Families Wanted

12-30-2012Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

The year that was has waned and on this final Sunday of 2012 we celebrate the Holy Family. A family that had its own share of hardship including having their little child pursued by a mass murderer and their adult son executed in horrible agony. The family of Joseph and Mary and Jesus stand in solidarity with the families of:

Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Olivia Engle, Josephine Gay, Ana Marquez-Greene, Dylan Hockley, Madeleine Hsu, Catherine Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Benjamin Wheeler, and Allison Wyatt.

Each of these families have their own personal journeys to Egypt to make but hopefully before they do they will be visited by Magi offering them gifts of hope, healing and peace.

Still another family will take a different journey, the family of Adam Lanza. But maybe we should consider the part of the journey already past. What was it like for his mother trying to manage her son’s emotional chaos and mental malfunctioning? The outcome of his life reveals an educational system that couldn’t handle his special needs and a mental health system that most likely just shuffled him off to the next office. But I also wonder where was the extended family? Was everyone too busy to lend a hand or frozen by not knowing how to help and therefore just gave up? Or did this mother simply disconnect out of embarrassment or frustration?

Again we have a situation with not a natural born killer but a created one (see my letter of 8/5/12 on the Aurora, CO massacre). Mental illness has the noted quality of isolating those affected by it. And the medications often prescribed bring a person to a catatonic and non-relational way of being unable to manage their emotions. Whether because of stigma or because people just don’t know how to engage the seriously mentally ill, we tend to walk on by, and thus the effects of our refusal to engage amplify the condition: alienation from God, self and others. And the two things that are most needed for healing, the power of love from one person to another and establishing a connection to God are unfortunately the two tools that mental health workers are not allowed to employ.

This is where family and friendship come in. When we hold these bonds sacred then the power of love, as unconditional as we can make it, and the power of God’s ordering presence can assist a person from crossing the line into insanity. I’m not suggesting we all act as mental health counselors or special education teachers but we all need to do our part to keep the ties that bind strong, vibrant, healthy and spiritually alive.

One key characteristic of these young killers is that none of them had what we would call a best friend. No one who said, “we were thick as thieves, we did everything together and I can’t understand how this happened”? These were very isolated and disconnected young people. These are the very people who fall through the cracks and are often overlooked and dismissed because of their strangeness.

Yet sometimes even with the best of efforts a family can’t get a young person to respond to their attempts to help him or her. At that point families have some hard choices to make so as to not allow the child’s destructive behavior to continue less it ends in hurting others or self. Sadly our Mental Health laws make this very difficult which often forces parents to turn to law enforcement. Hence our prisons have become the largest provider of mental health treatment in the country.

So for all those families faced with these difficult and painful scenarios: remember the Holy Family. Their ability to endure the challenges they faced came from the strength of their love for each other and their dependence on God. We hold in our hearts and prayers all those families broken apart by tragedy, addiction, and mental illness.

For all the families in 2013 who will make the journey through darkness and find themselves in the uncertain land of Egypt for a time, may we resolve to be with them regardless of our inability to solve their problems, regardless of our sense of inadequacy, disregarding our own fears and thus making the human family more reflective of the Holiest of Families.

Love, Fr. John B.