If you are emotionally challenged with anxiety, depression, bipolar, or obsessive-compulsive disorder and are Catholic you too can prepare for our Savior’s birth the Catholic way, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Communal penance services, those individual confessions in a group setting are often scheduled this time of year. They are the perfect setting for the emotionally challenged penitent.
The claustrophobic don’t have to enter a confessional. It’s wide open out there in the sanctuary. Yet you who have agoraphobia can still go into the softly lit enclosed private confessional. Socially phobic, are you? Confess behind a screen. (If there isn’t one, shame on the pastor for removing a good option for the terrified.) Finally, you who have generalized anxiety disorder can watch other people confessing. Focus on that instead of your internal anxious feelings and presto, courage.
Those of you plagued with excessive and irrational guilt, here are the facts. Of 7 billion people out there, all have sinned in some way. Your sins are worse, you say? Probably not but let God decide that. You’re depressed. You clearly can’t make a sound assessment.
After coming down from a manic high you can be horrified at what you have done. Let God, not you, decide how culpable you really are. You need a functioning mind to commit sin. Jesus is likely to be way more understanding of that than you, so allow Him some leeway.
If you who make mountains out of molehills (generalize) and take blame for every action under the sun (personalize) you also need to remember God’s reasonableness and quit beating yourself up. Your job is to sincerely confess, receive absolution, and then do as St. Francis de Sales instructed, “Think no more about it.”
Obsessive-compulsions can be quite embarrassing to confess, especially if they are sexual in nature. Though I’m sure hurting yourself regularly via your compulsions can also be embarrassing. By the way, those repetitive intrusive thoughts you are trying desperately to push out of your mind are not sin. Ask the priest. Reread the section on bipolar because the same applies to you and remember, once you confess, “think no more about it” —even if you forgot to confess something!
Of course, there is that great sin of refusing to get treatment for your mental condition when you really need to. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is not magic, mental health counseling, or a medical setting so don’t use it as a way to avoid getting treatment. Refusing professional help when you obviously need it is prideful and against the ‘respect life’ mandate. Respecting life means taking care of yours first and then those close to you that you make miserable because of your untreated illness. Just saying.
Finally, don’t let the temptation of thinking you are the only one with a mental condition stop you from going to confession. The overall global statistic for lifetime prevalence for mental illness is one in twenty. Look around you with that statistic in your head. You are not the only emotionally challenged Catholic in that gathering of penitents!
Oh yes, that confessing to a priest issue? I have to admit it wearies me. Just admit it isn’t a theological issue for you. You are simply scared and don’t want to go. Well, you are Catholic, aren’t you? That’s why a priest. End of discussion.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord! Rejoice in gratitude. Then go shopping and decorate.
Picture of stained glass window in St. Dominic Church (Columbus, OH) by Nheyb. Wikimedia, 2014. Free to post for non-commercial purposes. Posting this photograph is not a statement of endorsement by the author.