Struggles in the Season of Joy
by Rev. Fr. Joseph Nguyen
pastor, Holy Family Church
As the holiday season arrives, we strive to live in a spirit of festivity and joy, doused with tremendous thankfulness.
But let us not forget that many people in our community are finding it difficult to survive on many different levels.
Social and emotional distresses are exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. Recently, Pope Francis called our attention to the stress, anxiety and depression affecting many people around the world.
For millions of people, mental health forms a central issue in their lives. Pope Francis asks that they be adequately accompanied, that we pray for them and that Our Lord’s closeness not be forgotten.
About one in 10 people (some 792 million) worldwide have a mental health disorder. Among them, depression and anxiety constitute two of the most common, especially in industrialized countries.
On top of that, spiritual weariness ends up dominating people’s already overloaded lives, making it difficult for them to get help from communities of faith.
Yet, the irony is that faithfilled and church-going people tend to be more resilient toward mental disorders. During many years teaching and ministering in the medical field, I have seen first-hand the devastating effects of the mental health crisis. My daily rounds in the psychiatric units continually reminded me of my own human frailty.
Even mild depression can become a serious health condition during situations of crisis like the pandemic or during times of loneliness like the holidays. In the worst-case scenario, it can lead to all kinds of selfdestructive behavior.
For example, suicide takes the lives of more than 700,000 people every year and is the fourth leading cause of prema- ture deaths in the United States.
Recently, I learned about the Association for Catholic Mental Health Ministers.
According to its webpage, ACMHM is “a lay association of the Christian faithful whose members are called to be a healing presence in the lives of people with mental illness. The association works to make mental health ministry an integral and common ministry in the Church.”
Mental health ministry provides spiritual support to people living with a mental illness and informs their churches about the issues, struggles and joys that can be found in people living with a mental illness. The association provides the tools, methods and insights that allow leaders to confidently minister to people with a mental illness without fear or prejudice. You can learn more by visiting catholicmhm.org.
As a people of God, we are called to build not just a spiritual castle in the air or some future heavenly kingdom, but a community of warmth and affection right where we are.
While being steadfast to our creed, we find no contradiction in the hope of carving out a space in time where people stigmatized by mental health issues can find healing. Our Lord’s words have special meaning these days: “Come to me, all you who are heavy laden.”