world.
Today, as we go forth from here,
is there a person in this time of pandemic
who is isolated that we know?
Can we make a simple phone call
and let them know that we care and that we want them to know?
Is there a way, maybe if we are suffering in our isolation
and we know those of us who are at home,
can we reach out and let people know
that we are suffering in our isolation?
Often times that is the biggest signal
that we can give so other people can step forward
and move from the “I” to the “we.”
Illness to wellness.
It is just a small shift.
And it requires all of us to make that effort.
As we come to the Eucharist,
it is not enough that we just come;
we have to go from here, converted and changed,
and the conversion of the Lord asks us to make is to be disciples;
to be men and women for Christ in the world.
We move from the “I” to the “we” and
how can we do that today?
It is by caring and reaching out to those who may be suffering
and who may be in isolation;
and who may need that one phone call from us
that says we care and we notice in Christ’s name.
“Master I want to see.”