Waging an Unseen Battle

78

Column by Andre McCarville

I can’t take it anymore!

I have been hearing some version of this statement more and more often recently. So many people seem to be at the end of their rope. What is going on here?

The last few years have been tough on everyone. There has not been a world-wide pandemic since the Spanish Flu in about 1918. We didn’t know what to think. We were afraid. Many were afraid it might kill them or someone they loved. Many lost their loved ones to it. Some lived with pain from it. Many were afraid more pandemics would follow. Many were afraid that fear of the pandemic and mitigation measures were being used to control them. On top of this, many were navigating working from home while caring for children who were learning at home. Some lost their jobs, others found they had more work to do. Then there was the killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed. There was the tumultuous election of 2020, followed by the storming of the Capitol in 2021. Our country is fractured over the overturning of Roe, as well as our response to gender dysphoria. People are often afraid to say anything that may be taken in a controversial manner. In addition to this we have the constant news about war between Russia and Ukraine, the fear of a nuclear war that could arise from that, as well as the potential for combat with China, Iran and North Korea always in the background.

Mental health was always an issue. But it seems to have taken a more front and center perspective. I think most of us are walking around with something akin to PTSD. We have been through a lot. We are bombarded with a lot. And for many of us, there is more still. Some are caring for a relative with dementia or a serious illness. Some have gone through a divorce or suffered betrayal from a good friend. Some have to have multiple jobs to make ends meet. Some are bullied at school or in the workplace, and it may continue into online harassment through the night. Some are caught in abusive families, or they have broken families that can’t work their problems out. Some have lost someone very dear to them. To be quite honest, in many cases, there is just too much.

A lot of times I hear people say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” I’m not sure what they mean by that, but I don’t think I believe it. It seems that a lot of people are crushed by the weight of what they see that they have to do. A psychotherapist once explained to me that much of mental illness is caused by complexity in life. There is just too much going on, and there doesn’t seem to be a solution to the problems, at least one that won’t make life even more complex. Just like a balloon pops at its weakest point, when we are extended beyond what we can legitimately handle, we crack.

For Christians, it isn’t that God won’t give us too much. Rather, when we rely on God’s Grace, God can sustain us through it. As one acquaintance put it, “If God brings you to it, God will bring you through it.” Sometimes, it really just is too much for us. We have to rely on God’s Grace to get us through the difficult times. But really, how in the world do you do that?

Pray. People may be tired of hearing this. It seems like it is always the answer Catholics give. But the reason we say it so often, is because it actually is the answer. Often we have a misguided notion of what prayer is, and what is supposed to happen when we pray. Once I was trying to teach someone to pray, and they stopped me as we began and asked, “I’m not feeling anything. Is something supposed to be happening?” Prayer isn’t a magic spell. Prayer is a relationship. It is opening ourselves to God. As St. Therese of Lisieux put it, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” We don’t need to say the right things or do the right things. We need to consistently come to our loving Father to form a relationship with Him. We need to throw all of our cares and burdens on Him. “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 We need to be completely honest and open with Him. You know, you can complain to God. You can even yell at Him. If you want proof of this, read the Book of Habakkuk in the Bible. That’s most of what he does for the first chapter. Just be real with God, but don’t stop there. Learn to listen. You can listen in the silence. You can listen through other people. You can listen in the beauty of nature. You can listen in meditative prayers like the Rosary. And you can listen in His Word. Spend a little time reading the Gospels every day and asking for God to open you to their meaning. Peace will be found there. Finally, be thankful. We are so caught up in our anxiety, that we do not take the time to notice all the blessings. Start with noticing one thing, and being thankful for that. “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Make sure you go to Mass, but don’t just go. Open yourself to an encounter with the Lord there. Recognize that you are entering the Divine Liturgy of Heaven, as found in the Book of Revelation (most prominently in chapters 4 and 5, but most of the book relates to the Mass). If we take the focus off of ourselves at Mass, and go to encounter Him, we will hear Him in His Word, receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament, and be loved by Him through others. We will pray the Alleluias, the Holy, Holy, Holy, and the Great Amen with the host of heaven, and it will be a transformative experience. As one speaker recently put it, when you come to the Lord in the Eucharist, it is really Him, so expect something. Like the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years, come to Him expecting healing. Every time you receive the Eucharist, do so with the reality that God is truly present here, and that God will respond to you.

I want to encourage going to Confession as well. It is a Sacrament of Healing. We are carrying heavy burdens. Confession is where we can lay them down. The guilt of our past, the sins we have committed, the ways we have separated ourselves from God and others can be alleviated through this powerful Sacrament. Much of the stress of our lives comes from our sin. Come to Confession to let it go.

Sometimes, when God may seem distant, it is good to remember His hands and feet are all around us. God created each one of us in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). When God created Adam, He said, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” Genesis 2:18. We were created for community. Spending time with loved ones is one of the healthiest things a person can do. It helps us to see ourselves as loved in another’s eyes. It allows us to step out of ourselves to care about others. It allows us time to laugh, and if we need to, to cry. The people we are closest to are the people we can be the most authentic around. That authenticity is vital for our well-being.

Additionally, God created our world and said it was good (Genesis 1:31). Living in the real world instead of our own meta-worlds or delusory facsimiles of life is where our health and well-being lie. We need to get out into nature. St. Thomas Aquinas referred to nature as God’s other book. We need to have sunlight on our skin and see beautiful green growing things. We need to eat real food. Not highly processed foods or sugary drinks, but healthy fruits and vegetables that give real nutrition. We should make use of our body through exercise. Our bodies were not created to be sedentary, they are meant to move. You don’t have to do HIIT workouts, but brisk walks every day, riding a bike or rowing a boat can be tremendously helpful.

Do something meaningful. When we get too caught up in ourselves, the world seems to cave in on us. When we step out of ourselves to help someone else, for no other reason than to help them, we realize that our own life matters, and each one of our lives can make a difference. So volunteer to help out at St. Vincent de Paul or the Monastery Gardens. Help with the Gabriel Project or Fulton County Mission. There are so many great charities and missions in our area where we could serve. This will do a number of things for you. It will give you the satisfaction of knowing you did something to help another person, which brings more meaning to your own life. It will often give you some physical exercise, which improves your mood as well. You will also be able to meet other people while volunteering, which will help with issues of loneliness and isolation. But more than any of this, when we do what we are supposed to do, what God has called us to, life makes more sense. We cannot live for ourselves and expect to be happy. There is no true fulfillment in hedonism. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

Sometimes we should stop watching the news and turn off the TV, if it isn’t good for our mental health. A lot of the problems you see on there are not things that you can fix, and if you are beyond what you can handle, you shouldn’t have that weight placed on your shoulders. Much of the news media profits off of making you angry or afraid. If you find you are more angry or afraid after watching the news, let it go. At least for a time.

What about those around us? Is there anything we can do for others who seem to be going through a crisis? The answer is a resounding ‘YES!’ Start by calling or visiting those you know who are going through a difficult time. Let them talk to you. You don’t need to have all the answers. What is most important is letting others know you care. Especially contact those who are alone, or in a nursing home, or are caring for a sick relative. Also reach out to those who have gone through divorce or separation, or have lost a loved one. They need to know they have support during this difficult time. Make sure you reach out to their children as well, if you are able. Be a cheerleader for those who are feeling down. Encourage them to try things, and invite them out with you as well.

We should probably start to see everyone as going through a crisis. I once heard that life is a series of crises: either you’re in one now, or you’re just coming out of one, or you are about to go into one. Everyone you come into contact with is waging some unseen battle. So, we should start by being kind and patient. Many companies are short-staffed right now, so things aren’t going to run as smoothly as they should. There are supply chain shortages which will back up your order, and yelling at someone on the phone won’t make it go faster. Be as kind as you can to those you have any dealings with. The waiter or waitress at the restaurant or nurse at the hospital is likely taking care of more people than they should be. Be patient and understanding with them. A lot of people are just starting their jobs and do not know what they are doing. Be patient as they figure out how to help you. Don’t angrily honk your horn or give obscene gestures while driving. There’s enough road rage out there already. Be a part of God’s peace here on earth.

Finally, the Family Life Office and Catholic Charities are working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to offer Mental Health Workshops for our Diocese. The focus of these workshops will be to identify mental health risk factors in others, to address our own mental wellness, and to help us know how to respond to both. This will be especially helpful to pastors caring for their flock, as well as anyone who is in need or knows someone who is. The first workshop will be on Thursday, October 13, from 1:00-4:00pm at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Altoona. There is no cost to attend, but please register in advance by Monday, October 10. You can register online at https://www.wesharegiving.org/App/Form/218fc0ce-d3b7-4361-8bae-9a7292bf9bf1

or by calling the Diocesan Pastoral Center at 814-695-5579 x0.

At every Mass we pray to be “free from all anxiety.” We wouldn’t pray for it if it were not possible. Let us turn to Him for the freedom that only He can give, and let us rely on each other for the support we need.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, dial 988 which will connect you to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Andre McCarville is the Director of the diocesan offices of Family Life and Mission.