14th World Day of the Sick, 11 February: Adelaide, Australia
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán
The Mentally Ill Need Humanity, and Christ
On Saturday, 11 February, in Adelaide, Australia, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care and Papal Envoy to the celebrations for the 14th World Day of the Sick, presided at Holy Mass in the St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. The following is the Cardinal's homily, which was written and delivered in English.
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, in particular His Grace Archbishop Philip Wilson, Archbishop of Adelaide: I convey to you the most fervent greetings of the Holy Father, Benedict XVI.
The Holy Father asked me to bring his warmest greetings to all of you, dear Priests, Religious Sisters and Brothers participating in this memorable liturgical celebration, to all health-care professionals here present, to all the People of God gathered in this beautiful Cathedral, and to all the people of this great Continent of Oceania which embraces Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands.
This celebration of the World Day of the Sick places the mentally-ill people at the centre of our attention. As we heard from his Letter, the Holy Father reserves a special attention to the mentally-sick people. And as a sign of his deep concern for the well-being of these sick people, the Holy Father has on this occasion granted a Plenary Indulgence to all those who participate in this celebration here in Adelaide, and in similar celebrations around the world. In this special way, the Pope accompanies the mentally-ill people with his friendship, closeness and efficient spiritual help.
Mental illness is alas growing very fast in the world. It is reported that there are about 500 million people with mental disturbances.
Causes of mental illness
The are many and varied causes at the origin of the illness: among the most important we find the negation of God and ethical-religious relativism, the crisis of reference values, hedonism and materialism, the technological culture closed in on itself, the exasperation of desires produced by this culture, the pursuit of the impossible, the religious and cultural conflict and the magic ritualism of several religious sects.
As major risk situations, one notes the precarious means of subsistence, work, formation and education, the lack of help networks, alienation of human rights, exclusion and marginalization, terrorism and wars, lack of the education of sentimental life, the process of alienation of reality, the negative conditions of the environmental, lack of social protection, corruption, inequality between the male and female rolls, absence of parents, separation and divorce, loss of the value of the marriage institution, lack of communication and time to stay together in the family, immaturity of the father and mother figures, the undue delegation of parents' responsibility to third persons or institutes, the weakness of the life project, the inadequate preparation for married life, conflicts between parents and their children and the aggressive and violent behaviour.
According to the indications of the Holy Father, both in the letter referred to above and in the Message for this World Day of the Sick, we must in our approaches underline the inviolable dignity of the mentally-ill people and do everything possible to protect it at the cultural, institutional, family and individual levels.
At the cultural level, protecting the inviolable dignity of the mentally ill means going to the root of the problem. It means attending to the system of values. Since mental illness is a disequilibrium, any distortion in the system of values that sustain a person generates personal disequilibrium.
In a simple paradigm of reference assumed by contemporary Global Ethics, which is produced by mere consensus of the majority, we cannot arrive at the desired equilibrium. The reason is that this paradigm must always change according to the mutability of the majority consensus. It is well-known that this consensus easily changes and is often manipulated by the mass media.
Instead, we need a firm and balanced system founded on an objective ethics. This ethics must be rooted in the satisfaction of the person's true necessities and not determined by the whim of desires. This objective ethics is in the heart of each person and leads one to insert himself in a vital and creative order that improves it day by day.
Since due to the disorderly presentation of the fundamental drives this order is sometimes not very clear in the heart, there is need for a further enlightenment that helps to lead the personality towards a true satisfaction of one's necessities. We Christians know that this enlightenment is the divine Revelation, which we receive gratuitously from God.
Protecting the mentally ill
The Holy Father exhorts the leaders of different religions in the world to protect the mentally-ill people. One profound way of doing this is by strengthening the above-mentioned system of values, especially in front of the present growing secularization. As we said already, in this secularization the only remaining support for a personal life is the changing ethical paradigm, whose instability is determined by the frequently manipulated consensus of the majority.
Mental-health professionals have an important role to play here. Above all, something they must take as fundamental to the exercise of their profession is having the best possible psychic equilibrium, and therefore they must be firmly anchored in an objective system of values. Mental illness in a particular way involves the whole person, and in a large proportion its cure does not depend on drugs alone, but on the personal relationship between the patient and the healer.
The dependence of the mentally-ill person on the health professional is particularly strong; therefore, any disequilibrium affecting the health professional disqualifies him as such, because his profession is directed to achieve the equilibrium of the patient.
The Holy Father also recommended that I exhort government leaders to protect the dignity of the mentally-ill people. We hope that we have now exceeded the dehumanizing practices used in the past in the treatment of mentally-sick persons. They were cruel methods that absolutely ignored the dignity of the mentally ill, who were often treated as if they were not human beings.
We also hope that the practice in some countries of classifying those with a different political opinion as insane, is something of the past. In order to institutionally protect the dignity of the mentally-sick people, according to the development and proven achievements of psychiatric medicine, it is necessary that appropriate legislation be promoted and applied all over the world, especially regarding the hospitalization of mentally-sick people.
Since one of the prime causes of psychological imbalance is the family disequilibrium, the protection of the dignity of the mentally-sick person should have, its cradle in the family itself. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world we observe today the disintegration of the family. We must insist on a programme for the stability of the family, which ought to proceed from a serious, adequate and profound preparation for marriage. We have to strengthen the family. There is need to achieve in the family a serene, realistic, joyful and loving understanding between spouses, their children, relatives and the extended family, and the community in which they live. Consolidating a total and indissoluble stability of the marriage will provide the right equilibrium that will be the best prevention for mental illness of a family member.
For us Christians, it is obvious that the true sense of life is only Christ, dead and risen, and at the centre of the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love, who led Christ through the redemptive death, and with Christ leads all of us to our Heavenly Father.
In this World Day of the Sick we have the opportunity to proclaim that at the centre of prevention and care of the mentally-ill person there is Love. Only with the loving understanding of the Holy Spirit that "heals who is sick", can we prevent any mental disequilibrium and heal it when it presents itself. It is truly a crucified love, because it makes us identify with the disequilibrium in order to balance it.
'Formation of the heart'
With the Holy Spirit we reach the equilibrium of the Cross of Christ. It is very painful, but it is the only way to the Resurrection. It is only with this kind of Love that we can come out of the obscure tunnel of mental illness.
In this regard Pope Benedict XVI, in his first Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, says that: "The Spirit, in fact, is that interior power which harmonizes [the hearts of the believers] with Christ's heart and moves them to love their brethren as Christ loved them, when he bent down to wash the feet of the disciples (cf. Jn 13:1-13) and above all when he gave his life for us (cf. Jn 13:1, 15:13). The Spirit is also the energy which transforms the heart of the Ecclesial Community, so that it becomes a witness before the world to the love of the Father, who wishes to make humanity a single family in his Son" (n. 19).
In fact, "[I]ndividuals who care for those in need must first be professionally competent: they should be properly trained in what to do and how to do it, and committed to continuing care. Yet, while professional competence is a primary, fundamental requirement, it is not of itself sufficient. We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern. Those who work for the Church's charitable organizations must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, but they dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity. Consequently, in addition to their necessary professional training, these charity workers need a 'formation of the heart': they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others. As a result, love of neighbour will no longer be for them a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love (cf. Gal 5:6)" (ibid., n. 31).
Today, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, health of the sick. When a mentally-sick person feels the affectionate maternal hand of Our Lady that helps and protects him, the world ceases to be hostile for him, he feels himself sure and full of happiness.
Today, we implore Our Mother Mary, health of the sick, to place all mentally-ill people in the world under her maternal protection, so that she may console them, enliven them, give them confidence and trust, strength and happiness. May she confirm us in an outstanding fraternal solidarity with our afflicted brothers and sisters who unite with the suffering Christ in the depth of their souls.
Finally, it is my pleasure to assure all of you of the Blessing of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, who, though in the Vatican, is spiritually present, united in prayer with us in this beautiful Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier, of the Archdiocese of Adelaide in Australia, and in this wonderful Continent of Oceania.
Weekly Edition in English
15 February 2006, page 5
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