This week I share with you the homily that I intend to preach for Solidarity Sunday this weekend. It is a particularly important occasion for our Emmaus Family Support Ministry as it marks the first time Melissa and I have been asked to lead a Lenten Mission on the topic of Mental Health, faith, and our Emmaus support ministry. While it wasn’t specifically intended to take place on what in Canada is Solidarity Sunday, as I prepared my reflections for this Sunday’s Mass, it quickly became clear that solidarity with those who walk the difficult road of mental health challenges, is the heart and soul of what we do. I do hope these reflections speak to your heart as they do to mine, and that you consider joining Melissa and myself on Monday, March 22 for our Mental Health and the Spiritual Life Mission which will be livestreamed from St. Augustine’s parish in Wilcox Saskatchewan.
As the sun begins to warm the earth I’ve started seeing more and more images in my social media feeds of people’s bulbs and fall planted vegetables beginning already to sprout, sharing their new, green life with creation. I find myself imaging the long, cold sleep of winter they’ve endured, packaged in their small, hard shells; contained, safe, secure.
How often do we live our lives in just such extended periods of smallness, our life of grace kept hidden, secure, and safe?
The gospel today presents a Jesus who proclaims a word in direct opposition to this kind of self-preserving existence. Approached by Greeks who have heard of this great Jewish teacher, they come seeking his wisdom. By way of response, Jesus provides these strange sounding words “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”
What is needed for a spring bulb, fall sewn spinach, an acorn, or a wheat grain to bear the fruit it was intended to bear? A dying, a breaking open that burst the bonds of safety, security, and comfort and allows the life within to be touched and affected by the elements around it.
It is just such a breaking open that Jesus refers to here today. Just a few verses later he asks rhetorically “what should I say — ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” and not just himself, but any who wish to love life, must be willing to lose it with him.
This is the way of the New Covenant that Jeremiah hoped for and Christ has revealed. It is not a way over or around our burdens and tears, but through them, held hand in hand with our Lord who suffers with us, and hand in hand with each other.
The glory of God is to be found not in a place of isolated protection from the elements, of the world, but precisely within the extent to which we are willing to be broken open, allowing ourselves to be affected, sometimes deeply, by the world and the lives of those around us. I’m reminded of the closed, cold dark space of silence our family struggled with during the early days of our daughter’s mental health challenges. The overwhelming amount of energy we put into creating a hard, protective shell around our hearts and around our lives to keep the world out and our secrets safe.
This was not thriving, but surviving only. Not bearing fruit, not realizing the great glory of God manifest in our lives or in others.
I remember too, the freedom of opening our hearts at last, of telling the story of our own struggles and more than the freedom of being able to be more authentically ourselves, wounds and all, but the way this willingness to be vulnerable, to be broken open before others, bore the fruit of freedom around us as others discovered a new space to share their own burdens and struggles. It was indeed a Spring-like bursting forth that has resulted in growing and abundant life for so many.
Recently I read a story of a local doctor outraged ‘livid’ that 5 of her patients needing referrals to a psychiatrist have had those referrals denied without reason. She is literally trying to save her patient’s lives and we don’t have the mental health resources to help her or them. More and more I hear from people experiencing the reality that, in the midst of their mental health needs, there just isn’t enough. So they sit on the fringes, forgotten, shunted off to someplace where they will not be seen.
I hear in this doctor’s words, the heart of Jesus as described in our reading from Hebrews today, lifted up and crying tears of frustration and deep sorrow. This too is a breaking open and a dying that leads to the very kind of solidarity for which this Solidarity Sunday has been set aside.
This is the way of the New Covenant that Jeremiah hoped for and Christ has revealed. It is not a way over or around our burdens and tears, but through them, held hand in hand with our Lord who suffers with us, and hand in hand with each other. This is Jesus, the Divine Word with no beginning and no end, accepting our limited life of flesh and offer his tears and his cries for our own.
This willingness to be broken open by each other’s need, this abundant grace of God which is discovered precisely within our willingness to burst the bonds of safety, security, and comfort and allows our lives to be nurtured by and to nurture others sits at the heart of what my wife, Melissa and I will be discussing in our Mission on Mental health and the Spiritual Life on Monday, March 22, 2021 starting at 7:00pm. We’ll be sharing more of our family’s story, how our faith has held us and supported us and our family through a cross we never sought or chose for ourselves, the mental health ministry that has grown out of our experience of need for solidarity and accompaniment and how individuals and parishes can respond to the growing mental health needs in our communities today. We would love to have you join us via livestream.
Let us pray for the grace for our hearts to be broken open by Christ’s own compassionate heart and that this grace may bear the fruits of solidarity and accompaniment in our lives and in the lives of all families and individuals who live with mental health challenges and the communities, organizations, and individuals to whom they turn for care.
Peace and God Bless,
Deacon Eric Gurash