So, here it is nearly the end of October and I realize that I failed to make you aware that the first full week of October was mental illness awareness week. The idea of having special days, weeks, or months to raise public consciousness about certain issues has its merits but it seems to me that it’s gotten out of hand. For example, did you know that October is also national breast cancer awareness month, national Down syndrome awareness month, health literacy month, healthy lung month, home eye safety month, pregnancy and infant loss awareness month, and sudden infant death syndrome awareness month? We also have bone and joint health national action week from October 12-20; national health education week the 3rd full week of October; international infection prevention week October 16 – 22; and national healthcare quality week from October 17-22. We also have special days in October: world mental health day on October 10; world cerebral palsy day on October 6; national Depression screening day also on October 6; national Latino AIDS awareness day on October 15; world pediatric bone and joint day on October 19; international stuttering awareness day on October 22; and today, October 29, we celebrate world psoriasis day. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to be in favor, against, or just aware of psoriasis, but today is the day. I think it is important to point out that this is not nearly a complete list for the month of October. I looked it up but I didn’t see an international bad dog day, week, or month in October so it must be some other time of year.
This would have slipped my mind completely except that Mike gets a newsletter every month from the diocese of Madison Wisconsin. It is from the Apostolate for persons with disabilities. This used to be called the Apostolate for the handicapped until they came up with a more PC title. It’s just a matter of time until it becomes the Apostolate for persons with special needs. They do good work in providing religious, recreational and other services for people with special needs. Every Sunday morning they do a televised mass for people who can’t get out. The newsletter has little articles of encouragement and information for people with special needs. These people could include the hard of hearing, the blind, or otherwise physically or mentally challenged individuals and their caretakers. The late Msgr. Thomas Campion was in charge of this apostolate for a great many years and did a very fine job with it. Mike has a connection here in that Msgr. Campion was a cousin to Father Tom Vickerman, a fellow that Mike was close to when he used to live in Madison years ago.
The bulletin from the apostolate for persons with disabilities mentions St. Dymphna, the patron saint of those who have mental illnesses. Mike did some research into St. Dymphna, and his opinion is that the quality of the information is poor. It may be so inaccurate that she may have never actually existed in the first place. But it doesn’t really matter. One reason for the questionable authenticity is that nothing was known to have been written down about St. Dymphna until at least 600 years after her death. She was said to have been the daughter of a small-time Irish king whose wife died when Dymphna was 14 years of age. By this point in her life, Dymphna had already professed her Christianity and devoted her life to one of purity and prayer. When her mother died, her father set about to find a woman who was as beautiful and looked as much like his late wife as possible. Lo and behold, after searching the land who did he find living in his own house, but his 14-year-old daughter who favored her mother very much. Not wanting to be defiled by marrying her father, Dymphna escaped across the English channel to Belgium aided by a small group of friends led by her confessor, father Gerebernus. Eventually her father found where she was, sailed across the channel to bring her home, and chopped off her head when she refused to marry him. Yikes! Of course her little coterie of co-conspirators were likewise separated from their heads. This story is particularly repugnant to Mike because Michelle was 14 when her mother died. It is well known and well accepted in our society that the job of the parents is to provide for the needs of their children, not the other way around. At least, not until the parents themselves are incapacitated. However, some people are so narcissistic that they cannot see that anybody other than they themselves are entitled to have needs, let alone have their needs met. So why shouldn’t Dymphna marry her father? He needed her to satisfy his ego and assuage his grief. It was what she was there for. Really sick. People in power have a tendency to abuse it to satisfy their own egos. It wouldn’t be necessary for them to do that if they were secure in who they are. But a lot of insecure people develop impressive skills at grabbing power. A phrase that I have heard that makes a great deal of sense is that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is why the founders of our country set up a system of checks and balances so that no one individual could become too powerful. Mike thinks that’s a very good thing, especially today.
Another curious thing about the whole Saint Dymphna story involves the idea of a patron saint. The Catholic religion speaks of the intercession of saints. The idea is that people who were especially meritorious in their lives on earth go to heaven where they pray for those of us who are still here on earth and are in need of answers to prayer. So instead of praying directly to God one could pray to a particular saint depending on the nature of the problem in question. The idea is not to ask the saint for the desired result directly, but rather to intercede with God on the supplicant’s behalf. Of course, any a good idea can be taken to ridiculous extremes. A few years ago when Mike and Judy were at the zoo in Lincoln Park in Chicago they overheard a woman telling her friend that she had prayed to St. Anthony for a parking space.
I don’t think there was anything new about the idea of intercession of saints but it was established as official church teaching by the Council of Trent which met between 1545 and 1563. This council was convened during a period of time in which the Catholic Church was under attack by the Protestant Reformation. The church responded to these challenges by firstly, cleaning up some of the abuses that were correctly identified by the reformers, and secondly, making certain specific beliefs formally established as official Church teaching. It was at the same council that the doctrine of transubstantiation was made official church teaching. This is the belief that during the consecration of the Eucharist the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. Personally, I find this a hard thing to wrap my head around, but as a mystery, I love it.
Anyway, St. Dymphna is the patron saint for the mentally ill and also for incest victims. (A curious fact is that the city in Belgium that she fled to, Gheel, is the site of a remarkable story of a successful social experiment in managing the mentally ill by a community. People in the town take in psychiatric patients and make them part of their own families, sometimes for 30 years or more. The entire process is managed by the local psychiatric hospital. You might want to look this up and read more about it. It really is remarkable.) There are patron saints for just about everything. St. Apollonia is the saint you would pray to if you had a toothache. Her feast day is February 9. St. Martin is the saint you would pray to if you are an alcoholic wanting to achieve sobriety. His feast day is November 12. St. Gertrude of Nivelle is the patron saint of cats. She is also the patron saint of gardeners, travelers, and widows. Her feast day is March 17. And yes, there is a patron saint of dogs, Saint Roch, who is said to have been kept alive miraculously when he was starving in the desert by a dog that would bring him a loaf of bread every day. I’m not sure when his feast day is, but if you’re really interested I’m sure you can look it up. I don’t know what is so hard to believe about the intercession of saints. It’s commonplace to hear of Guardian Angels. A lot of this gets into what you believe happens to a person’s spirit after they die. Some people think that it is just finito, that’s all she wrote. Most people however, and certainly all cats, believe that there is a life in the hereafter. Supposing that to be true, then the question becomes, do those who pass on have any contact with the world that they have left? Most people that I talk to, and all cats that I know, believe that this is the case. For example, I have heard Mike and Judy say that they can see the influence of Michelle’s mother in her being protected and finding her place in the world. I don’t have to understand this, but I believe that it is true; and that is good enough for me.
Oh, and by the way, I don’t think I mentioned that there is a national cat day. And guess what, it is October 29!! Happy national cat day y’all! And you can count on it, I will let you know when there is more news from Happy Meadows. With everything going on in this wacky place, you shouldn’t have to wait long.