Saturday, December 27, 2014

Looking beneath the surface

Today the Church celebrates St. John the Evangelist, the beloved disciple. Of the four gospel writers, John was the last, and the one who calls us to take the deepest look at who Jesus is. Mark starts at the baptism, Matthew and Luke reach back a little further to the birth of Jesus, but John is the one traces the beginnings of the story of Jesus all the way back to the beginning of the universe.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.

John not only looks beneath the surface but digs until he finds the bottom of the root of the story. In doing so he challenges each of us to do the same. So much of our modern life is lived on the surface. How many hundreds of "friends" do we have on Facebook? How many friends do we really share our lives with?

If tomorrow were not Sunday, it would be the Feast of the Holy Innocents when the church commemorates the infants slaughtered by Herod as recorded in Mathew's gospel. We are once again taken beneath the superficial frivolity that Christmas has become. On Monday we will celebrate the martyr Thomas Becket— more blood, death, and gore.

Today on the Feast of St. John can we take a serious look beneath the surface.

One of the many blessings God has sent me this year is a friend named Tom Gallagher. Tom's granddaughter passed from this life on March 16, 2014, after running a half-marathon in Virginia Beach. As the story would unfold this beautiful athletic teenage girl had struggled with mental illness. Unlike so many she wanted to bring it out of the shadows. Six months later over 3,500 runners turned out for the Speakup 5k. And her family continues to hope that this idea of speaking up will continue to spread.

Unfortunately, her story is not the norm. Most often people dealing with depression and other forms of mental illness surfer in silence. During this holiday season how many families with gather with at least one member suffering from some form of mental illness and everyone will either not see it or at least pretend not to see it? In young people we dismiss it as adolescence. In adults, we come up with more creative excuses. We may comment to one another about the surface behavior but we don't want to tackle the root cause, too complicated, too messy. We seem to prefer to wait until the person's behavior is completely out of control then we throw them in prison. 40 percent of individual with serious mental illness will be incarcerated at some point.

In what is supposed to be the most advanced nation in the world 1 out of 5 will deal with some form of mental illness this year. And of those who do only 1 out of 5 will receive treatment.

St. John was not content to skim the surface and simply tell the story of Jesus's earthly life. He wanted us to understand who Jesus was on the deepest level. As we gather with our loved ones this holiday season, if we really love one another let us have the courage to look beneath the surface and see what's really going on, and if there is a problem have the courage to Speak Up. And if you are reading this and you are the one dealing with depression or some other mental illness, speak up.

It may seem strange that the Church fills the days after Christmas with so much suffering and death: St. Stephen, the Holy Innocents, Thomas Becket. But it is not strange at all when we remember that on the other side is always the hope of resurrection. The situation only becomes hopeless when we try to run away, deny the truth, bury our heads in the sand. When we face the pain and suffering head on there is always new birth, new life in Christ.