Mental Health and Ministry

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

In October, our partner parishes gathered at Saint Meinrad for a weekend of prayer, community, and discussions about mental health and ministry. Our facilitator for the weekend was Beth Hlabse, M.S., LMHCA, who directs the Fiat Program on Faith and Mental Health at the McGrath Institute for Church Life.

Our presentations and discussions were divided into four main questions. The questions, as well as insights that we learned, are included below: 


How do we care for our mental health as ministers?

We are called to compassion (to “suffer with”) but not to take on another’s burdens as our own. In order to suffer with someone without assuming their pain, we need to keep our relationship with Christ at the center of our lives. Remember, to minister is to walk with someone to bring them closer to Christ; not to bring them closer to ourselves.

We carry our own pain and stress as ministers. Becoming aware of how we experience stress can help us respond in health ways for our own good and the good of others. Suggestions of practices that help mitigate the negative responses of stress: breathe, engage in bilateral movement, sing, participate in liturgy and the sacramental life.

We are not determined by our experiences. Because of the neuroplasticity of the brain (its ability to re-form neural networks of implicit memory), we can alter our stress responses over time through reflection ¬¬– both during and after the experience.

Why do we suffer?

We can have insight into the question of suffering through the lenses of both science and faith.

There can be a gap between our basic needs and our experience. Four basic needs of the human person: secure, stable, supportive relationships throughout our life; time in creation; movement; silence, prayer, and communion with God.

Human beings are created, fallen, redeemed, and sanctified. We experience the fracturing of our relationship with God and others through the wounds of sin.

Many people are asking the question, “Why do I suffer?” but they might not be using those words. They might say, “Why am I so busy, yet I’m not happy?” or “Why can’t I get out of bed in the morning?” As ministers, we can reflect on (1) how are people asking this question, (2) how do we respond, and (3) how do we cultivate spaces where the question of suffering can be asked and pondered.


How do we heal?

Three images of the Church: a field hospital, a healing community, and the Body of Christ.

The Church is a mystical, supernatural union between us and God. We are knit together by “the grace of Eucharistic communion” (Dorothy Day). When one member of the community suffers, we all suffer; when one person flourishes, we all flourish. We are healed – saved – together.

There is healing power in community, in secure and stable relationships. 

What is the call of the Church and our individual parishes?

First, it is important to engage in these types of conversations! We should not be afraid to talk about suffering, healing, mental health, etc. We are embodied souls, which means these topics are part and parcel of the human experience.

Our parishes can be places of true community, not a social group or a club of like-minded people. For that to happen, we have to build relationships with one another and invest in the lives of those around us. We should strive to be less individualistic and more dependent on one another. Celebrate the joys and mourn the heartaches; cook a freezer meal for the new mother; listen to the reminiscence of the widower; remember the name of the new young adult; invite the single person to the parish barbecue; pray for the people in the parish intentions book. Small, loving, faithful actions are the response of a parish community that takes its call seriously.

Huge thanks to Beth Hlabse for her presence with our group and for sharing many of these insights with us!