4 October 2009
Homily of Bishop of Killala, Dr John Fleming, at the Killala Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock, for Day for Life 4 October 2009
In the Day for Life 2008 and again this year, the bishops of the Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales have highlighted the need for a positive approach to mental health in society and we have done so this year in the context of our concern for those who take their own lives and those who are left to mourn their passing. In particular, we wish to help people to understand the pressures which may lead people to end their lives. Our pastoral letter outlines the support services which are available to those who are suffering from severe pressure, from mental illness, from depression and those in grief. We wish to try to reduce and, if possible, eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness and with suicide on the one hand and at the same time alert people to the awful consequences of self-harm. We also wish to raise an awareness of the fact that mental health, like physical health, can normally be restored through professional care.
As citizens and as Christians each of us has a duty to care for each other and, in particular, to care for the weak and the vulnerable in our society. The parish community can play an important role both in the promotion of mental health and in the provision of the support which says to its members that approaching a professional in the area of mental health is a sign of strength rather than an indication of weakness. Through the creation of a supportive and compassionate community, each of us can reach out to those who, for whatever reason, find life a great burden. Even though, like Elijah, some may take a day’s journey out into the wilderness and there lie down wishing an eternal sleep, the compassion of a truly Christian community can play the role of God’s messenger who encouraged the prophet to ‘Get up and eat’ and ‘strengthened by that food’, we are told in the First Book of the Kings, He was able to walk for forty days and forty nights to the mountain of the Lord. (1.Kings.19.8)
The Day for Life 2009 wishes to support those who have lost a friend or a family member through the taking of their own life. In helping them to understand the forces which may draw someone to do this, bishops wish to show them something of the love and compassion of Christ. In the case of suicide, in particular, we wish to recognise that the compassion of God manifests itself through His awareness of all the forces at work in our lives. While suicide can never be glorified it should always be met with the compassion of Christ rather than with blame.
2009 has been and still is a very difficult year for very many people. Economic recession and uncertainty, fears for the future all unite to undermine the optimism of many and, in particular, the mental health of some. In these circumstances we need to be concerned for one another and supportive of each other. We need to be aware of the dangers posed to the mental health of people in our country and we need to be understanding above all else. By so doing, God’s messenger may have greater scope to touch the lives of those who find life a burden, bringing them strength and turning sorrow into joy, despair into hope and darkness into light.
A video interview with Bishop John Fleming on the Day for Life Pastoral Letter ‘You are Precious in my Sight‘ (Isaiah 43:3) along with a copy of the Pastoral in the English, Irish and Polish languages is available on www.catholicbishops.ie.
‘You are Precious in my Sight‘ has been distributed to all parishes in the 26 dioceses of Ireland ahead of Day for Life 2009, which is celebrated today Sunday 4 October.
Details of further resources and support can be found on the Day for Life website www.dayforlife.org, the Samaritans website www.samaritans.org, Turning the Tide of Suicide www.3ts.ie, the Irish Association of Suicidology www.ias.ie, and with the National Office of Suicide Prevention www.nosp.ie.
In his 1995 Encyclical Letter, ‘Evangelium Vitae’ (The Gospel of Life), the late Pope John Paul II proposed that “a day for life be celebrated each year in every country.” The primary purpose of this day should be “to foster in individual consciences, in families, in the Church, and in civil society, a recognition of the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition” (EV #85).Day for Life is the day dedicated to celebrating the dignity of life from conception to natural death. Since 2001, the following themes have been chosen to celebrate the annual ‘Day for Life’:
– 2001: Proclaiming the Gospel of Life – 2002: End of Life Care – Ethical and Pastoral Issues – 2003: The Wonder of Life – celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Pontificate ofPope John Paul II – 2004: Life is for Living – A Reflection on Suicide – 2005: Cherishing the Evening of Life – 2006: Celebrating the life and presence of people with disabilities in the Church and in society – 2007: Blessed is the fruit of your womb – dedicated to protecting all human life – 2008: Mental Health – Mental ill-health can happen to anyone – 2009: Focus on suicide, particularly the pastoral dimensions of this difficult and sensitive subject