Serving Others and Mental Health

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday of Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

I have heard it said that “mental health begins with serving others and mental illness begins with serving ourselves.” (quotation from Fr. Slavko R.I.P. of Medjugorje who had a Ph.D. in psychology. Perhaps another way of saying this is that by helping others we improve our mental health.) After serving others we also need to look after ourselves so in our Gospel (Mark 6:30-34) Jesus wanted his disciples to rest after they had served others.

In our first reading (Jer 23:1-6) the prophet Jeremiah pronounces a word of doom on the shepherds of Israel because instead of serving others they were more interested in serving themselves. Jeremiah was referring the kings. The kings in Israel were regarded as adopted by God as his son on the day of their coronation (e.g. Ps 2:7). They were to be a reflection of the love of God but unfortunately most of them were poor leaders who were more interested in looking after themselves than their people. And so in our first reading Jeremiah says, “Doom to the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered.” (Jer 23:1) But there is hope at the end of the passage because God promises through Jeremiah that he will send them someone who will reign as true king and be wise (Jer 23:5-6), and that of course refers to Jesus coming as Messiah. We can see our beautiful Psalm

“The Lord is my shepherd,
there is nothing I shall want” (Ps 23:1)

fulfilled in Jesus, the ideal future ruler promised by God, who was generous instead of selfish like many Old Testament kings, who served others instead of himself.

In the Gospel today (Mark 6:30-34) we see Jesus doing the opposite to the Old Testament kings who mostly only looked after themselves. Jesus looked after the disciples by taking them to a quiet place for a rest and then when he was besieged there by people looking for him, he looked after them by teaching them at length. On another occasion Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…” (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45). The new community, the kingdom of God, that Jesus came to found, is to be characterized by serving one another, not by being served. So Jesus said we were to love our neighbor as ourselves and he said, “By this will all know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:35). We come to Mass to meet the love of Jesus but as we depart from Mass we go in peace to love and serve the Lord in those around us.

One of our Eucharistic Acclamations after the Consecration is “When we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.” That is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:27). How can we say that when we gather for the Eucharist we proclaim Jesus’ death? When we gather for the Eucharist it is to be an act of love, reflecting the love of Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross for us. If we gather for the Eucharist and we really don’t care about each other then our Eucharist is meaningless. “When we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.”

Since there were no church buildings at the time of Paul each Sunday Eucharist had to be celebrated in the house of someone in the community. In this parish we are accustomed to having tea and sandwiches after a house Mass but during the time of Paul the Corinthians used to have their meal before the Eucharist. The well to do used to host these Sunday Eucharists but it seems they invited their rich friends to come early to enjoy the meal and the other poorer Christians came along later and got only the leftovers. When writing to the Corinthians, Paul said their Eucharist is a sham if they do not take care of each other, “I hear that when you all come together as a community, there are separate factions among you, and I half believe it…The point is when you hold these meetings, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you are eating, since when the time comes to eat everyone is in such a hurry to start his own supper that one person goes hungry while another is getting drunk…..when you meet for the meal wait for one another” (1 Cor 11:18-21, 33) Once again, Paul is saying our Eucharist is a sham if we do not love one another. When we gather for the Eucharist it is to be an act of love, reflecting the love of Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross for us. “When we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.”

I have heard it said that “mental health begins with serving others and mental illness begins with serving ourselves.” (quotation from Fr. Slavko R.I.P. of Medjugorje who had a Ph.D. in psychology. Perhaps another way of saying this is that by helping others we improve our mental health.) Many of the Old Testament kings were only interested in looking after themselves. Jesus looked after others. I conclude now with the prayer associated with St. Francis.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Sixteenth Sunday Year B

The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want 2012

Related Homilies: on the Psalm Jesus is the Good Shepherd

on the disciples resting Slow Down to Enjoy Life and Hear Jesus

stories about helping others