“I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
The gospel, by comparison, sounds so negative. What a sad account of Jesus’s betrayal by Judas. It was also sad that Jesus knew in advance that Peter’s faith in him would crumble, and he would try to save his own life, by denying that he even knew the Lord. To anyone else, this revelation would be very painful, but not Jesus. There is a lot we can learn from his example.
How often do we get caught up in the present moment? Especially when negative things happen, like a job loss, an accident, an unexpected illness, or a relationship that comes to an end? Many people feel like life is spinning out of control, and they get caught up in their emotions and suffering. It can feel like a disaster, and many people even blame God when bad things happen to them.
I don’t usually disclose personal details about my life, but today, I think I will be honest about a very negative experience. I have bipolar disorder, which used to be known as manic depression. When I was first diagnosed, it felt like the end of the world. I denied the possibility that I could be mentally ill. I got upset and started crying and threw my Kleenex box against the wall. How could God do this to me? The doctor must be wrong. And to make matters worse, the doctor told me that my illness was a life long condition and that there was no cure for it. I would have bipolar disorder the rest of my life.
The stigma attached to mental illness was very prevalent in our society 25 years ago. I hid my illness from everyone for many years. But, my faith got me through the worst times. The rosary, an understanding husband, and a very good doctor helped me learn to manage my illness, along with medication and counseling.
I was ashamed though, that I could not serve the Lord Jesus in any capacity in his church, because of my illness. I never knew when I would have a severe problem and I knew that I could not be depended on. This was devastating, and my erratic thoughts and emotions caused me to be isolated from the rest of society a lot of times. My illness was a curse. A curse that only my faith in Jesus helped me through the severe ups and downs. My life was a vicious cycle of extreme energy and emotions and the terrible, dark depressions that followed afterward.
I began to pray though, ashamed that I could not serve the Lord, except through my marriage and family life. I couldn’t even work for several years and felt like a prisoner in my own home. That was a very dark time in my life and I really couldn’t see a better future.
But, God has a way of turning things around in our lives. Negative things do not always turn out to be as bad as we think they are at the time. God has a plan for all of us, if we simply trust Him with our lives.
My mental illness is no longer a curse, but a blessing. I began to see the creative side of bipolar disorder and began to pursue creative projects. At first it was sewing and gardening, but it later became evident in my work, through the creative, printed marketing materials that I created for my employer. For the first time, I began to feel good about myself. Over the years I came to rely more and more on my faith, the sacraments of our church, my family, and our awesome, supportive parish community. Our fellow parishioners encouraged me to pursue even more creativity in different ministries.
Long story short, God turned a very negative situation around in my life. He saw the big picture, and what was possible for my future, when I did not. Eventually, I taught in RCIA, planned many activities in our church ministries, and then learned to serve the people of God who are incarcerated in prison. I serve in a very public way in our church now, and use the creativity of bipolar disorder to plan many interesting activities for our prison ministry.
This website exists right now, because God took the greatest trial in my life, and turned it into a greater blessing. That is what Jesus did too. Today’s gospel sounds devastating, but we know the other side of this story. Jesus took the greatest evil the world has ever known, and converted it into the greatest good the world has ever known. Jesus fulfilled God’s prophecy in the first reading for Mass today, beautifully:
“I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.”
The scriptures today help us to realize that nothing is impossible with God. Life isn’t what it seems like on the surface of things, when we are going through them. He knows the big picture. And with faith, Jesus can help us turn our greatest trial in life, into the greatest blessing of our life.