St. Paul’s second letter to the people of Corinth, Integrity in the Ministry, stresses, “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Jesus Christ. But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).”
Today, these “vessels” are dealing with a multitude of challenges that chip away at the fabric of healthy lives and healthy families. Experts agree that the illness of addiction and the devastating, far-reaching effect of suicide wreak havoc on both the body and spirit of those who struggle and the many who care for them.
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., has called together Catholic health professionals, Chancery staff and parish leadership to look into how the Diocese of Trenton can “help the helpers” and address addictions and recovery as well as the epidemic of adolescent suicide. Both distinct initiatives had important gatherings Feb. 21-22 in the Chancery.
“We’re talking about lives, and that’s what should concern us,” Bishop O’Connell said during a meeting Feb. 22 in the Chancery with representatives of the diverse ministries and communities that focus on youth and education/formation within the Diocese.
Focusing on the rash of teenagers taking their own lives, the conversation explored how the faith community can respond, not only to walk with immediate families and communities, but to equip the people in ministry across the Diocese’s parishes and schools to make the best use of all the Catholic Church and its faith offer.
“Take the Gospel and help it grow in daily life. Our job is faith-oriented,” said Bishop O’Connell, underscoring the role of the Diocese.
This message also came through loud and clear the previous day, Feb. 21, at a gathering of health and faith professionals to address drug and alcohol addiction and recovery efforts in the four counties of the Diocese.
Guided by content offered by Father John Stabeno of the Addiction and Healing Ministry for the Diocese of Camden, and Deanna Sass, Trenton diocesan director for Pastoral Care, the conversation explored the connections between addiction recovery and the journey of faith.
Stabeno pointed out that what drives people to look to drugs and alcohol as a remedy to whatever their situation or feelings may be often results in the individual disconnecting from others and from God. This is a focus where the Catholic Church can step in – helping people recognize the innumerable ways that God is with them in their lives.
“The magic word is community,” said Robert Fasoli of City of Angels. Fasoli serves as director of community outreach for the organization whose motto is “Conquering Our Addictions.”
“People live their recovery in community,” he said.
In a sentiment that bridged the two gatherings, Deacon Tom Murphy of St. Joan of Arc Parish, Marlton, acknowledged, “We are called to help people see their worth, their intrinsic value. There’s such a lack of self-esteem.”
The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, “Gaudium et Spes,” teaches of the responsibility of the Church to respond to the needs of people in light of the Gospel: “The joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age… are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. The Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which people ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other (#4).”
Moving forward, the Diocese of Trenton will be taking practical steps to train ministers to accompany people dealing with these sensitive issues and working to break down stigmas, battle feelings of desperation and isolation, and build relationships that may help in the healing process.