Spiritual Reflections

Wound Care: A Peace and Justice Perspective

In our work for a more just and inclusive world, may we listen with the ear of the Holy One so that we may truly hear the cries of our world.

Some time ago, I heard from a friend who survived an incident that could easily have ended in her death by drowning. Grateful to be alive, she shared her story with me, emphasizing one detail that had surprised her. 

“I had always thought that drowning victims screamed and yelled and thrashed their arms violently,” she said. “But when I was drowning, I could do none of those things. My arms and legs struggled to simply keep me afloat. I was totally silent—not even a whisper of a voice—because every bit of breath, every last ounce of energy was engaged in only one thing: keeping my head above water. I couldn’t speak or scream or call for help. I could barely breathe. I had no voice, so my overwhelming fear was that no one would hear me.” 

Thank God that in her case, someone did. Thank God there are those who can hear what is unsaid. Who can notice what’s underneath silence. Who can intuit overwhelming fear or paralyzing terror or profound sadness. Who can listen beyond the rote responses we sometimes give to camouflage our actual state of mind or body. 

I have sometimes heard people who suffer from depression or anxiety describe the onset or progression of their illness in words similar to the ones my friend used to remember her near drowning. Every breath, every last ounce of energy, is directed to keeping one’s head above water, desperately trying to prevent one’s life from slipping below the surface and being swept away by dark currents. 

With the memory of my friend’s experience fresh in my mind, I was primed to notice one of the side stories about the Jesuit Rutilio Grande, who was beatified on January 22, 2022. As a result of his passionate work for justice, raising the consciousness of the poor and boldly advocating for land reform in El Salvador, he was gunned down by a death squad in 1977. 

That is the single-paragraph-greatly-condensed-version of Father Grande’s story. But in reflecting on the connections between emotional wellness and the work of justice and peace, I’d like to highlight a little-known aspect of Grande’s life that speaks loudly to us. Cameron Bellm writes that, “Father Grande’s work was possible because of the care and treatment he received for his mental health issues.”1 

While he was teaching at a Jesuit school in Panama, Grande was overwhelmed by the stress of his workload. Admitted to a clinic, he was diagnosed with catatonic schizophrenia, received treatment, and recovered. Those sparse words are not the end of the story. Notice the aftercare that Grande received from his Jesuit community in support of his emotional wellness. The community took his mental health needs into consideration in future assignments. They offered him extra time to complete his formation program. They gave him access to the kitchen whenever he wanted so that he could regain his physical strength, and they delighted in his recovery. In their care for him, observes Bellm, the Jesuit community “beautifully embodied the Ignatian principle of cura personalis, care for the whole person,”2 working to meet Rutilio Grande’s mental, physical, and spiritual needs while respecting his dignity. 

A second crisis, shortly before Grande’s ordination, occurred as he was tormented by scrupulosity. Reassured by his superiors, Grande gradually came to see and accept his mental health issues as his own personal cross. He was able to live with his fragile condition, trust in God, and return to his pastoral work. Ultimately, he was able to give his life for his people. 

This leads us to wonder: what might have happened to this holy man if his suffering had gone unnoticed, if he had been left without treatment and the care and support of a community intent on his well-being? What powerful, passionate witness might our church and our world have been deprived of if Grande had not been offered a path to wholeness? If instead he had been overwhelmed by his mental illness and found himself unable to grow into the wounded healer Henri Nouwen describes? 

“Making one’s own wounds a source of healing does not call for a sharing of superficial personal pains but for a constant willingness to see one’s own pain and suffering as rising from the depth of the human condition which all share.”3 

Henri Nouwen

In our work for a more just and inclusive world, may we listen with the ear of the Holy One so that we may truly hear the cries of our world. May we grow together into a community that is able to name our shared brokenness, honor our collective longing for healing, and do whatever is needed to claim the wholeness the Holy One desires for each of us. 

  1. “Father Rutilio Grande: the (future) patron saint of breaking mental health stigma?”, Cameron Bellm, America, The Jesuit Review, January 19, 2022.  ↩︎
  2. Ibid. ↩︎
  3. The Wounded Healer, Henri J.M. Nouwen, Doubleday, 1979, p. 88  ↩︎

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