Homily for 12th Sunday, Ordinary Time

In her article, “Is It Time to Rethink Mental Illness in Light of the Pandemic?” Caroline Colwill writes that “..many Americans currently struggle with mental health issues arising from the coronavirus and its fallout. So many are experiencing distress because of fears of their own mortality and that of their loved ones, economic hardship, isolation, great uncertainty about the future, and a loss of a sense of control.”

Does that make them crazy? I mean, what’s their problem? Why can’t they simply handle the situation? Are they experiencing some kind of mental illness?

Caroline goes on:

Can we now begin to understand that people who have experienced what gets labeled and treated as mental illness, arrived at their distressed states through difficult life and situational experiences? It’s easy, under normal circumstances, to explain away other people’s distress as a biochemical imbalance in the brain or faulty genes.

Now the hidden, dark areas of our own mental states have been uncovered. Our lack of coping mechanisms and mental capacities have become revealed.

Can we now appreciate that many who have been labeled mentally ill have long experienced these same kinds of hardships? Are people who are experiencing the worst of the coronavirus fallout today and the resultant mental distress the new mentally ill, or are they just normal people responding in understandable ways? If they who are currently experiencing distress are just normal, who is to say that the mentally ill are not also just normal too?

In today’s First Reading from Jeremiah we read about the hidden spiritual illness of the Jewish people of Jerusalem. these included idolatry, [Jeremiah 3:12–23 and 4:1–4], the greed of priests, and the misleading proclamations of the false prophets, especially in advising the King, the military, and religious leaders [Jeremiah 6:13–14]. He uncovered their sins. They almost killed him for it. Unfortunately, he was right. God’s people didn’t heed his warnings. In 587 BC, Jerusalem was sacked by forces led by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar.

Paul addresses the same blindness in his Letter to the Ephesians:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart … But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Lately, our country has been talking a lot about social blindness. The ills of society are being revealed and called out. Many of us don’t like what we’re hearing. We react like the Jews in Jerusalem when Jeremiah did the same. We deny it or attack it or run away from it.

Where am I going with this? This stuff is pretty dark. Denying it or attacking it or running away from it might not be a sign of weakness. It might be a sign of mental health. You can only take so much of that in. Is it possible that God wants to reveal something else that is hidden, that can bring God’s grace and healing and love and mercy into the world?

Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet. He had hidden talents however. Are there hidden talents that you have that recent events are revealing? Are their things that you do well that have been hidden under a bushel basket which God wants to reveal to add light to the world?

It’s been said, “Show me your friends and I will show you your destiny.” You become the mixture and echo of the 5 people with whom you spend the most time. Consider a conversation with those 5 people. Ask them three questions:

  • What hidden talent did you see demonstrated in the last three months that you had not seen as much?
  • Where do you see talent and giftedness in me that seems to be hidden?
  • When considering the parts of my life that are darker, if you don’t let Christ transform it, you will transfer it. Where do I need redemption and transformation in my life?

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