One of the brothers in St. Francis’ religious order recounted that he was captivated by Francis. Consequently, he would often pause to observe him while he was praying. On one occasion, the brother heard the saint say, “Who are you Lord, and who am I?” Although, his prayer was simple, it is said that St. Francis would spend hours in silence with Jesus and this question.
The human person has an inherent ache and thirst for identity, to be loved and known. He searches tirelessly for meaning in many ways such as, but not limited to, recognition, relationships, status, material goods, work, and how can we forget the endless vortex of social media? As one indulges in each, he is left emptier than before. In one of Fr. Henri Nouwen’s most animated homilies, he exclaimed, “I am not what I do, I am not what I have, I am not what others think of me. Coming home is claiming the truth that you and I are the beloved sons and daughters of God.” The book of Jeremiah provides further evidence of this when the prophet states, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart (Jeremiah 1:5).” Jeremiah 31:3 also reminds us that our Lord states, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”
When our spiritual life is neglected, it will unavoidably present itself symptomatically through our thoughts, mood, and behavior. Without realizing it, we grant the enemy an entryway into our souls by believing the lies he coerces us to believe are true about our identity and God’s word. He plants seeds of doubt by whispering, “Did God really say that? Is that what he really says about you?” The way we think affects the way we feel and behave. However, the best kept secret is, that not every thought you think is true. We may give into negative thoughts and can be convinced into believing that we are worthless or unlovable. Unknowingly, we eventually accept and even invite circumstances and interpersonal relationships into our lives that perpetuate and confirm the way we view ourselves. For example, If Sally believes that she is worthless she may be drawn to date men that treat her as if she was worthless. We need to combat the enemy’s lies with God’s truth found in scripture.
Throughout my journey in the mental health field, I have seen countless individuals that have lost sight of who they are and whose they are. Others are unable to see any purpose or meaning in their existence and struggle with thoughts of suicide. I am always in awe of how brave they are, to become vulnerable and share the most intimate details of their lives with a stranger. That takes tremendous courage. In their efforts to overcome feelings of depression, anxiety or even a lack of control, some have sought healing through dangerous practices that are thought to be harmless. I regularly become acquainted with souls that have resorted to the New Age, Eastern Spirituality, and the occult. Among some of the spiritually dangerous practices are Yoga, “manifestation,” astrology, the belief that elements in nature have “spiritual energy,” “sending vibes,” the law of attraction, witchcraft, “Santeria,” Satanism, and the Narco-Satanic spirituality of “Santa Muerte” (Holy Death). Some come in with complaints of seeing, “dark shadows,” recurring nightmares, etc. following their involvement. What is the attraction to the new age and the occult? The practice of these spiritualities promises knowledge, healing, mystical experiences, control over one’s future, as well as others around us, etc. As St. Augustine stated, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” What we seek can be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, our Blessed Mother, and the Saints. Instead of distress, this relationship leads us closer to peace. Although secular counseling techniques can be effective, the modalities can only take clinicians so far. This is one of the main reasons why I chose to become a Catholic Therapist. We must address the spiritual part of our lives to fully heal the mind, body, and spirit of a person. Jung and Freud were still trying to figure out their own lives. How can we then trust that their theories will be the only solution to heal our wounds? Jesus Christ is our only hope. God has promised us in Psalm 147:3 that, “He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.” He also came to, “set the captives free” (Luke 4:18). Jesus is the ultimate divine physician; we as clinicians, are mere instruments to be used as he wills.
As Catholics, we have been given the gift of being able to participate in a sacramental life, which is the healing balm to our ailments. We are called to a life of communion with Jesus Christ which can been found in silence, prayer, adoration, community, and worship. When we surrender our lives to Christ, we learn how to loosen our grip and need to control. When we do this, anxiety fades. We allow God to be God. According to a study led by Harvard Professor, Tyler VanderWeele, it was determined that young adults who prayed daily were less likely to have symptoms of depression, had higher levels of life satisfaction compared to individuals who never prayed (VanderWeele, et. al, 2018). Another study was led by McGill University’s Associate Professor R. Whitley (2019) regarding French-Canadians’ recovery from mental illness. One of the participants in the study stated, “There is a certain level of calm brought by reciting your rosary…” The rosary is a very effective way to cope with anxiety and depression.
A meta-analysis study found that individuals that experience more gratitude have lower levels of depression (Iodice et al., 2021). In adoration and worship, we can offer gratitude towards Christ for who he is and the blessings that he has bestowed upon us. Spending time in front of Jesus in the Eucharist, in silence, will most assuredly lead to the true peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). St. Bernadette Soubirous stated, “The Eucharist bathes the tormented soul in light and love. Then the soul appreciates the words, ‘Come all you who are sick, I will restore your health.’” Jesus became a prisoner of love for each and every one of us. Love itself has allowed itself to be consumed to dwell within us. Additionally, we are able to carry and radiate this love everywhere we go. The wounded body of Christ is then transformed and redeemed. There is meaning in his suffering. Pope Benedict XVI stated, “Before Jesus’ gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with Him, as it burns us, transforms, and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation ‘as through fire.’ But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God.” May we continue to put our hope and trust in him who makes all things new.