By Andy J. Marte
As a public elementary school student, I was always fascinated by the Catholic school students who had recess in the streets while our school had recess in an enclosed schoolyard. The Catholic school kids seemed to be freer, and this piqued my interest in Catholicism.
In the subsequent years, I would attend Mass with my grandmother, Rosa Ligia Cepeda, who ensured that I gave thanks to God for life and health. I also completed my Communion sacrament during this time.
As I matured into my teenage years, however, I grew away from my faith. Although I attended a Catholic university, I never completed my sacrament of Confirmation and led a life that was detrimental to my health physically, emotionally, and mentally.
I tried to make up for the sadness caused by close deaths and stress by leading a life of partying and engaging in behavior that was unlike me. I turned to alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana. None of them fully satisfied me.
Despite the darkness, there was always a glimmer of light within me that wanted more. I attended classes for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) to complete my Confirmation sacrament twice before. However, I did not complete the course. Instead, I slipped into a depressive state.
In 2019, I decided that the third time would be the charm, and I committed to finishing my Confirmation. In 2020, I decided I would run for a political office in my community, and COVID-19 simultaneously plagued our planet. Church closed, RCIA went virtual, and I lost my first campaign for public office.
Then, on Thanksgiving 2020, many in my family broke out with COVID (I did not), and I grew anxious since I could not visit anyone for two weeks.
Luckily, I had my RCIA class, teach- ers, and parish priest, Father Hoffman, to push me past my pain. As I reflect on the past two years, I am eternally grateful to the RCIA process for giving me the strength to fight the darkness in favor of the light.
I aim to spread the light to others suffering from poor mental health. Prayer and interaction with positive people are extremely powerful tools to help one heal from depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns.
Months ago, I was deeply inspired by Monsignor Hernandez of Transfiguration Church in Williamsburg, who gave a homily of trusting God’s mission for us. We often get so caught up in trying to take control of our lives, and we forget that God is in control. This leads us to a variety of mental health concerns that can have lasting negative impacts on our emotional well-being. This homily inspired me to write this opinion piece and hopefully help spread the light to another person who may feel lost.
There are so many options to cope positively, but we also must trust that God’s timing is perfect. COVID has kept us all away from each other, worsening mental health crises. As we open up our city, I hope we value each other and care for one another to make God’s kingdom on Earth a better one for all of us.
After reflecting on my own experiences to determine what I would say to others who may be undergoing their own struggles, my main advice would be that God is the best medicine.
No amount of narcotics, both legal or illegal, will fully quench our thirst for internal peace and tranquility the way that God will. Just as important is our relationship with other people. We should stay away from negativity and seek positive activities with people that will push us to be better beings.
My biggest takeaway from RCIA is that while there are Ten Commandments, those 10 are really divided into two sections: love God and treat others with the same love that God has for us. I strongly believe that all of God’s people are precious, and only in our union will peace thrive.
Andy J. Marte is a Georgetown University graduate and a parishioner of St. Barbara’s Church in Williamsburg. In addition, he has been a teacher, affordable housing specialist, and HIV/substance abuse clinic consultant. He is currently a candidate for New York City Council in Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Ridgewood (34th District).