Mental illness is not sin. That’s a fact and there’s plenty of scientific evidence to back it. What is not true however is that harmful actions done while mentally ill are not sin. Wrong actions are called sin. Use the word. It won’t kill you. When a therapist, doctor, or friend tells you there is no sin in what you did because you were ill they are wrong. There is however the issue of personal responsibility. How much are you responsible for the sins you commit? The legal system operates the same way. There are things done that are illegal but circumstances may render the accused less to blame.
So why would a person who commits sin while in the midst of a mental episode need to repent, and in a Catholic’s case confess?
Here is a practical (not theological) reason. When the manic, obsessive-compulsive, depressive, anxious, or hyperactive event is over, regret and sometimes torturous guilt sets in. There can be secret memories of things done that nobody knows about, the pain in loved ones’ eyes over things you don’t even remember, personal loss of dignity and reputation, as well as a host of other things serious and not that cause added mental and emotional disturbance. Education, therapy, and medicine can heal self, marriage and family but forgiveness is the only thing that heals the very heart and forgiveness begins with God’s forgiveness.
As I’ve written in a previous post, Jesus always forgave sin and healed through human means— touch felt on the skin and words heard in the ears. The one forgiven and healed always saw Him with the eyes. Lord knows we humans need the human component. After all He was one. Hence He gave us a way to experience this, the sacrament of reconciliation, confession. Let’s face it. Confessing to God in the secret of your bedroom the secret things you’ve done keeps them secret and from a human standpoint you are still alone with your guilt. Confessing to an ordained designated human representative of God eliminates the state of aloneness and the existence of secrets all at once. Plus it reminds you that forgiveness and heart healing begins with God.
Lent begins next Wednesday. You will have six weeks to reflect and willingly take positive concrete action during this special season. Here is the guideline. Sin is about acting. Illness is about having. Confess your acts and get treatment for what you have. That latter may actually help you “sin no more.”
“In failing to confess, Lord, I would only hide You from myself, not myself from You.” –St. Augustine
Catechism: Section 1, Chapter 1, Article 8; picture is our our parish confessional.