The challenge of living life to the full

Addressing the impact of mental ill health and its onflow effects cuts across the heart of much of the work of Catholic Social Services Victoria and our member organisations. CSSV welcomes the final report of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, which was tabled in Parliament by the Victorian Government on 2nd March 2021. CSSV, our members and wider Church community are committed to engaging with the report and in seeing the reforms constructively implemented so as to benefit all Victorians. 

Previous to this report, the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement, To Live Life to the Full, published last year shed light on the plight of the many in our society who face problems with mental health. Much of that difficult life is hidden, some only gingerly revealed, some never brought to light. The statement is a call to be open with those who suffer deeply as they wend their way through life.

Fr John Hannon, parish priest of St Therese’s, Essendon has penned the following reflection, so that we might remember the personal nature of the impact of mental illness. His words and experience call our attention to the many thousands of Victorians who struggle with mental ill health and illness, people whom our member organisations, and local parish communities actively support and accompany:

Family and friends recently farewelled Joseph Moloney at Fawkner Cemetery in Melbourne’s north. Joe’s death notice was telling: “Joseph fought his mental illness most of his life, finding comfort in his faith… (he) eventually found peace in the care of the wonderful staff of McLellan House, Jacana.”

That notice fitted well with the Gospel passage from the Sunday following the burial, where Jesus offers comfort and relief to the man possessed, as he drives out his demons, whatever it was that afflicted him.

A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees: “If you want to” he said “you can cure me.” Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. “Of course I want to!” he said. “Be cured!” (Mk 1: 40,41).

The symbolism is clear. Jesus brings goodness, healing and peace, indicative of his ministry in proclaiming God’s Kingdom as inclusive of all, but particularly the possessed, the dispossessed, the suffering and the poor.

Joe was quite a character, in a tragi-comic sort of way, well known around Moonee Ponds in the recent past. His religious devotion could be a bit much at times, but he was determined to get as many souls out of purgatory as he could with his constant prayers, sometimes a bit too loud for the equilibrium and peace of mind of those around him!

He was paradoxically generous, handing out money to others whom he thought needed it more than he did. He did well to get to 76, given his condition and anxieties, but thankfully found peace and accepted good care in his last few years, even though he did escape over the fence to Sydney and Adelaide, on separate occasions, to the concern of his family and friends. One time, he sent money for honey to an order of nuns, as he thought honey would be good for their health!

A number spoke fondly of Joe as a generous, if frustrating, friend. One parishioner spoke of his friendship and generosity, and of being Joe’s carer for a time. Several of his recent carers came along. One spoke of his last request being to go to a synagogue, and not a Catholic church! My thought was he was going back to basics, or origins, as Jesus was often enough in the synagogue, as we hear today, where he drives out the demons, and was, of course, Jewish himself, throughout his life and ministry.

Life can be so unfair, as Joe had been an all-round top student and athlete at St Bernard’s, Essendon, before his illness overwhelmed him. Mental illness can be so misunderstood, and most difficult for those closest to the person suffering from it, as there’s often not too much rationality to it or capacity to take good and helpful advice. The Gospel response for Joe was in the love, understanding and forgiveness he received from those who cared for him – family, friends and particularly in the place where he finally found peace.

Jesus didn’t heal every afflicted person he came across, but in the Gospel encounters he shows us the way to reach out with understanding, compassion and love to those whom we encounter along our journey of life, which remains fragile and unpredictable for all of us. It starts at home, but we move beyond as well, as life evolves and changes.


St Dominic's Parish flyer

As part of its response to last year’s social justice statement on mental health, St Dominic’s Parish in Camberwell together with the Canterbury Council of Churches is hosting an Ecumenical Mental Health Liturgy in Camberwell on Wednesday 10th March at 7.30pm. All are welcome – mental health affects us all.

The ecumenical liturgy aims to give thanks for the gift of good health and to open eyes and hearts to the challenges of mental health today. Following the mass there will be tea and coffee. There is no need to book in advance.

Location: St Dominic’s Church, 818 Riversdale Road, Camberwell (parking behind the church off Dominic Street; use Dominic Street Church entrance).

Enquiries: email Manuela Brambilla, tel: 03 9912 6870 (extension 3)

Download flyer here.

Mental health is not simply the absences of illnesses, but having the capacity and opportunity to thrive –that is, to participate in the fullness of life which Jesus invites us (John 1-:10). We are a unity of body, mind and spirit.

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