The essential role of the laity in the Church

Did you know the Holy Father has a special prayer intention each month? Each member of the Church is asked to pray for his intentions, especially at Mass each day. I thought it would be helpful to talk about the Holy Father’s intention for this month of October:

That by the virtue of baptism, the laity, especially women, may participate more in areas of responsibility in the Church.

Preserving our mission

Each year, Catholics in the United States collectively give tens of millions of dollars to national collections that carry out the Gospel call to assist the poor and vulnerable by addressing pastoral and human development challenges impacting people domestically and internationally. Our donations show our solidarity, assist people at their most vulnerable and help to evangelize and teach the faith. While we also support our local parish and diocese, national collections allow modest gifts to the collection basket to make multi-million-dollar differences on lives and communities here at home and around the world.

A habit to break: ‘Doomscrolling’

A June 25 WIRED magazine article described a new and dangerous habit that has become part of popular technology practices. “Doomscrolling” refers to the pattern of scrolling through social media in the midst of a pandemic and social unrest and being flooded with morbid messages that elicit an almost physical discomfort.

Supporting mental health during the pandemic

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, mental illness impacts 1 in 5 Americans, indicating that this is a widespread issue that affects all communities. One in 25 adults in America live with a serious mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth and young adults ages 10–24. And all this is before you factor in the impact of a global pandemic.

For the last eight years, the Archdiocese of Seattle, through its Mental Health Ministry Committee, has sought to educate parish and school communities on mental health and reduce the stigma for those suffering from mental illness. Among its many offerings are workshops on suicide prevention and mental health first aid trainings that equip people to respond appropriately to situations where mental illness may be in play. The ministry hopes to use this Mental Health Awareness Month to amplify resources and practices that improve mental health.

Our Lady of the Lake School in Seattle has taken seriously the need to foster mental health support during the pandemic. The school organized a virtual Mental Health and Movement Monday for all its students, preschool through eighth grade. The day was filled with activities aimed at improving personal well-being. Students learned about finding calm moments and mindful exercises. Students did creative projects to help express themselves in positive ways. One student practiced mindfulness by gently keeping a balloon in the air. Another made a cube with sides indicating different feelings such as “grateful” and “loving life.” Still another found wellness via sidewalk chalk and the sharing of a hopeful message.

Each grade had a scheduled Zoom call with the school counselor, Katie Denniston, to check in and learn about staying physically and emotionally healthy during this time of quarantine. “All feelings are valid,” Denniston said, “and in order to stay emotionally healthy, we need to reach out to others when we need help, be it in big or small ways.” Parents expressed deep gratitude for the event, noting that the activities helped emphasize positivity and served as a perfect way to return from spring break.

OLL’s Mental Health and Movement event is timely for multiple reasons. For one, it directly speaks to an intensified need for self-care due to the pandemic that has isolated so many. Secondly, it came just before May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S.

Sandy Barton Smith, assistant superintendent of Catholic schools and a member of the archdiocesan mental health committee, applauded the efforts of Our Lady of the Lake. “Events like OLL’s Mental Health and Movement Monday are of paramount importance, especially now,” she said. “This issue affects all of our students, faculty and staff, parents and communities, and — if not addressed — small things can become more serious.” She hopes that this initiative can be replicated at other schools and parishes.

As Catholics, we continue to be in communion with one another, caring for all people, especially our brothers and sisters living with mental illness. During Mental Health Awareness Month, the archdiocesan Mental Health Ministry Committee invites you, your family, your parish and school community to continue to pray for all people impacted by mental health and find creative ways to practice mental wellness, like our students and staff at Our Lady of the Lake School!

As stay-at-home orders continue during the pandemic, enthusiasm for online events seems to be waning, but not in this case. “This was the best distance learning day yet,” exclaimed one OLL student, “and I hope for another one again soon!”

Erica Cohen Moore is the Archdiocese of Seattle’s director of pastoral ministries.

What we knead to know

In early March, I went to Sam’s Club to stock up for the coming shelter-in-place order. On a whim, I put yeast and a large bag of flour into my cart. Having never baked bread before, it was the definition of a random purchase. Something in me thought bread may be hard to come by, so I wanted the ingredients to bake it myself if need be.

Voices from the street in the time of COVID-19

For the past seven years, I have walked the nighttime streets, alleys, parks and “jungles” of Seattle with the Operation Nightwatch ministry team. I’ve probably met well over 1,000 of our brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness, and I am privileged to call many of them friends.

The coronavirus and sitting quietly in a room alone

Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” The great 17th-century philosopher thought that most of us, most of the time, distract ourselves from what truly matters through a series of divertissements (diversions). He was speaking from experience. Though one of the brightest men of his age and one of the pioneers of the modern physical sciences and of computer technology, Pascal frittered away a good deal of his time through gambling and other trivial pursuits. In a way, he knew, such diversions are understandable, since the great questions — Does God exist? Why am I here? Is there life after death? — are indeed overwhelming. But if we are to live in a serious and integrated way, they must be confronted — and this is why, if we want our most fundamental problems to be resolved, we must be willing to spend time in a room alone.