Discovering Life's Purpose Week 1: Religion and Mental Health

(November 28, 2021)

Bottom line: Take the first step to discovering God's purpose for your life. Fix in your mind that we are hybrid creatures - partly material and partly spiritual, intimately joined as embodied spirits.

Welcome to Advent. This year for Advent and Christmas, I want to explore this theme: Discovering the purpose of one's life. We are creatures who search for meaning. As St. Augustine wrote: "You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You."

We had surprising confirmation of this longing in an article in Scientific American. Harvard professor David Rosmarin wrote:

In the past year American mental health sank to the lowest point in history: Incidence of mental disorders increased by 50 percent, compared with before the pandemic, alcohol and other substance abuse surged, and young adults were more than twice as likely to seriously consider suicide than they were in 2018. Yet the only group to see improvements in mental health during the past year were those who attended religious services at least weekly (virtually or in-person): 46 percent report "excellent" mental health today versus 42 percent one year ago. As former congressional representative Patrick J. Kennedy and journalist Stephen Fried wrote in their book A Common Struggle, the two most underappreciated treatments for mental disorders are "love and faith."

Religion's role is to help a person find the meaning of life. For us as Christians we discover the purpose of our lives by turning to the Bible and our two thousand year tradition. Today's Psalm says, "To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul." The Bible presupposes that each of us has a spiritual dimension referred to as soul, mind, "breath of God," heart or spirit. This is different from our culture's default view: we are just matter in motion and when our bodies die, that's it. As simply matter in motion, we would have no free will, no real free choice. The Bible says, no, we do have an inner core that either turns to God or away from him.

We are spiritual beings, but we are not pure spirits like God or the angels. We have a necessary physical component. We are "embodied spirits". Jesus indicates that our bodies can both help and hinder us. He says, "when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand." Standing erect and lifting up our eyes is part of turning to God.

Our bodies can also bog us down. Jesus adds, "Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap." Carousing means drinking alcohol or taking drugs to lose inhibitions. Carousing often leads to abusive acts, even violence. Our bodies are no longer controlled by reason, but by impulse.

The Bible has a vision of the soul governing the body and God governing the soul. St. Paul says, "conduct yourselves to please God". When we put God in first place, we find inner peace.

Next week we will hear John the Baptist proclaim "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." This will help us further explore the significance of being embodied spirits - and how that helps unlock the purpose of our lives. This applies especially to young people. Youth is the time when a person asks, "Why am I here? What should I do with this life? Am I part of a bigger plan?" Don't miss what John the Baptist has to say next week.

For today I ask you take the first step to discovering God's purpose for your life. Fix in your mind that we are hybrid creatures - partly material and partly spiritual, intimately joined as embodied spirits. "To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul."


Spanish Version

From Archives (First Sunday of Advent - Year C):

2018: First Advent Virtue: Patience
2015: Are You Missing Out? Week 1: Jesus' Warning
2012: Victim or Free?
2009: Fulfill the Promise
2006: Patience
2003: Vigilance and Prayer
2000: Keeping Focused

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
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Fr. Michael White
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Bishop Robert Barron

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