Capitol Hill prayer service ties together mental health and faith

By Mark Zimmermann | OSV News

In the nation’s capital — where stress, anxiety and mental health challenges sometimes impact the lives and work of those in government service, in legal and other professions, and individuals and families — St. Joseph Church on Capitol Hill hosted a “Come as You Are” Holy Week Prayer Service for Mental Health March 26.

The evening gathering attended by about 100 people included prayers, songs, Scripture readings and reflections with messages tying together mental health and faith.

“So many know people who have had a tremendous amount of stress, and it doesn’t really matter your age, (whether you are) old, young, (your) race (0r) gender. All of us feel the pressure of life, and we really need support,” said Father William Gurnee, St. Joseph’s pastor, in opening remarks.

In an opening prayer, he asked God to comfort and restore to health anyone suffering from mental health challenges like anxiety or depression.

Choir members sing during the “Come As You Are” Holy Week Prayer Service for Mental Health at St. Joseph Church on Capitol Hill in Washington March 26, 2024. The choir was directed by Rebecca Rossello, a Baltimore-based soprano and choral teacher. (OSV News photo/Mark Zimmermann, Catholic Standard)

Rebecca Rossello, a Baltimore-based soprano and choral teacher, directed a diverse choir of 12 young adult men and women. Songs included “All Things New” (E. Hagenberg), “Come to Me” (D. Forrest) and “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” (Horatius Bonar).

The second Scripture reading (Philippians 4:6-7) included the passage, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

The Gospel reading from Matthew 6:25-34 quoted Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount telling his followers to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, “and all these things shall be given you besides. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow.”

In his homily, Father Gurnee emphasized that people in the Bible, including Jesus during his passion, faced mental health challenges.

“Anxious, afraid, scared, isolated, depressed, lonely, discouraged, preoccupied, shaken, traumatized, bereft. These are just some of the range of emotions that every human being feels. Hopefully, they are balanced by joy, faith, courage and hope,” the priest said, adding, “But for some of us, the challenges we face seem to be dominant in our lives.”

Father Gurnee noted that the Gospels show “this is not strictly a 21st-century phenomenon. People have felt what we feel for a long time. Christ, who was fully divine and fully human, faced a crisis in his passion. Scripture tells us: ‘He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.'” (Luke 22:44)

The pastor emphasized the importance of people making their requests known to God through prayer, and he advised them to “pray in a way that is true and reflective of what our heart is really feeling. … There is a real value to saying such things in a raw and unvarnished way. We unite ourselves to our true feelings instead of trying to push them away or being ashamed of them. God’s grace is more effective when we are united to the deepest part of our heart.”

The priest encouraged people to seek help and also to reach out to others. He said they have spiritual lifelines such as the sacraments, and clergy, religious and laypeople willing to help. “And we have, most importantly, the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and to guide us,” he said.

The general intercessions included a prayer “for those who dedicate their lives to the mental and physical health of others, including doctors, nurses, therapists, counselors and social workers … that God may give them and those under their care the strength to face the challenges of each day.”

Prayers also were offered for those mentally and emotionally challenged by work or relationships, for people experiencing psychological harm from stress, anxiety or trauma, and for those who have lost loved ones, including people who have died in connection with mental health struggles.

“The goal of this service is to remind or inform people that God cares about our mental health and emotional well-being and that like Jesus and with His help, we all can overcome our mental health challenges and help others to do the same,” Anebi X. Adoga Jr., who helped organize the service, said in a closing reflection.

“Our mental health is important to God, and God is important to our mental health because of the love that God has for all of us,” he said.

A Catholic native of Baltimore, Adoga, who works as a corporate lawyer in the District of
Columbia, said that like many lawyers in the district, “I have struggled with my mental health from time to time — fear, anxiety, stress — and whenever I have struggled with mental health, Jesus has helped me.”

He said stopping in at churches for prayer and reflection has been a source of strength for him, as have music and the sacraments and encouragement and support from priests, religious and laypeople. He underscored how the inspiration for the prayer service and its music came from songs that spoke to those mental health needs he was experiencing.

Adoga underscored how Jesus in his humanity also experienced fears, stresses and anxieties, but through his death and resurrection overcame those challenges, and invites his followers to love one another as he did, and to seek eternal life.

“So often, we are called on to overcome the challenges in our lives and to be there for other people,” Adoga said. “You came here (to the service) to receive love and to share love. Really, our faith (calls us) to do the best we can, regardless of what life throws at us.”

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Mark Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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