From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Respect Life office, I found a paper by Rev. Richard Gill on “The Person With Mental Illness: Bearing God’s Image.” Both the title and the content are consistent with “God’s Image in the Mentally Ill Person,” an address on the subject from Cardinal Barragan. Cardinal Barragan’s use of the term “bandito” to describe the blessed state of a mentally ill person is the inspiration for the name of my blog. Pope John Paul II’s advice on how to respond to people with mental illness is included in Fr. Gill’s paper.
“It is everyone’s duty to make an active response; our actions must show that mental illness does not create insurmountable distances, nor prevent relations of true Christian charity with those who are its victims. Indeed it should inspire a particularly attentive attitude”
— Pope John Paul II, International Conference for Health Care Workers, on Illness of the Human Mind, February 11, 1984
I am reminded of something someone said to me many years ago about Jesus. A friend told me that she didn’t want to learn a lot about Jesus because her dad had told her that the more you know about Jesus, the more responsible you are for your sins, and the harder it is to get to heaven. She figured that if she remained ignorant about Jesus, she stood a better chance of getting into heaven. I think that this is the attitude some people have toward people with mental illness, because people with mental illness are the image of God in the world. There are people in this world who like to think that they are welcoming of people with mental disorders, but they don’t do so well face to face. They do not have it in them to respond in a Christian manner to someone with a mental illness. This is particularly so among those who clutch their pearls if everything is not “just right” at the dinner party. That is why the walls of insane asylums exist, to keep people with mental disorders “out of the way.” Like the woman who says Jesus is fine, as long as He is saving her and she isn’t so close to Him that she has to be good, so are those who say the mentally ill have great dignity, as long as they aren’t too close to them personally.
If you have a mental disorder and are rejected by people, remember that Venerable John Paul II, the pilgrim pope, had it right, not the pearl clutchers.
Be Not Afraid – Blessed John Paul II, The Great Mercy Pope