Photo by Kylli Kittus via Unsplash.
Photo by Kylli Kittus via Unsplash.

As a licensed mental health counselor, I can attest to the physical, emotional and spiritual distress and anguish of many people who struggle with mental illness as well as their families. They are afraid of being judged if they share their illness with others and therefore remain silent when they need the help of others. Many experience an inherent disconnect from those they live and work with as a result of their illness which can result in or exacerbate a sense of loneliness.

When I was asked to write a piece that addressed “Pastoral Care of the Mentally Ill,” I was immediately drawn to a beautiful Pastoral Letter written in May 2018 by the Bishops of California titled “Hope and Healing, A Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of California on Caring for those who Suffer from Mental Illness Addressed to all Catholics and People of Good Will.” I would encourage everyone to take the time to read this Pastoral Letter as well as the Study and Discussion guide which can be accessed at the following online link https://www.cacatholic.org/hope_and_healing.

The letter emphasizes the importance for people who are mentally ill as well as their families to feel part of a Christian community that is willing to “encounter them, accompany them, comfort them, and help bear their burdens in solidarity with them — offering our understanding, prayers, and tangible and ongoing assistance.”

We must remember as children of God, they are us, we are them, and together we are all created in the image and likeness of God and loved equally by God.

Pastoral Care Ministry involves being able to be truly “present” to someone, to provide “deep listening” and “accompaniment.” When someone feels heard and understood there is trust that develops and a connection at a deep level. We are not meant to be alone in this world, yet mental illness as well as aging issues can make people feel different, scared, judged and not accepted.

It is time for our faith communities to live the command of Jesus as stated in Luke’s Gospel 10:27-28, “He said in reply, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

In this Gospel Jesus then goes on to share the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Who is our neighbor who comes to worship with us, yet doesn’t feel at home, safe, understood or welcomed in our Church? How can we reach out to those people who are lonely and suffering with the love that God has for them and us? What are we afraid of? How can we offer Hope & Healing?

Please read the Pastoral Letter.

Harley M. McDevitt, LMHC, is the Director of Pastoral Care Ministry.