Every year a discussion about the startling rise in suicide rates during the holidays makes national news. More often than not, the cause is relegated to mental illness, stress, or family situations. While all of these may be true, they betray a purely materialist view of the human person. Mental illness in itself is a tremendous Cross for those who carry it. All illness has a bodily and a spiritual dimension. That’s why Christ gave the Church the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. There is a very real need for physical treatments, but we live in an age that focuses on the body and ignores the spirit. Far too often we ignore the needs of our neighbors. Whether it is the deepening darkness leading to the winter solstice or a heightened awareness of one’s loneliness due to the holidays, people who struggle with mental illness, family problems, stress, or a whole plethora of other issues find themselves undone this time of year. What are we doing to help them?
Do we truly see our neighbor?
I find that one of my greatest shortcomings in social gathers is that I cannot remember people’s names. This is a shortcoming, because it means that I do not stay present and truly focus on each person I meet at an event. In fact, it may take me many meetings to remember the name of a person. I am so self-absorbed that I cannot focus for a couple of minutes to remember a person’s name. It also means that I am not listening to everything else they are telling me. I am not seeing my neighbor. I do not see Christ in them either. It’s impossible to see either if I am not fully present in charity.
Everyone suffers at some point in their lives. For some people suffering is chronic and is a lived affliction. My own father has suffered with chronic illness ever since he had rheumatic fever at 7 years of age. He has lived with intense pain for 53 years. The level of his suffering over the years has only been revealed to me as an adult, since he tried to keep it from my sisters and me as children. While he would not want attention to be drawn to him, I have to wonder if people have cared to notice this Cross in their brother in Christ? Would I have noticed if he were not my own father? Chronic illness is inherently lonely, but often we fail to notice its effects in the person sitting or standing beside us. The Mystical Body is called to walk into the joys and sufferings of their neighbor. Pope Saint John Paul II in Novo Millenio Inuente explains:
A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as “those who are a part of me”. This makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship.
If we are truly committed to walking as disciples of Christ, then we will step into the Crosses of our neighbor, rather than flee. This requires great courage, charity, and the forming of habitual action.
One Reply to “Catholic Exchange: Seeing Our Neighbor and the Long Loneliness of December”
I found an almost 12 years old letter from my Dad who died this past March. It was writen shortly after the death of my 17 year old daughter, whilst I was cacooned in a state of shock and self pity. Pops was unable to be with me at that time due to an airline strike, and he was lamenting his inability to be of support, or to simply be with my hubby, our three younger children and I. This was in addition to his watching his beloved wife, Maggie, become lost in Altzheimer’s. He spoke to me as an adult who had weathered the painful storms of life, and who loved all the people in his life almost as much as he did. He expected me to be able to understand his torment, and shared very honestly his grief as a parent, grandparent, husband and man of faith. I, however, was so absorbed in my misery, I missed how hurt he was about my pain, his suffering at the loss of a much loved grand daughter, the increasingly awful situation of looking after my Mum by himself, and being physically separated from us, at so crucial a time. Thank you Constance, for your stark insight and beautiful words. Yes, I missed the Cross my Father was carrying, and the alone-ness he suffered when my mum died shortly after my daughter. There was not anyone else who a very independent, strong and private man would confide in, or be vulnerable to. What you have reminded me most of, was that while I grieved the death of a child and mother without faith, the death of my Dad has been accompanied by the consolation that as a child of God, I am not ever alone. His strength is mine. El’s example of faith, patience and grace in his struggle and suffering, gave me more than anything that he actually intended to give me – and there is not any measure great enough for that. I found you and this gem, when I followed a link from spiritdaily “When Life Feels Like a Raging Storm.”
May God Bless you abundantly in this journey with your husband, and may He also send many gems and generous, faithfilled souls to strengthen and fortify you both.