Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Persistence of Joy!

Depression and Priesthood

This is such a difficult time of year for so many people. All these images of joyful people gathered with their families, with smiles written across their faces, and full of radiant happiness; all of this can be difficult for those who do not share in the joy.

In my line of work, not only do the joyful gather on Christmas Eve to celebrate the Most Holy Night of the year, many also come to my office to pour their hearts out over great, deep and insistent depression.

I was working on the phone with someone not all that long ago, a young man in his twenties. He was so despondent that he was in fact wondering how to go on the way he was. Life had become close to hopeless and the prospect of living many more years this way was becoming overwhelming.

I listened intently. I searched my heart and my spirit for something to say when this finally came to me;
"Have you forgotten how to love?"
There was a long silence.
I thought of a plant or even a goldfish. Anything. Something.
But there was Nothing.
The despair deepened.
Fear began to take hold, when I thought to ask the question again.
"Have you forgotten how to love?"

Then I stumbled across the image of the manger and asked this question very, very softly and with a profound degree of tentative respect;
"Imagine a baby, it is cold and the baby is alone. The baby has no home. His mother is very young and unmarried. They are poor and they are homeless.
Would it be possible for you to pick up that child and give him some warmth and human affection?
Or would you leave the baby there unloved?"

Still a long silence.
Yet I insisted on an answer.
There was a voice on the verge of tears that said, "Of course I would pick up the child".

So then, there was another long silence.
"Would you embrace the child?"
Could you love the child?"
More silence.

"The Child is You", I said.

After a time, I went on;
"This is why we have Christmas.
It is to remind us that the Holy Child is YOU!
You may notice that you are sometimes cold, far from home, alone, and uncertain about your future, poor, despondent.
Yes, that is why The Child was born in that cold, stable, of an unwed Mother.
He came into the world to remind you that you are invited to pick up the Child in your own arms, to enfold him with your own warmth and love.
But this is the greater lesson of Christmas.
The love of that Child is not just for God or his Son Jesus.
That love is for all of God's children, rich and poor alike, male and female too, all races and ethnicities and yes friends, for gay folks as well as for the rest of us."

"The Holy Child of Bethlehem, you see, is not someone from a long time ago and in a faraway place.
That Holy Child is YOU!"

Thus I spoke that night with a loved one.
Thus I speak with you.

Remember to love the Child of Bethlehem within you.

Merry Christmas and Joy to the World.
Fr. Paul


Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful post and a timely reminder of the human suffering that is all around us, even in times of seeming joy. Thank you.

Fr. Paul said...

Thank you for the comment. Depression is such a difficult condition. Yet, I deal with it ALL the time. That was not in the Seminary course of study! By the way, which St. A? Athanasius, Anselm, or Anthony?