Anthony Layne writes:
Psychiatrists and psychologists, however, tend to view all guilt as ipso facto unhealthy. Ever since Freud deemed religiosity a search for a “wish-father”, the mental-health profession has been trying to strip us of all sense of personal guilt. And they’ve largely succeeded … look how healthy a society we have.
This needs clarification. I realize he is referring to humanity at large and not to people who are genuinely mentally ill, but nowadays it is the genuinely mentally ill who see psychiatrists. If you are not genuinely mentally ill, a psychologist or therapist is who you go to see, not a psychiatrist. In the context of “all of humanity”, I agree with his point about the psychological community and the issue of guilt that is based on religious belief. Still, since most people who are treated regularly by psychiatrists are people who are genuinely sick with mental disorder, a clarification is called for.
There is not a great deal of Church teaching on mental disorder. What we have is Cardinal Barragan’s address “God’s Image in the Mentally Ill Person” and not much else.
If we approach the argument from this point of view, whereby the mentally ill patient does not have the knowledge or the faculty of full consent required to commit a mortal sin, his is not a deformed image of God, since that image can only be deformed by sin. Certainly, it is the suffering image of God, but not a deformed image. He is a reflection of the mystery of the victorious Cross of the Lord. Inspired by the image of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh (Isaiah 53:1-7) we are drawn to a conscious act of faith in the suffering Christ.
It is not by chance that in the old popular Mexican language, a mad person was called “bandito,” that is, “blessed”; […] without the full use of reasoning, he was unable to commit sin and was, therefore, destined to eternal life.
It is true that the objective disorder of sin and its consequences are manifest in the mentally ill patient; however, at the same time, there is in him the historical equilibrium of the only possible order, the order and equilibrium of the Redemption.
This is not comprehensible to a secularized mentality; it is only understood within the context of Christian optimism, which stems from a reasoned faith that tells us how in such circumstances our obligations towards a mentally ill person, on one hand, satisfy our duty to see the suffering Christ in the poor and less protected; and on the other hand the idea of seeing in the patient the love of God who has indicated him as his chosen one, in the sense that he shall not be separated from Him.
Because these things are “not comprehensible to a secularized mentality”, it is all the more difficult for a mentally ill person to find understanding people.
If a person in such a situation considers himself to be guilty of sin, he is being scrupulous. Scrupulosity exacerbates one’s illness.
An unfounded apprehension and consequently unwarranted fear that something is a sin which, as a matter of fact, is not. It is not considered here so much as an isolated act, but rather as an habitual state of mind known to directors of souls as a “scrupulous conscience.” St. Alphonsus describes it as a condition in which one influenced by trifling reasons, and without any solid foundation, is often afraid that sin lies where it really does not. This anxiety may be entertained not only with regard to what is to be done presently, but also with regard to what has been done. The idea sometimes obtaining, that scrupulosity is in itself a spiritual benefit of some sort, is, of course, a great error. The providence of God permits it and can gather good from it as from other forms of evil. That apart, however, it is a bad habit doing harm, sometimes grievously, to body and soul. Indeed, persisted in with the obstinacy characteristic of persons who suffer from this malady, it may entail the most lamentable consequences. The judgment is seriously warped, the moral power tired out in futile combat, and then not unfrequently the scrupulous person makes shipwreck of salvation either on the Scylla of despair or the Charybdis of unheeding indulgence in vice.
In the case of a seriously mentally ill person, there are frequently behaviors that are deemed to be “un-Christian” by others. There are a lot of people (particularly those of a “secularized mentality”) who do not understand the Church’s teaching on mental illness and who live with people with mental illness. Many of them see these “un-Christian” behaviors and become judge and jury over the mentally ill person’s heart. They want the mentally ill person to constantly apologize for these things because they feel they, or someone else, is owed an apology, but to apologize for something you are not responsible for is an act of scrupulosity (a “great error”) in and of itself. Scrupulosity is detrimental to the soul. In the case of the mentally ill person, it exacerbates the illness to live in scrupulosity just to give other people the “apology” that they believe they are owed because they believe themselves to be the judge of the hearts of others.
This is why it is good that the Church frowns on marriage for people with mental disorder. Only the most saintly among us can reserve judgment of the hearts of others and particularly the mentally ill. Marriage is a means to attain sainthood. It is difficult enough to find a faithful Catholic to marry, let alone to find someone who is already a saint.
Fortunately, for the mentally ill, there is chastity.
Under Christianity chastity has been practised in a manner unknown under any other influence. Christian morality prescribes the right order of relations. It therefore must direct and control the manner of relationship sustained to each other by soul and body. Between these two there is an ineradicable opposition, the flesh with its concupiscences contending unceasingly against the spirit, blinding the latter and weaning it away from the pursuit of its true life.Harmony and due order between these two must prevail. But this means the pre-eminence and mastery of the spirit, which in turn can only mean the castigation of the body. The real as well as the etymological kinship between chastity and chastisement then is obvious. Necessarily, therefore, chastity is a thing stern and austere. The effect of the example as well as of the words of Our Saviour (Matthew 19:11-12) is seen in the lives of the many celibates and virgins who have graced the history of the Christian Church, while the idea of marriage as the sign and symbol of the ineffable union of Christ with His spotless spouse the Church — a union in which fidelity no less than love is mutual — has borne its fruit in beautifying the world with patterns of conjugal chastity.
The world rejects the mentally ill because the mentally ill are an image of Christ, and Christ was rejected. The more the mentally ill person can draw himself near to Christ, the healthier he will be in his soul, which is the only thing that really matters in the end. Complete submission to Christ, including a life of chastity, is important for a mentally ill person to have as much health in soul and mind as possible.
Of course, if one happens to be married to a saint, that’s just as well, too.