People who have mental illness are like people who had leprosy in the 1800’s. They are avoided, gossiped about, blamed for their state, and shunned. This is true even if the illness has gone into remission.
I thought about this comparison because today is the feast a St. Damien of Molokai. For those of you who don’t know, St. Damien went to minister at a leper colony in the 1800’s. He eventually developed that illness and died with the people he served. What made St. Damien a Saint was not that he caught the illness and died. It was that he disregarded thousands of years of conventional beliefs about these people– that they were demon tainted, sinners, filthy, or simply people to be feared and avoided. To St. Damien they were simply people, God’s children.
Jesus says we are to be one with each other just as He and the Father are one. So, let’s not separate ourselves from those that have mental conditions. Let’s not drive them from our parishes by our cold shoulders, avoidance, and gossip. Sit next to them at mass. Invite them to a bible study, prayer group, or parish trip (like you would anyone else), and do everything you can to make them feel welcomed in that setting. You will heal their hearts and souls just as St. Damien did the lepers.
“I thank God that now when I preach I’ll be able to say, instead of ‘dear brethren,’ ‘my fellow lepers.’ St. Damien of Molokai
Picture by William Brigham 1889 Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons