Deacon offers ways to cope during COVID-19 shutdown

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Deacon Tom Lambert of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish on Chicago’s North Side, co-chairs the Archdiocesan Commission on Mental Illness. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

For more than a month, everyone in Illinois has been ordered to stay at home to prevent further spread of COVID-19. While essential workers still engage with others during work hours, most people are at home, isolated, often watching news reports about troubling times and uncertain futures.

This time of upheaval can create anxiety and depression for people who usually don’t struggle with any kind of mental illness. For that group, wisdom can be found among those who, for many years, have worked to help people struggling with their mental health.

One of those veterans is Deacon Tom Lambert at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, 708 W. Belmont Ave., who is co-chair of the Archdiocesan Commission on Mental Illness. A father of four daughters, Lambert has over 30 years of experience ministering to people with mental illness, including  one of his daughters.

For those seeking peace at this time, Lambert suggests the Easter Mass readings, especially the Emmaus story, in which two despairing disciples encounter Jesus on the road but don’t realize who it is until later.

“They’re so devastated that they don’t even recognize Jesus,” Lambert said. “This is analogous to the things that we’re going through now with this heightened fear and anxiety. We don’t recognize maybe what we used to take for granted in terms of our ability to worship and so on. But what does Jesus do? He is in touch with the disciples. He walks them through how God loves them, which is the Scripture.”

The two disciples recognize Jesus during a meal when he breaks the bread, which is the Eucharist.

“Even though we can’t actually go to Mass to receive, Christ is just as present to us. God is just as present to us, I feel, in the spiritual Eucharist when we see it on TV and pray the prayer of spiritual communion,” Lambert said.

To help manage anxiety, Lambert suggests trusting in God and going back to the basics of prayer, whatever that might be for someone — reading Scripture, praying the rosary or a novena, silent prayer — and let that be a concrete action each day.

“I think that will help relieve the anxiety to some to degree,” he said. “It’s not going away, but it helps us manage it.”

He also recommends reaching out to others. “Part of faith is that we see and feel God through our connection with one another,” Lambert said. “The tangible feel of God is connecting to our neighbor, so it’s important to maintain those connections.”

After Sunday Mass, many people check in with those they know, the priests and deacons, music ministers and others. That check-in is gone for now.

“That’s a big loss, but what I do now is I send emails out to the parish groups that I have lists for and try to maintain those connections. I’ll call people and so on,” he said. “One way we can help people in their faith is to show them they are still connected to people of faith.”

Lambert offers five tips to improve mental health during the pandemic:

• Prayer: “That’s the beginning,” he said, recommending the daily and Sunday Mass readings throughout the Easter season, which runs through Pentecost on May 31. “This is the time of the year when the Spirit is especially alive in the readings,” Lambert said.

• Ask, “What am I grateful for? What and who inspires me?”: “That really is good to think about,” he said.

• Stay connected with people: Connect online, by phone, with emails, etc., “to help reinforce the fact that we are not alone. There are people among us going through this too — our friends, family, others.”

• Ask yourself, “How can I help others?”: What can we do today to make others feel connected?

• Keep a journal: “Journal your feelings and bring that to prayer,” he said.

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  • mental health
  • coronavirus

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