Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 323

The LORD has requited you for all the bloodshed in the family of Saul, in whose stead you became king, and the LORD has given over the kingdom to your son Absalom. And now you suffer ruin because you are a murderer.”

One of my duties at the VA hospital is to visit Catholics in the psychiatric ward. Many, perhaps most, of the patients are happy to see a chaplain and eager to visit with me or one of the Protestant ministers. 

But the hospital is an old building; the psych ward is a former medical ward redesigned for its present purpose -- and it still has the feel of the 1950's.

In those days society didn't so readily recognize mental illness. I'm sure many of the Veterans of World War II suffered egregiously with battle fatigue, as it was called then. But the medicines and treatments of that era were often less than helpful. There were strait jackets and padded cells. Some patients might be wrapped in ice-cold sheets until their frenzy passed. Depressed patients could be jolted with electricity -- a treatment still in use though greatly modified. 

At the time some psychiatrists began to suspect that the mental illnesses they addressed were simply the secrets ills of society exposed. They recognized in their anxious patients symptoms of the Cold War when all life on the planet might be wiped out by the quarrel of two super powers. Who wouldn't be anxious when children are taught to take cover from a thermonuclear blast under their desks? 

Today we see an inebriated, over-medicated society represented by the wasted frames of alcoholics and heroin addicts. We wonder if bipolar patients represent a polarized political landscape, ready to explode with paranoia and armed violence. 

Today is the feast of
Saint Bridget of Ireland

The fellow who heckled King David in our first reading today suffered madness and claimed to represent the family of King Saul. David had tried to unify all the tribes of Israel with one kingdom and one religion, centered in the renamed city of Jerusalem. He had gone so far as to bring the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh, where it had resided for over two hundred years, into his city. 

But there were pockets of resentment and resistance. No one should expect any political decision to resolve all the problems. 

Apparently, these problems were more than inadequate resolutions. They were festering sins, some of them David's. Did Shimei know that David had secretly arranged for the death of Uriah so that he might have at the dull-witted soldier's widow, Bathsheba? 

God knew, and through his prophet Nathan, David was told his house would be plagued with violence until the end of time
Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the LORD: I will bring evil upon you out of your own house.” 
In today's gospel we encounter the Mercy of Jesus as he addresses a madman and his tormented neighbors. With a word of authority Jesus restored him to his family and friends. 

To be healed of the spiritual illnesses of our present society -- addictions, obsessions, bullying, and so forth -- urging our mentally ill patients to practice sobriety, sanity and serenity is not enough. They only represent us and cannot be healed until we are healed. There are no chemical, mechanical or technological solutions.

Helpless, we turn to the Mercy of Jesus.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.