Although I manage several social media accounts professionally, I personally tend to avoid them, especially Facebook. I used to spend far too much time updating my status and posting cat videos. So, along with chocolate, I gave it up one Lent and never looked back.
But a recent news headline drew me back to the world’s largest social network. During the first week of August, Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor posted a 12-minute video on her Facebook page. From a motel room in New Jersey, the controversial artist looked into her computer’s camera and shared — through streams of tears and profanity — that she was suicidal.
The video was both a plea for personal help and a call to treat all those suffering from mental illness with compassion. “I’m one of millions, one of millions,” she wept, raising her hands in anguish and pointing to herself.
My heart broke to see her — to see anyone — in such distress. I prayed silently as the video continued, and I scanned through the comments to see if anyone had sought emergency help for O’Connor. Strangers offered their support, several even inviting her to their homes. An update on the singer’s page advised that she was safe and receiving “the best of care.”
As I watched the remainder of the video, my eyes were drawn to one of O’Connor’s tattoos — an apparent head of Christ (or a Christ-like figure) on her chest.
And as she described her ordeal with depression, and with the profound isolation it had wrought in her life, I realized that this wounded woman, bruised and thirsting for mercy, was indeed an image of Christ.
Sinéad O’Connor — four ex-husbands in tow, a loud and longtime critic of the Catholic Church, “ordained” a priest by a dissident sect — a reflection of the Son of God?
Maybe not the image you or I might prefer. And certainly not a mirror image, either.
But then, are any of us?
Our faith teaches us that “the divine image is present in every man” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1702).
And the Lord who for our sake “was counted among the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12) — forgiving even those who nailed his limbs to the cross (Luke 23:34) — commands us to find him in the “least ones” (Matthew 25:45).
That includes the different, the difficult, the disenfranchised.
The ones we’d just as soon avoid can be the greatest source of genuine encounter with God — and can often teach us a much-needed spiritual lesson.
Pope Francis said in a May 2013 homily that “‘the possibility of doing good is something we all have’ as individuals created in the image and likeness of God.”
In the midst of her own pain, Sinéad O’Connor sought to help others, imploring viewers to reach out to those in their lives who suffered from mental illness.
“Care for them; (show) tenderness, love … visit them in (the) hospital,” she begged. “Be good and be tender to them.”
O’Connor had a second tattoo that caught my eye.
Across her left hand in blue-black ink were the words “Lumen Christi,” Latin for “light of Christ.”
I pray that brightness dries the tears of Sinéad O’Connor and all those who know the agony of mental illness.
And I pray that same light illumines my heart with love for all, even the most unlikely.
Gina Christian is a writer in Philadelphia.