- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

The following is an excerpt from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Gerard Creedon at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Arlington, Va.

A man from Mullingar, Ireland, lived his whole life in the rain and wind until one day he traveled to sunny Spain. He was told: "Learn a little Spanish. You'll get by."

He went to a bar in Spain and said in Spanish, "I would like a beer." The bartender said, "Where are you from?" And he said, "I am from Ireland." The bartender said, "I am from Ireland, too." He sat down with his Guinness, thinking, and then went back to the bar. "If you are from Ireland and I am from Ireland," he said, "why in the name of God are we speaking Spanish?"

They had both left the rain of Ireland for sunny Spain, and we all need those moments of grace. In our Gospel today [Luke 9:28-36], Jesus took His disciples away from daily life, up a mountain top, closer to God. They experienced the Transfiguration of Jesus. Peter wants to stay, with piety and devotion, and build a tabernacle.

But Jesus leads them back down the mountain, and that's the real test. To experience the Gospel and bring it into society. On the mount, who appeared to Jesus? Moses, the liberator of afflicted people, and the prophet Elijah, "the troublemaker of Israel," who unmasked the lies of the powerful.

When Jesus and the disciples descended the mountain, they were assailed by a troubled father. "Master, heal my son," he cried. "He is taken by convulsions, and foaming at the mouth." Jesus said, "Bring your son here," and He healed the boy.

This Tuesday, our Lenten meal will gather around this concern for healing, the subject of "Mental Health: A Caring Community Response." It's easy to say this boy in the Gospel was a demoniac and received an exorcism, but we know it was probably epilepsy, or mental illness. I have nine brothers and four sisters, and I am quick to tell you some are doctors, bank managers; but I don't tell you about my brother Bernard. He is unable to work because of schizophrenia.

There are 200,000 people in our prisons with mental illness. A great percentage of people in shelters are also mentally ill. It used to be something that excused people from punishment in society, but not anymore. In Virginia we will execute a man who could not be tried because of his ailment.

Do you remember when we spoke of "deinstitutionalization?" It was to give patients a least-restrictive environment, except government funds didn't follow them into the community. We had this "great idea." But then, "not in my back yard." So the shelters filled up, took up the slack.

Yes, we need safety in our society, but we have become quick to punish criminal behavior. We must look more deeply at the problem and its solution. We in the church should be the first to bring these people the Gospel's mercy and our prayers. We need to free ourselves of stigmas associated with the mentally ill; we need to free ourselves. Jesus said, "If something is keeping you from being a healing force in our society, get over it."

He took the disciples to the mountain, and we recall that in rituals and devotions of Lent. But that spiritual transformation should also lead to social transformation. We will give our blessing today to people in healing ministry, in health, social work, teaching students with special needs.

We have also tried to help in our Arlington jail, and may I say it is one of the best I've seen in how it treats people. This morning, a young women stopped me at the front of the church. She wanted to register. She had been in that jail, and still was double diagnosed [for mental illness].

Her name is Anna, and I would like you to welcome her, help her, and pray for the day when we treat people more appropriate to their condition. Jesus stood beside Moses, who liberated, and Elijah, who wanted justice for Israel. We want to stand for an America, for a church, that conforms to this transforming spirit of Jesus.

Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Jim Wallis at the Call to Renewal annual worship service.

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