Innocence Restored-Hope for Those Who Have Suffered Indignity or Abuse

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

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One of the most heartbreaking aspects of my work with victims of abuse—whether verbal, physical, sexual or some combination of all of these—is to hear them talk about how they feel “dirty”,  “tainted,” “guilty” and a host of other adjectives that undermine their dignity and worth as persons.  Intellectually, most of them know that they bear no blame for the things that were done to them, but the emotional and spiritual wounds run deep.  When we’re treated like trash, we often internalize that treatment.   In many cases, we carry the feelings of shame and the loss of our innocence long after the abuse is over.

The Truth Will Set You Free

As difficult as this can be to face, one truth that seems to really resonate for my clients is the idea that they cannot lose what didn’t belong to them from the beginning.  What do I mean?  The truth is that as Christians, we know that none of us can claim to be good or innocent on our own power.  We are simple lumps of carbon; obstinate bags of water that, left to our own devices can claim no goodness, innocence or dignity.

But, as Christians, we also know that we  can  claim goodness, innocence, dignity and more as our inheritance  because we are loved by the God who is the source and summit of all of those qualities. Because God loves us, he shares  his  goodness,  hisinnocence,  his  dignity,  his  grace with us and through his merciful love, makes us good, innocent, dignified and grace-filled.  When he shares these qualities with us, they do not become ours.  Rather,  they make us more his.  That’s a tremendously important distinction, especially for the victim of abuse.  Why?

Because the abuser pretends to have the power to take away his victim’s innocence, goodness and dignity. That’s part of the spell the abuser casts on his victim, making the person he preys upon believe that he has more power than he actually does.  But while an abuser can hurt our bodies and wound our minds, he or she cannot take our innocence, dignity or goodness because these qualities are not ours to lose in the first place.  They are God’s to give.    And God would never give away those qualities that are part and parcel of his love for us. Nothing separates us from the love of God or the benefits that accompany his love.  No one can take either his love or the benefits of his love from us either.

Loved Into Innocence

 

In other words, we are not innocent because nothing bad has ever happened to us.   (BTW, That’s Pelagianism, not Christianity!)   We are innocent  because we are loved by God regardless  of what we have done or have had done to us.   Likewise, we are not good because we have not done anything bad or been subject to badness.  We are  good because we are loved despite  the badness in our hearts or in the world in which we live.  We do not have dignity because we have never suffered indignity.  Rather,  we enjoy dignity because God loves us no matter what  indignities we have suffered.

I do not mean to suggest that the abuse victim’s pain should magically disappear because they might read these words.  But I have found that reflecting on these truths in a spirit of prayer does open survivors’ hearts to new possibilities.  Specifically, the possibility that they  are  good,  and  innocent  and  have dignity and that they have always been these things and always will be these things as long as God loves them, which is always and forever.

Your Innocence is Assured

If you are the survivor of abuse, first know that you have my deepest sympathy for your pain and your struggle.    Second, be assured that I am lifting you up in my general intentions each evening.  But thirdly, and most importantly,  know that you are good, and innocent, and have dignity not because of or in spite of anything that has or has not happened to you or because of anything you have or have not done.  You are good, and innocent, and have dignity because you are loved by God.  Period.    And no one could ever take that away from you no matter what they may pretend to the contrary.

Depression Does Not Discriminate

By: Michael J. Lichens

depression

I know in my own struggles with depression, comedy  was exactly what I used before discovering the toxic cocktail of food, sex, and booze (really, just don’t do it). A little secret of mine is that my first real writing gig was a weekly satirical column in the  Eugene Comic News  and I got to meet a lot of comedic writers through that. All of them struggled with some form of mental anguish.

So it is that many wonder how a man who is so funny, so full of life, and with so much adoration, could be depressed. When I hear people asking that, I swing between having no answer to wanting to hit my head against a book case. The same question  was asked again when Mother Teresa was “outed” as having dealt with some heavy dark nights of the soul. No one could figure out how a holy woman could feel God’s presence, act in great charity, and yet feel the pains of depression.

Then there’s my personal life. One of the most jovial friends I ever had killed himself after his wife left him several years ago, and just a week ago another close friend attempted to take his own life.  I’ve recently been public  about  my own struggles with MDD and how many times I stared down that abyss where death seemed like it would be the only relief. At one point, medication and a lot of counselling is the only thing that made me turn away from it, along with some deep religious experiences that I can only call  miraculous.  Yet, you’d never guess that from meeting me in person.

The Depressed Look Nothing Like That

The average depressed person is not wearing black eye-liner and writing emo lyrics for a crappy band. Sure, I went through a phase of listening to a lot of punk and metal, but I generally don’t wear all black. Instead, those who deal with depression are, in my experience, folks who can be quite charming and even seem to be always happy. This would, to some minds, seem to point to an overall good mood. In private, though, it’s a living hell.

My particular form of mental illness is defined by an over-all low mood. Most days I can function normally, but there are those days when getting out of bed seems like the hardest thing in the world to do. On the worst days, I’ve had to check myself into a hospital because all I could think about was ways I’d like to die. That part is hard to explain to people who have never been there. It’s not so much a desire  to no longer exist, but a wish that whatever this is that is clouding my judgement would just be gone.

The worst of it, though, is the loneliness. The feeling that even God has abandoned you to your sufferings and that relief is not coming.

I’m much better now than I was even five years ago, but trust me that those feelings rarely go away. Even though I have a job I love, good friends, and a loving family, I am always having to worry about the day that the bark of the black dog will be too loud to endure.

That’s the point of depression and all other forms of mental illness: it clouds the mind and impairs judgement, you are literally unable to think straight and sometimes reality looks like a hazy dream. My mother once described it as seeing the world through a thick blanket. You can’t reason with it, you can’t negotiate with it, and even if you understand that your thought process is not normal or healthy, it’s easier to make out with a grizzly bear than to try to keep your mind from repeating that inner dialogue.

I don’t expect this to make sense, because it barely makes sense to me and I have to live with it every day.  Throw in the fact that I, like many depressed people, keep a  persona  bon vivant,  it becomes alienating when my mood reaches a low where I can’t even stand my own company. We want so badly to have some companionship, but we’re so afraid of our own minds that we’d shiver at exposing other people to our inner darkness.

That, above all else, is why I write. I don’t like writing on this subject. It takes just about every once of energy I have to write about depression. But, if one person can understand that they’re not alone than I can hope that my mild discomfort can help them.

The world though, especially most Catholic media, is lousy at offering the help we need. In the months since I started writing openly about depression and faith I’ve received the kind of cheap email messages that drive people crazy; things like, “have you tried avoiding gluten or taking Omega-6 oils,” (because, holy crikey, I just needed Dr. Oz, M.Div all along) or “maybe you should pray more” (because depressed people don’t pray, ever). Depression is hard to understand, I get that, but we could be better at explaining it and helping the many who endure it find some form of healing or at least enough grace to go on. Depression does not sell conferences or books, but we need to see how many people it touches and do what we can. Lives are on the line.

Arise from the Darkness!

I wanted to point out that depression touches many lives, whether we know it or not. Even my worst days I can fake being happy for a few hours before I collapse in exhaustion. If someone is depressed, you may never know it unless they feel comfortable enough to let their guard down. Then, it’s up to you to do what you can to be a friend, mother, spouse, or whatever  part you play in their lives.

Unlike many illnesses, it does not always show outwardly. The person in your life suffering mental anguish is probably barely aware of it himself. Dig, though, and it’s there. Like all conditions of the Fall, we cannot let it fester in darkness but there needs to a light to shine the truth and to give hope to those who feel like all hope has abandoned them.

Depression doesn’t give a damn about your status, vocation, race, or financial situation. Yet, neither does Christ. If we want the mentally afflicted to find the peace that surpasses all understanding, we need first to open the doors and to let it in, and that is what Christian charity ought to do.

If someone in your life is suffering mental anguish, I can tell you from experience what works and doesn’t work. Don’t try to cure them unless you are a doctor or a real wonder-worker, and for heaven’s sake do not try to tell them, “But how can  you  be depressed!”  Instead, let them know that they do have a friend, who is willing to carry a lot of their pains if necessary, and accept it  if silence is their only response. Then, pray for help and that grace will be sufficient to get them through, but be aware that you probably are called to be an instrument of that grace. It means some work, but love demands it.

Also, if you are reading this and have been exhausted by your own black dog, know that it is not all there is. I’ve found some peace, but it doesn’t mean my burden is gone. Seek help, go for a walk, do whatever you can to come back tomorrow with the determination that you shall live. Also, know that God did not take on our nature and defeat death just to leave you alone. It may sound cheap, I know, but sometimes that is the only assurance I have and it is no small thing.

Credit to Michael J. Lichens of CatholicExchange. Article first appeared on The Catholic Gentleman.

 

Yes Straight Out: Halpin and the Compiegne Martyrs

By: Richard Becker

martyrs

“Baba O’Riley” is my favorite song by The Who,  but “Who Are You?” is a close second, mainly because of the drums. It came on the radio recently and I turned up the volume. “Listen to this,” I told my son, an aspiring drummer. “Keith Moon is amazing.”

And he was, a great drummer and a great performer…when he was sober. Unfortunately, he was frequently under the influence of various substances, and Moon literally passed out on stage on more than one occasion.

Such was the case on November 20, 1973, when The Who appeared at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Moon actually passed out twice that night, and after the second time, guitarist Pete Townshend, utterly exasperated, turned to the assembled crowd for help. “Can anybody play the drums?” he pleaded. “I mean somebody  good.”

Scot Halpin  was a drummer and present at the concert.He’d just moved to California from Iowa and had gone to see The Who with his buddy, Mike. The two of them ended up at the side of the stage near the event’s promoter, Bill Graham, who was trying to salvage the concert after Moon’s exit. Here’s how Halpin described what happened next in an  NPR interview:

My friend, Mike Deniseph, basically was pushing me forward to do this, and really interfacing with Bill Graham once he got there, nose to nose. And so he looks to me square in the eye and says, Can you do it? And I said yes, straight out.

“Yes, straight out.” That’s so great.  Here’s a kid from Muscatine, Iowa, barely out of high school, and he’s put on the spot to back up one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Without hesitation, without it seems even a second thought, Halpin rose to the occasion. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that came suddenly and out of the blue, yet he  took it on  and, the story goes, acquitted himself pretty well.

How?

The bare outline of Halpin’s story gives us a clue. First, he practiced — not because he thought he’d be a big star someday, but because he wanted to get better at what he loved. Second, he had people around him — Mike in particular — who believed in him, even more than he believed in himself.

And finally, Halpin found the courage to say “yes, straight out” at a critical juncture, despite the lack of warning or preparation. The key there is the word “found,” for it doesn’t appear to be the case that Scot was spectacularly courageous by nature. Still, at an historic moment, a now-or-never crossroads, he found enough courage — reckless courage, some would say — and he followed through.

Playing drums in a rock concert is one thing; martyrdom is quite another.But I think there are some parallels with how ordinary people manage to hang on to their faith when thrust into the most trying circumstances. Like the  Blessed Carmelites of Compiègne  whose feast we celebrate today.

Flash back to 1794 and the French Revolution in full swing.  The Carmelites of Compiègne in northern France were feeling the brunt of the Reign of Terror, having been deprived of their habits and dispersed by the government two years before. Still, they’d made adjustments, donning simple attire and living together in several groups. Despite the open persecution and social disintegration, the eleven nuns and their five lay associates were attempting to maintain their communal life of prayer as best they could.

These were women who’d entered religious life with an expectation of an orderly rhythm of quiet prayer and piety. They weren’t escaping the world, nor were they insulating a refined way of life against the  hoi polloi  — most of them came from working class families, and only one had upper class connections. Nevertheless, they hadn’t signed up to be heroes, and the only martyrdom they had anticipated was the ordinary day-to-day martyrdom associated with celibacy and the cloister.

Here’s the deal with heroism though: Once you throw in your lot with ordinary heroics, you open yourself up for the most extreme forms, which is what we Christians ought to expect in any case.

Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves…. Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name (Mt. 10.16, 21-22).

We fall in love with Jesus and embrace the Cross because we want to be like him and follow him as closely as possible; we receive the Sacraments, pray, and carry out our daily responsibilities; we strive to avoid sin and to grow in holiness. Is that the end of it? Do we get to coast then all the way to heaven?

The Compiègne Carmelites found out otherwise. The authorities had convicted the 16 women on trumped up charges and transferred them to Paris. On July 17, 1794, the women, now back in their religious garb, were paraded through the streets and brought to the place of execution. At first accompanied by the assembled crowd’s jeers and cheers, the women sang hymns as they were beheaded one by one — a horror captured so movingly in François Poulenc’s opera  Le Dialogue des Carmélites (The Dialogue of the Carmelites).  The dignity and bravery of the nuns and their companions was such that the raucous crowd was silenced — a silence and sobriety that persisted beyond the events of that day and that some believe contributed to the sudden termination of the Reign of Terror a short time later.

All of these women could have avoided the scaffold by renouncing their faith,  but they didn’t. So how is it that a group of women given over to prayer and a quiet life hidden from the world could rise to such a height of fortitude and heroism. I think it’s the same pattern on display in Scot Halpin’s little brush with history — a pattern we do well to emulate as well.

  1. Regular practice: It’s funny to talk about “practicing” our faith the way Halpin practiced the drums, but that’s exactly what we do — because we never are quite finished polishing our skills. In fact, the Catechism directly associates the word “practice” with the idea of “heroic virtue” (CCC 828), which implies that the kind of heroism the Compiègne martyrs demonstrated is rooted in the ordinary heroics we perform every day.The Carmelites  practiced  through prayer and penance in the cloister, but we’re called to practice in a similar way out in the world, which includes carrying out the duties associated with our state in life — single, married with family, whatever. Such matters might not seem like the stuff of sainthood, but God can create saints out of very little — as the Carmelite St. Thérèse of Lisieux observed in her writing about the “little way.” We measure bigness on a different scale than God does.
  1. Communal support: Heroes, in real life, are not loners, and they always have people rooting for them from the sidelines. That’s true for martyrs as well, and we see it at work even in the brief records we have of what happened in Compiègne. Although the sisters had anticipated the guillotine, it was undoubtedly a shock to find themselves actually facing execution as an imminent reality.In their case, it was one of their own that provided the fortifying support, their youngest member who started off the singing, giving courage to the rest of her community. Plus, the silenced crowd gave an almost implicit form of support, and, of course, the sisters were surrounded by an invisible “cloud of witnesses” as the Scriptures attest (Heb. 12.1). We must not forget, as we go about our days, that we’re surrounded by that cloud as well.
  1. Reckless courage: On this point, we have the words of two Pope Benedicts to guide us. In the 18th  century, Benedict XIV  wrote  that heroic virtue enables one “to perform virtuous actions with uncommon promptitude, ease, and pleasure, from supernatural motives and without human reasoning.” Certainly that was the case with the Carmelite martyrs who, as one body, gave themselves over to their fate with confidence and a song on their lips.But what of us? How do we live out reckless courage in our humdrum lives with no guillotines on the horizon? Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI pointed the way when he  said  that “heroic virtue does not mean that the saint performs a type of ‘gymnastics’ of holiness, something that normal people do not dare to do. It means rather that in the life of a person God’s presence is revealed….”

Practice of our faith. Mutual support and encouragement. Reckless courage in the ordinary activities of life. This is how people like you and me become saints. This is how we become martyrs when it comes down to it.

In other words, saying yes, straight out, on the scaffold means that we’ve together been saying yes, straight out, over and over and over again every day. And if we haven’t, it’s never too late to start.

Credit to  Richard Becker of CatholicExchange.

 

Feeling Guilty

By: Br. John Dominic Bouck, OP

 

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Ashlyn Blocker is in many respects a normal American teenage girl.  She lives with her family, has fun with her friends, watches TV and sings pop music. But there is something different about her, something very different. After she was born she hardly ever cried. For instance, once she nearly chewed off her tongue while her teeth were coming in, but she didn’t cry or complain. It turns out she has a genetic disorder which blocks the electrical transmissions of painful events from reaching her brain. She has a congenital insensitivity to pain.

On the surface, that sounds like a problem that we would all like to have. Imagine the amazing things we would be able to do, and yet, not feel the painful consequences. It seems that congenital insensitivity to pain is a lot like a superpower. In reality though, it is really a super-disability.

In an  article  in the New York Times Magazine about Ashlyn and her situation, Dr. Geoffrey Woods, the geneticist who discovered the mutation, says about pain:

It is an extraordinary disorder. It’s quite interesting, because it makes you realize pain is there for a number of reasons, and one of them is to use your body correctly without damaging it and modulating what you do.

For Ashlyn, what comes as second nature to us, like pulling a hand away when it is getting burned, has been acquired through a lifetime of damaging trial and error. All those who share her condition know the benefits of pain and the danger of not experiencing pain.

It doesn’t take much searching to encounter someone who decries “Catholic Guilt.” It is portrayed as the experience of feeling bad for doing things that should be natural to us. It prevents us from being fully alive. It is a prison which rational adults should cast off as soon as they realize they suffer from it. I concede that many times, people feel guilty when they shouldn’t. This should indeed be cast off. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

As people of faith, we believe that each person is composed of body  and  soul. Just as dangerous things cause our bodies to feel healthy pain, so too does healthy guilt alert us to the fact that we are endangering our soul.

If we experience pain in our bodies, we ought to cease doing the action which causes that pain. If we set our hand on a burner, we pull it off. We are free to decide not to, but then our hand will be destroyed. If we experience guilt in an action we commit, then most likely we should stop doing it. Otherwise our soul will suffer.

Recall Dr. Woods’ finding, and substitute “guilt” for “pain” and “soul” for “body”:

It’s quite interesting, because it makes you realize  guilt  is there for a number of reasons, and one of them is to use your  soul  correctly without damaging it and modulating what you do.

Minor pains from cuts and bruises can be healed easily at home, just as minor venial sins simply need to be taken care of by an act of charity, devotion, or a simple expression of sorrow. But big pains–lost limbs, cancer, heart attacks–these need to be taken care of by a professional physician. So too, grave sins need to be taken care of by a spiritual physician. This physician is Jesus Christ himself, acting through the priest as his sacramental representative.

Often the healing regimens in the spiritual life are difficult, and they may involve cutting off activities and relationships that are dangerous. But we can have confidence that the Divine Physician knows exactly what he is doing, even if we don’t. His healing is our salvation. The prescriptions he gives out are remedies of love. They heal us and those around us. If we don’t take the medicine the doctor prescribes, then our health will get worse. If we don’t live out the life that Jesus Christ has shown to us through the Church, our soul will feel worse. The pain will still be there, but how will we treat it? Most forms of self-medication just mask the pain: alcoholism, careerism, living a double life, etc.

Often we can think of the life of sin vs. the life of the spirit as a legal drama. We want to do certain things, but there are laws that we try to avoid breaking because of various punishments that are imposed on us as a result. This is a poor way of looking at our lives.

On the contrary, in the life of the soul (and in the life of the body) our goal is to be  happy. That is how we are made. We commit sin, though, when we search for happiness in the wrong places. We try to be happy, yet we hurt ourselves, and we hurt others. Just think, when we are not feeling our best—a cold, a stomach-ache—we can be crabby, we can want our alone time. When we are sick in our soul we suffer from similarly isolating behaviors. However, we can recognize the pain that we feel, be healed, and learn more about what activities cause us pain. All we have to do is make an appointment.

Credit to  Br. John Dominic Bouck, OP of CatholicExchange.

 

Ten Reasons to Rejoice

By: Fr. Ed Broom, OMV

angel trumpet

St. Paul exhorts us in his letter  to the Philippians to rejoice, not just once but twice:    “Rejoice in the Lord; I say it again: rejoice in the Lord.”  (Phil. 4:4).    Pope Francis’ Apostolic exhortation reiterates the same theme–“The Joy of the Gospel”.    St. Francis de Sales remarks on spiritual progress commenting that after sin the worse thing is sadness.  St. Ignatius agrees, warning us that when we are in a state of desolation–that is to say sadness and discouragement–that is the moment that we are a prime target for the fiery arrows of the devil.

Why then should we be constantly living in a state of joy? There are many reasons, but we would like to offer ten simple reasons to be rejoicing constantly and exultantly.

1.  Baptismal Graces.    Once baptized we receive so many graces that we can barely count them. However of primary importance is that through Baptism we establish a deep Friendship with three Divine Persons–the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In Baptism God becomes our Father; Jesus becomes our elder Brother; the Holy Spirit becomes both the Sweet Guest of our soul and our best Friend. Rejoice in God’s Friendship!

2.  Sanctifying Grace. If we can strive to live in the state of sanctifying grace then the Friendship with God is constant. We are never alone; loneliness becomes alien to our lifestyle. We can close our eyes and seek the God within the depths of our souls. How happy this should make us!

3.  Mercy!    Even if we fall one hundred times a day, we know that our God is slow to anger and rich in mercy. As soon as our heart beats with the words “Jesus mercy, Jesus forgive me; Jesus I love you”–then once again this treasure of His Friendship is restored and it is sealed in the sacrament of Confession.    “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His mercy endures forever.”

4.  The  Blessed Sacrament.  What overflowing and immense joy we should experience in knowing that Jesus said that He would be with us even until the end of the world. Where is He? Response: in the Church. However, most especially He is truly Present (The Real Presence) in the consecrated Host present in all of the Tabernacles of the world. Let us rejoice and come let us adore Him.

5.  St Raphael.  An invitation: Why not delve into your Bible and go to the Old Testament where you will find a short but truly inspiring book from the Wisdom literature with the title of the Book of Tobit.    In this spiritual masterpiece you will find a heart-warming Friend; he is actually one of the three Archangels mentioned in the Bible.    His name is Raphael, meaning God heals.      One of his special gifts is to befriend us and to fill us with joy. Why not invoke this holy angel every day for nine days (a novena) and you will notice that your sadness will melt as the snow exposed to the midday sun.

6.  Saints.    Not only should we walk and talk with the Archangel Raphael but we should be in constant contact and communion with the saints.    While on earth the saints were the most joyful men and women. However in heaven their joy is boundless.    Still they so earnestly long to share their joy, which is their Friendship with God, with us on earth. Call out to them now! By the way, who are your three favorite saints? Beg them to share the joy they experience with you now. Your joy will abound.

7.  Heaven.      The reality of the existence of Heaven and the knowledge that Jesus has already gone there to prepare a place for you should cause an explosion of joy in your soul right now. Listen to Jesus’ words: “I go now to prepare a place for you so that where I am you also might be. In my Father’s house there are many mansions.”    Wow!    Jesus has not only prepared a place for you, but a huge, beautiful, spacious, ineffable mansion for you for all eternity.    No cracks, dust, ants, cockroaches, leaks, mildew–none of these, but the best of resting places, all this is yours if you simply persevere in grace. Mary, full of grace pray for us!

8.  Prayer.      If you wanted to talk to some celebrity, President, star, hero, high-class dignitary most likely it would take a year and a day to possibly set up a short meeting.    How extraordinary is God’s love for us that in any time, any place, any circumstance that we want to we can talk to God and He is ready to listen and respond.      Too often people are too busy and simply do not have time for us–sad to say, even those who should be closest to us!  Not so with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They are always at our beck and call. How humble and loving our God is! Rejoice exultantly in the reality of prayer. Why not make a proposal right now to augment your joy: strive to pray a little bit more and a little bit better every day. Your joy will be like the fireworks of the fourth of July

9.  God, the Most Generous Giver.    In all honesty, and with the most profound humility and deepest sincerity, we should all admit that everything that we have–except the sins that we willfully choose to commit–is a pure gratuitous gift from God.    As the Apostle Paul reminds us, quoting one of the Greek poets,  “In Him we live and move and have our being.”  Thank God constantly for His abundant and ceaseless gifts to you.    Have you ever noticed this fact: when you exercise gratitude towards God joy surges in your heart? Try it!

10.  Our Lady.  Our life, our sweetness and our hope!    One of the titles of Mary in her Litany is  Cause of our joy.    After his death, St Dominic Savio returned appearing to St. John Bosco and told the great saint of the youth that his greatest joy in the short 14 years    and 11 months of his life was his great love and affection towards Our Lady. Savio exhorted St. John Bosco to follow that path of promoting love and devotion to Mary.    In your life get to know Mary, love Mary, invoke Mary, pray to Mary, consecrate your life to Jesus through Mary and spread devotion to Mary. If you do, then undoubtedly you will experience in the depths of your soul an ineffable joy which will overflow in your life to all those you meet.

In conclusion, friends in Jesus and Mary, let us strive to spread the joy of the Gospel right now and live out a life of constant joy. We might as well get into the habit of rejoicing now in the Lord because we will be rejoicing with exultant joy in heaven for all eternity!

Credit to Fr. Ed Broom, OMV of CatholicExchange.  

 

The Friendship of the Saints

By: Fr. Aloysius Roche

saints

This article is adapted from a chapter in Fr. Roche’s book,  The Bedside Book of Saints.

Solomon says, “A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immor ­tality”;and he adds the significant words: “They that fear the Lord shall find him.”  The Old Testament delights us with the story of the friendship of David and Jonathan. “Jonathan loved David as his own soul”; and David’s love for Jonathan “passed the love of woman.”

Our Lord Himself called the Apostles His friends, and He meant His particular friends because “all things whatsoever I have heard of my Father, I have made known to  you.” This encouraged the saints – even the most detached of them – to seek out kindred souls to give them their confidence and their friendship. They were well aware that although the Gospel bases perfection upon detachment of heart, it does not therefore follow that we are forbidden to love anyone with an affection stronger and more sensible than that which we are obliged to entertain for all in general.

Indeed, a whole volume might be written on the friendships of the saints – friendships that were, in the best sense of the word, particular friendships. “There is not a man who has a heart more tender and more open to friendship than mine or who feels more keenly than I do the pain of separation from those I love.” This is St. Francis de Sales’s description of himself; and we may be sure that it could be applied to the majority of God’s great servants.

How delightful to find this in the autobiography of St. Thérèse of the Infant Jesus: “When I entered Carmel, I found in the novitiate a companion about eight years older than I was. In spite of the difference of age, we became the closest friends; and to encourage an affection that gave promise of fostering virtue, we were allowed to converse together.”

The  Mirror of Perfection  tells us that when St. Francis was dying, St. Clare also was very ill. “The Lady Clare, fearing she would die before him, wept most bitterly and would not be comforted, for she thought that she would not see before her departure her Comforter and Master.” Now, this is a very human situation and very human language, and we can appreciate both. This is exactly how great friends feel about one another.

St. Teresa of Avila wrote in this very strain to her friend, Don Francisco de Salcedo: “Please God you will live until I die; then I shall ask God to summon you promptly, lest I should be without you in Heaven.”

Like so many of the saints, St. Augustine had the power of winning and attracting devoted followers. Perhaps no Father of the Church had so many or such enthusiastic friends. And in the letters that passed between them, we see how generously he re ­sponded to these affections. For example, he addresses Nebridius as “My sweet friend,” and he writes to St. Jerome, “O that it were possible to enjoy sweet and frequent converse with you; if not by living with you at least by living near you.”

St. Bernard thus laments the death of his friend Humbert of Clairvaux: “Flow, flow, my tears, so eager to flow. He who prevented your flowing is here no more. It is not he who is dead but I – I who now live only to die. Why, oh why, have we loved and why have we lost one another?”

We are told of St. Philip Neri that friendship was one of the few innocent joys of life that he permitted himself; and certainly Providence lavished friends upon him in spite of the fact that no man ever tried the patience and virtue of his friends as did he.

Indeed, it seems to have been only necessary for people to come in contact with these saints to love them. “It is a favor bestowed on me by God,” wrote St. Teresa, “that my presence always gives pleasure to others.” One of her earliest biographers, Ribera, said of her, “She was and she looked so amiable that everybody loved her.”

Bl. Angela of Foligno had such a hold upon the affections of all who knew her, that out of pity for their feelings, she concealed the knowledge she had of her approaching death. Gallonio said of St. Philip Neri, “He hid the secret of his approaching death, lest our hearts should be crushed with sorrow.”

This is how St. Basil writes to the wife of his friend Nectarius to console her on the death of her son: “I know what the heart of a mother is, and when I think how very kind and gentle you in par ­ticular are, I can estimate how great must be your grief at the present moment. O plague of an evil demon, how great a calamity it has had the power to inflict! O earth, that has been compelled to submit to an affliction such as this! But let us not condemn the just decision of God. Above all, spare the partner of your life: be a consolation to one another; do not make the misfortune harder for him to bear.”

We must bear in mind, of course, that in those days, simplicity was a practical virtue. Christians expressed their feelings and sentiments with a naiveté to which we are strangers. We neither speak nor write the sincere idiom of the past. But our forefathers in the faith were not our sort of people at all. All their literature is marked by a charming spontaneity and exuberance of expression. Into the letters that they wrote to their friends they put the same straightforward frankness they put into their poetry and their Christmas carols. St. Boniface, for example, writes in exactly the same strain to all his friends; that is to say, he writes as few would be willing to write nowadays. Thus, to the Archbishop of York: “To a friend worthy of being embraced in the arms of love.” St. Anselm writes, “Go into the secret place of thy heart, look there at thy love for me, and thou shalt see mine for thee.” And again: “The soul of my Osbern, ah! I beseech thee, give it no other place than in my bosom.”

It is true that this phraseology was more or less stereotyped. Formulas were drawn up by those who were good at it, and they were circulated especially among the monasteries and convents. They served as models and were copied to form the beginnings and endings of the letter. This may explain why we find in St. Jerome’s letters (for example, to Rufina) almost the identical sen ­tences found in those of St. Boniface. Many of these formulas have survived: “To So-and-so, his humble countryman, who would embrace him with the wings of a sincere and indissoluble charity, sends salutations in the sweetness of true love.” Again: “Remem ­ber me; I always remember you. I give you all the love that is in my heart.”

We may find a little comfort in knowing that some of the saints were rather disappointed in their friends. St. Basil and St. Gregory, as we have seen, had serious misunderstandings in the end. Dona Isabel Roser was for years the staunch friend of St. Ignatius. She could not do too much for him; and, indeed, she had once actually saved his life, by dissuading him from sailing in an unseaworthy vessel that foundered on its voyage, with the loss of all hands. At one period, the saint writes to her, “I am persuaded that if I were to forget all the good that God has done me through you, His Divine Majesty would forget me also.” Yet, this same good Dona Isabel’s love turned to spite. She subjected St. Ignatius to a great deal of annoyance in Rome, whither she had followed him, and she ended by taking proceedings against him for embezzlement in the Ecclesiastical Courts. Needless to say, she lost her case, and she also lost her friend.

“A friend is long sought, scarcely found, and hard to keep”: with this reflection, Abbess Eangyth ends one of her letters to St. Boniface; so that it appears that even the saints shared the disappointments common to plain people like ourselves. Indeed, they sometimes lavished their affections on rather an ungrateful world.

The prophets of old were stoned for their pains; and the task of the reformer is proverbially a thankless task. Scant recognition came to Fr. Damien during his lifetime: his motives were suspected, and even his character was assailed. St. John Bosco was looked upon by some as a madman. St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena were accused of being bad women, and their very friendships were misunderstood. Some of our English martyrs were be ­trayed by those whom they regarded as friends.

But if affection is unrequited, it is never thereby wasted. There is no such thing as wasted affection. “The real reward of love is found in loving.” Love is its own reward. We are happier often in the affection we feel than in that which we excite; and when, by an unhappy chance, love goes out from our hearts only to be rejected, it returns again, so that to some extent, we are the gainers.

Credit to  Fr. Aloysius Roche &  CatholicExchange.

Catholics & Depression

By: Catholic World Report Staff

depression

Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, MD, is the author, with Msgr. John Cihak, STD, of the book,  The Catholic Guide to Depression: How the Saints, the Sacraments, and Psychiatry Can Help You Break Its Grip and Find Happiness Again  (Sophia Institute Press, 2012). Dr. Kheriaty is the Director of Residency Training and Medical Education in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of  California, Irvine. He co-directs the Program in Medical Ethics in the School of Medicine, and serves as chairman of the clinical ethics committee at UCI Medical Center. Dr. Kheriaty graduated from the University of Notre Dame in philosophy and pre-medical sciences, and earned his MD degree from Georgetown University. Msgr. Cihak is a priest of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon who currently works in the Vatican. He helped to start  Quo Vadis Days  camps promoting discernment and the priesthood at the high school level that now operate in several U.S. dioceses. He has been a pastor and served in seminary formation.

Dr. Kheriaty & Msgr. Cihak

Their book “reviews the effective ways that have recently been devised to deal with this grave and  sometimes deadly affliction– ways that are not only consistent with the teachings of the Church, but even rooted in many of those teachings.” The authors were recently interviewed by Carl E. Olson, editor of  Catholic World Report, about the serious challenges posed by depression and how those challenges can be best addressed through faith, clinical science, and other means.

CWR:  The topic of depression is fairly commonplace, but you note that there is no simple definition of “depression”. What are some of the major features of depression? Is it just an emotional state, or more?

Dr. Kheriaty:  Depression is more than just an emotional state, though of course it typically involves profound changes in a person’s emotions.   Sadness and anxiety are the most common emotional states associated with depression, though anger and irritability are also commonly found in depressed individuals.   Depression affects other areas of our mental and physical life beyond our emotions. Depressed individuals typically experience changes in their thinking, with difficulty concentrating or focusing, and a lack of cognitive flexibility.   Depressed individuals develop a kind of “tunnel vision” where their thoughts are rigidly and pervasively negative.   In many cases, suicidal thinking is present, driven by thoughts or feelings of hopelessness and despair.   A person with depression often feels physically drained, with low levels of energy, little or no motivation, and slowed movements.

Another feature of depression is what psychiatrists called “anhedonia”, which is the inability to experience pleasure or joy in activities that the person would typically enjoy.   Sleep is often disturbed, and the normal sleep-wake cycle is disrupted.    Changes in appetite are common, often with consequent weight loss or occasionally weight gain (in so-called “atypical depression”).   So we see that depression involves many mental and physical changes, and affects not just a person’s emotions, but also their physical health and their ability to think clearly and act in the world.

CWR:  Christians sometime think, or are tempted to think, that depression is a sign of spiritual failure or evidence of a lack of faith. What are the problems with, and dangers of, such perspectives?

Dr. Kheriaty:  The problem with this perspective is that it does not recognize that depression is a complex illness with many contributing factors.   While we acknowledge in  The Catholic Guide to Depression  that spiritual or moral factors can be among the causes, we also argue that there are many other factors that play a role in the development of depression, many of which are outside of the patient’s direct control — biological factors, genetic predispositions, familial and early attachment problems, interpersonal loss, traumatic experiences, early abuse, neglect, and so on.   If we attend only to the spiritual or moral factors, then we do the person a disservice by ignoring other important contributing elements that often play a significant role in depression.   With that said, the spiritual factors, and other behavioral factors within a patient’s control, should not be ignored either.   We wrote this book, in part, as a way to bring the medical, social, and biological sciences into dialogue with philosophy, theology, and Catholic spirituality, in order to gain a fuller and more comprehensive understanding of this complex affliction.   We hope that this multifaceted approach will help people more adequately address depression from all of these complementary perspectives.

Msgr. Cihak:  I would completely agree. I think perhaps sometimes in our desire to get to the bottom of things, we can tend to oversimplify the situation. As Dr. Kheriaty said, there can be many contributing factors. The book reflects an intentionally Catholic approach by integrating the truths of medicine, philosophy and faith. We should keep the whole in mind as well as the deep connection between the body and the soul. In our respective vocations, we have both encountered people suffering from depression who actually manifest a strong faith, which they themselves might not be able to see, but which has been helping them to keep going in the tough times. That being said, we attempt to demonstrate in the book that our Faith has profound things to say about depression, its deepest theological origins, its redemption by Jesus Christ and its transformation in His Church.

CWR:  Are psychiatry and Christian faith in opposition to one another? If not, how can Christians discern between the benefits of psychiatry and problematic theories, for example, Freudian or Jungian accounts of religious belief and human relationships?

Msgr. Cihak:  Put simply, no. Since all truth has its ultimate origin in God, the Church has always taught that the truths of faith and the truths of reason can never contradict each other. On this point, we can appeal to giants such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure as well as the various pronouncements of the Magisterium such as Bl. John Paul II’s  Fides et Ratio. Because of this common divine origin, we can say that all truths have an intrinsic unity; truth is symphonic. Put one truth next to another and they resonate with each other. Sound medical or psychological science, and Christian faith rightly understood and interpreted, are not and never have been in opposition. We see our task as Catholic thinkers to build bridges between these sciences, always maintaining their proper competencies and autonomy, and to search out these harmonies, confident that they are already there to be discovered.

Dr. Kheriaty:  We should add, however, that at various points in the history of psychiatry, some psychiatrists have ventured beyond what medical science can legitimately claim, and have made anti-religious claims in the name of psychiatry, or masquerading under the banner of “science”.   For example, the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, famously claimed that religious belief was psychologically unhealthy — indeed, he called religion the “universal obsessive neurosis of mankind”.   But this claim had nothing to do with actual empirical research; it instead reflected Freud’s own personal bias against religion.   The elements of his theory upon which this claim supposedly relied were never scientific; that is, they could not be subjected to scientific measurement or empirical proof.   The fact is that more recent evidence from a large body of medical and scientific research has shown that for most people, religious and spiritual practices (like meditative prayer, attending church regularly, and participating in communal worship) actually have positive benefits on a person’s mental and physical health, including reducing the risk of depression and helping patients to recover more quickly from depressive episodes.

Our book is one attempt to help readers thoughtfully discern between the legitimate benefits of psychiatry and problematic theories that have sometimes been put forward in the name of psychiatry or psychology.   There are other Catholic writers, Paul Vitz for example, who have addressed these issues in some of their writings as well.   Certainly there is more work that needs to be done in this area by people that have expertise in both the medical and psychological sciences and in philosophical anthropology and spiritual theology.   We need ongoing academic research and dialogue here, as well as people who can “translate” this intellectual work into writing that is accessible to a lay audience.   We hope that our book can make a contribution to this dialogue.   We also hope that it will serve as a user-friendly and practical guide for people suffering from depression, as well as for therapists, clergy, spiritual directors, and family members or friends who are trying to help a loved one with depression.

CWR:  Bl. John Paul II said (as you quote), “Depression is always a spiritual trial.” What should Christians know about the relationship between depression and the spiritual life? How is the “dark night of soul” different from various forms of depression?

Dr. Kheriaty:  Depression certainly affects our spiritual life, and our spiritual life is central to helping us prevent or recover from depression. Depression is indeed a spiritual trial because it wounds us so deeply — you could say that it is an affliction not just of the body but also of the soul.   Depression can make prayer feel impossibly hard (though prayer is always possible, even when affective consolations are absent, even when we are assailed by dryness or distraction). We can know, with certainty and confidence, that God is our loving Father, that he is close to us and that he sustains us, even through painful trials and periods of suffering in this life.   We know also, in faith, that our suffering is not pointless, but can be redemptive when united to the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

Msgr. Cihak:  Although depression can sometimes resemble on the surface other spiritual or moral states, like spiritual lukewarmness or acedia on one hand, or the dark nights of the senses and of the spirit described by St. John of the Cross on the other, we argue in the book that it is very important to distinguish carefully between depression and these states because these states mean different things. In the case of lukewarmness or acedia, it is a negative, bad trend in the spiritual life involving moral fault which results in weakening one’s movement toward the Lord. The dark nights are actually positive, good, grace-filled movements in the spiritual life bringing one into deeper intimacy with the Lord.

Dr. Kheriaty:  Yes, exactly.   With careful and prudent discernment, these states of mind and soul can be distinguished.   For example, the dark night is typically not accompanied by the physical or bodily symptoms of depression, like sleep disturbances, appetite changes, or changes in one’s level of physical energy.   These distinctions can be made by consultation with a prudent spiritual director, ideally in conjunction with and communication with a sensitive psychiatric or medical assessment when symptoms of depression are present.   We describe these various states and distinguish them in some detail in  The Catholic Guide to Depression; however, it’s also important to recognize that sometimes these states can appear together, so clean distinctions are often difficult in practice.   Depression can go hand-in-hand with acedia or spiritual lukewarmness; it may be sustained by behaviors that, wittingly or unwittingly, the afflicted person is engaging in, and which call for repentance and reform.

CWR:  What are some reasons for people committing suicide? What are some of the challenges faced in dealing with those struggling with suicidal tendencies and impulses?

Msgr. Cihak:  I think the first thing we must say is that suicide is awful. I think one of the more powerful parts of the book is Dr. Kheriaty’s discussion of one such tragedy. God is the sovereign Master of life. We are the stewards, not owners, of the life entrusted to us by Him. Suicide contradicts the natural human inclination to live, which is placed in us by the good God. So suicide is gravely contrary to the just love of self, love of neighbor and love of God. However, though it is always wrong, the Church teaches that conditions such as grave psychological disturbances, anguish, grave fear of hardship, or suffering can diminish one’s responsibility in committing suicide (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2280-2283).

Dr. Kheriaty:  The reasons for a person’s suicide often remain a mystery, to a large extent.   Research on suicide suggests that it is typically an ambivalent and impulsive act.   The person’s rationality may be impaired by a serious mental illness, like depression or psychosis.   Often drug or alcohol abuse catalyze a suicide attempt, by making a vulnerable individual more impulsive and impairing his judgment.   Depression plays a central role in a majority of suicides, which is one of the chief reasons why we should recognize and treat depression early on in the course of the episode.   A central psychological theme of most suicidal individuals is a profound sense of hopelessness.   This is one of the reasons, as research has demonstrated, that Christian faith can significantly lower the risk of suicide: our faith raises our sites to a glorious future, beyond the vicissitudes of this life; in faith, we have hope for eternal life with God.   Faith, hope, and love can therefore help us endure situations in this life that might otherwise feel intolerable.

Suicide is, tragically, all too common.   It is now the second leading cause of death among college students, and the third leading cause of death among young people age 15 — 24.   Many family members and friends struggle for the rest of their lives with a sense of guilt and self-blame after the death of a loved one by suicide, wondering what they might have done to prevent it.   In my professional experience, some suicides can be prevented, and we should always do whatever we can to lower a person’s risk of suicide. That being said, there are some suicidal individuals who are very difficult to assist.   In these instances, we place these individuals prayerfully in the hands of God, as theCatechism  states with pastoral sensitivity: “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives.   By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.   The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (2283).   And so should we.

CWR:  What are some of the myths or misnomers regarding psychotherapy? And what basis exists for a Christian approach to psychotherapy?

Dr. Kheriaty:  It seems in recent decades that the psychotherapist’s office has replaced the confessional in the Western world.   While it is true that the confession lines are all too short, and most of us, including those suffering from depression, would benefit from receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation more frequently, it is also true that the confessional is not meant to cure psychological disorders like depression.   Blessed John Paul II said as much in an address to psychiatrists when he said that the confessional is not and cannot be an alternative to the psychoanalyst or psychotherapist’s office, nor can one expect the Sacrament of Penance to heal truly pathological conditions.   He went on to say that the confessor, though he is a healer of souls, is not a physician or a healer in the technical sense of the term. In fact, if the condition of the penitent seems to require medical care, the confessor should not deal with the matter himself, but should send the penitent to competent and honest professionals.

The relationship between psychotherapy and the Sacrament of Confession once again points to the need for constructive dialogue between religion and psychiatry, between priests who are instruments of Christ’s healing in the confessional, and psychiatrists and other therapists who are instruments of Christ’s healing in psychotherapy.   Neither one can or should try to replace the work of the other.   Psychotherapy has its limitations, and therapy alone cannot cure our deepest wounds, but it can play an important role in the lives of many people in need of psychological healing.

Msgr. Cihak:  Another way of stating this truth is that no amount of psychotherapy can take away sin or the guilt that comes from sin.   For this, we need conversion and Sacramental Confession.   On the other hand, while we never presume to limit the way in which God works, the grace of the Sacrament and the counsel given in the confessional (which by necessity is usually very brief), isn’t designed to work directly on the deep and habitual patterns of thinking and feeling that are the focus of treatment in psychotherapy. In fact, by respecting the competence and autonomy of each of these two ways of healing, they can come together to work powerfully in a person’s life. We made the deliberate choice to work together on this book–one a psychiatrist and the other a priest–precisely to show how this Catholic approach can be so effective.

Dr. Kheriaty:  I’ll add a few remarks regarding your question about a Christian basis for psychotherapy.   A Christian approach to psychotherapy does not just mean that the therapist quotes Bible verses when offering counsel (though of course, this may be helpful in some circumstances).   Rather, it informs the entire approach to the patient in therapy, which seeks to know and heal the person in a way consonant with the person’s nature as a human being.   All therapists can recognize some foundational truths about the human person, by the light of reason and sound science: that the human person is a substantial unity of body and soul; that he is rational (able to grasp truth), relational (made for relationships of love and self-giving), and free to pursue the good.   A Christian therapist, moreover, by the light of revelation, can also perceive that the human person is created good, though fallen and therefore wounded, but also redeemed and capable of being sanctified by God.   This is the philosophical and theological framework within which a Catholic therapist approaches his or her work.   These characteristics, unfortunately, are often denied or contradicted by many modern and overly narrow psychological theories that do not take into account the full truth about the human person, but instead attempt to reduce the person to one or another aspect only.   This may allow for partial truths and insights to emerge, but such a reductionistic approach ultimately prevents one from seeing the full and marvelous truth about the human person as created and redeemed by God.

Msgr. Cihak:  As people can see from what Dr. Kheriaty said, psychotherapy has everything to do with the big questions of human life, and therefore has everything to do with philosophy and theology. Psychotherapy is basically applying philosophical and theological insights to the way we think, feel and approach life. It is fundamentally a human science. Psychotherapy can benefit from the full truth of the human person that comes from the philosophical and theological tradition of the Church; and this same tradition can benefit from way these ideas actually come to bear on a person’s life in psychotherapy.

CWR:  What are some of the spiritual disorders that lead to depression?

Msgr. Cihak:  I think we could begin by observing that sin creates misery. Moral evil is not simply a bad idea; it harms and ruins peoples’ lives. The fundamental spiritual disorder is the choice of sin, which if left unchecked becomes habitual and begins to corrupt and even destroy that vital relationship with the Lord of life who desires our fulfillment and happiness. So being immersed in serious sin can certainly lead one to or hold one in a depressive state.

Dr. Kheriaty:  Precisely.   I will mention as well the sin of  despair, which is contrary to the virtue of hope, and commonly leads to depressive states.   Also  envy, which is a form of sadness at another person’s good, can also incline one toward depression.   Spiritual lukewarmness or coldness in relation to the things of God, and what George Weigel has called “metaphysical boredom”, a sort of spiritual ennui, can put a person at risk for depressive or anxious states.   Atheism, especially in the face of death, can lead ultimately to despair or a denial of reality.   A person faces his own mortality, yet lacks a transcendental hope or a spiritual reference point, will often resort to desperate attempts to control the timing and circumstances of his death, or to avoid suffering at all costs.   We see this in the push for physician-assisted suicide, for example.   The world is chock full of dead end paths that lead a person away from ultimate and lasting happiness.   Not all spiritual disorders lead to clinical depression, but all spiritual disorders ultimately lead toward unhappiness of one form or another.

CWR:  How can the saints and the sacraments bring freedom from anxiety and depression?

Msgr. Cihak:  The saints show the life of Christ to be real, concrete and possible.

Dr. Kheriaty:  Well said.   When we look to the saints for help with depression, it’s important to remember that every one of the saints was a person of flesh and blood, just like us.   Each of them had defects that they had to struggle to overcome.   Too many overly pious biographies of saints gloss over the messy aspects of their life and omit their defects or vulnerabilities, as though these people were sanctified from birth — as though they were made from fundamentally different “stuff” than the rest of us.   These well-intentioned books ought to be tossed in the trash bin.   The saints were real people.   They fought and won; they fought and lost.   But the thing that made them saints is that when they were defeated by their own weaknesses, they got up again, brushed themselves off, and with God’s grace, they went back into the fray to fight again.   Many of them suffered from depression or other severe mental illnesses at various points in their journey of life.   With God’s grace they finished the race, they kept the faith.   The saints can, through their friendship and their intercession, help us also to fight the battles against our own defects and weaknesses, to struggle and persevere on those days that feel messy, where nothing seems to be going right.   They know; they’ve been there too.   And from Heaven they are cheering us on to victory.

Msgr. Cihak:  If the saints make the divine life a real possibility and a concrete invitation to imitate, then the Sacraments are the primary way that the divine life is communicated to us. Jesus does nothing superfluous, and so the Sacraments that He instituted should be of paramount importance to the Christian. Immersing ourselves in the sacramental life, as well as cultivating a life of prayer and virtue, is what we call “the ordinary means of sanctification”. These means can be of great help in resisting and recovering from mental illness, including depression. It is important to remember that the primary aim of the graces of the Sacraments is to accomplish the work of salvation in us, but we ought not to overly compartmentalize the effects of grace given the unity of the human person. Grace can also accomplish physical and mental healing when it is part of God’s plan for us. In any case, the Lord’s grace is always good for us.

CWR:  Therapy, you note, cannot uncover the most important truths about the human person. What is the foundational truth that must be appropriated in order that we might be whole and healed?

Msgr. Cihak:  God desires our happiness. We were made in His very image and called to become like Him. We were created to live with the Blessed Trinity forever and to have our humanity become fully illuminated and enlivened by the divine life. This happens through Jesus Christ, the one and only Savior of the world. Because of sin, the path to that destiny is marked by the Cross. So every follower of Christ will have difficulties and struggles in this earthly life. Sometimes struggling against depression is part of one’s conformity to the Cross of Christ, which always leads to everlasting life. By union with Christ, in the end, He will form us by the power of His grace to be like Him, truly Godlike.

Dr. Kheriaty:  Here is another way of saying the same thing: the most important truth about us is truth of our divine filiation — the marvelous truth that  God is my loving Father.   In Christ the Son, my Savior, I am an adopted son or daughter of God.   Each day we should try to go deeper into the meaning of this truth for our lives.   The fact that God is my loving Father is not just one more fact among many; it is, so to speak, the lens through which I should view everything else in my life and in the world.   God loves me more intensely and more affectionately than all the fathers and mothers of this world love their children.   He is close to me, so very close, “more inward to me than I am to myself,” in St. Augustine’s mysterious formulation.   Not only did he create me, in love he sent his own Son to redeem me from sin, from death, and from despair.   Jesus Christ, who is our brother, our friend, our Savior and our God, says to us now what he said to his apostles the night before he died: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (Jn 16:20), and he assures us, “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage, for I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).

Credit to Catholic World Report Staff and CatholicExchange.

Finding Happiness Where You Least Expect It

By: Trent Beattie

happiness

Ask someone where happiness may be found,  and you’ll get a variety of answers. Many of them, however, are centered on attaining something currently out-of-reach. The thinking goes like this: “If only I could make more money,  then  I would be happy.” Or “If only I had a nice car,  then  I would be happy.” Or “If only I could win that tennis tournament trophy,  then  I would be happy.”

The problem is, there are people all around who have plenty of money, a nice car and maybe even an entire collection of tennis trophies, yet they are not happy. Material goods don’t bring happiness, and in fact, the more earnestly such goods are sought as if they would bring happiness, the more bitter the disappointment that follows.

Many years ago, Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote: “Every earthly ideal is lost  by being possessed.” After someone attains the object he was searching for, he no longer places happiness in it. He realizes that his unhappiness was not due to his lack of that material item. He got what he had wanted, and, despite a possible temporary kick, the general unhappiness remained.

Instead of deriving satisfaction from what we’ve achieved, we use our achievements as baselines from which to achieve more. Those making $30,000 per year want to make $40,000; those making $40,000 want to make $50,000, and those making $50,000 want to make $60,000. As the material rewards increase, the search for happiness does not abate, and it can in fact intensify.

If happiness cannot be found in material possessions, where can it be found? The answer is: we find happiness where we least expect it–in self-denial. This is not a piece of wisdom that is easily learned and lived, because it is so paradoxical. Who, without being told, would ever imagine that denying oneself would bring happiness?

Yet, we are told by Jesus Himself in Matthew 16:24 that “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it; and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.” Self-seeking ends in destruction of self, while self-denial (and seeking of God) culminates in happiness.

Self-denial being the route to happiness is possible, because,  as Sheen points out, denial of self prepares us for disappointments from others: “Contradictions from others will hurt us less when we have first contradicted ourselves. The hand that is calloused will not pain as much as a soft hand, on catching a hard ball. Contradictions can even be assimilated and used for further taming of our own errant impulses.”

Yes, even the disappointments of life can be used for out greater good, if we take them in the right way. What happens outside of us is not nearly as important as what happens inside of us, and the latter is oftentimes the only thing we have control over. Good can come even from the worst situations, by a mere act of the will.

Sheen reminded us of the great important of the will. He said, “There is one thing in the world that is definitely and absolutely your own, and that is you will. Health, power, life, and honor can all be snatched from you, but your will is irrevocably your own, even in Hell. Hence, nothing really matters in life, except what you do with your will.”

Happiness, then, is found by making decisions (acts of the will) to contradict our own errant impulses. When our own wills have been negated, we can live out the will of God here on earth and for eternity in Heaven. Complete happiness can only be attained after this life, but true happiness does start here by saying no to oneself.

Because I wanted to share this great paradox  with others, I chose passages from Venerable Sheen found in the new book  Finding True Happiness.  Sheen’s prescription for happiness is just as relevant to us today as it was decades ago when he first wrote it. In fact, it is even more imperative to get his message out now, because even fewer people know of its value. Finding happiness in self-denial and God-acceptance is a reality we all need to be taught or reminded of.

Credit to  Trent Beattie of CatholicExchange.

 

See & Imitate the Good in Others

By: Edward F. Garesche, SJ

friends

Whether you like it or not, you are sure to imitate other  people.  The impulse to follow the example of others is so strong in us that we obey it unconsciously. We begin as little children, copying those around us, and we imitate the bad in them as well as the good.

But now that you are older, you can choose what to imitate. On that choice depends, to a great degree, your character and your destiny. If you observe and imitate the good and choose to copy the good qualities of those with whom you associate, you will be, in the old comparison, like the bee that gathers honey from every flower and leaves the poison. On the other hand, if you do not choose carefully whom to imitate, you will collect bad qualities and accentuate the faults of your character.

To have a clear, alert, and fair mind, and to judge men’s good qualities rightly are of supreme importance, especially to the young. Do not be deceived by appearances; do not adopt wrong standards of conduct. Some people have showy, specious, false characters that make a good impression at first, but there is no substance to their personality. Others do not attract or impress us much at first, but they improve on acquaintance. They wear  well; they have solid characters, fine hearts, good minds, and consistent principles. Those are the ones to imitate. Many a young person has gone wrong and wrecked his whole life be ­cause he did not see truly and judge rightly whom to follow, but let himself be carried away by his first impressions, his feel ­ings, or his emotions.

All human beings have some good qualities, of course, and by observing their good qualities and imitating them, and rec ­ognizing their mistakes and avoiding them, you can steer your way safely through the difficult seas of human character.

It is told of one young man who made a supreme success in life, that he deliberately noted the good qualities of all those around him. He would jot down such notes as this: “I like A’s pleasant, kindly smile; I am going to try to imitate it. I like B’s everlasting willingness to oblige and serve other people, and I am going to try to make it my own. I like C’s custom of punctu ­ality and reliableness, and I am going to try to be the same my ­self. D’s fine mental culture appeals to me, and I want to be like him in that respect.” In this way, the young man deliber ­ately emulated, and made his own by constant practice, the very best that he saw around him.

No human character is quite ideal, but every one has some divine spark of goodness in it. By taking all the good characteristics of those around you, you can build up the ideal of a perfect character, just as, by taking all the unpleasant charac ­teristics of each one, you could create a sort of monster.

One advantage of this method of looking for the good qualities of others and imitating them is that it brings out by contrast your own imperfections. If you study the best in oth ­ers and compare that best with your own corresponding traits,  you will feel humble and be stirred up to be better. There is hardly anyone around you who does not surpass you in some ­thing. Yet, you have the divine gift of free will, by which you can continually practice and aspire after the good qualities that others possess, without envying them and without taking anything away from those whom you imitate. This is the very opposite of jealousy, that wicked and hideous monster of vice, which observes the good in other people and is saddened by it. Your keen observation must pick out the good qualities in oth ­ers not in order to envy them, but to rejoice in them and imi ­tate them. Thus, you will multiply their goodness and gain by it, by becoming like them in that particular characteristic in which they most excel.

Suppose you had the power of taking for yourself the best qualities you see in others. With what keen interest you would study each one’s character in order to choose the very best trait you would find there. You would weigh each one’s per ­sonal charm and try to find out on what it depended. Here you would see that it was the result of a spirit of great kindness and interest in others, and you would choose that characteristic. There you would see that it came chiefly from a finely cultured mind, and you would make that quality your own. Another man’s influence over others and power to do good to them has come, you would perceive, from his deep conscientiousness and faithfulness to duty, and you would make those qualities your own.

Now, in literal truth, you can obtain to a degree any one of these things, by wanting it earnestly enough and seeking it persistently enough. The measure of your right judgment in seeing clearly the best that is in others and your strong will in  disciplining yourself to acquire their particular excellences will be the measure of your success in getting the best that they possess.

When thus trying to acquire the best characteristics of man ­kind, you need not confine yourself to the people you actually know. Through the magnificent works of literature, you can associate with marvelous familiarity with the great minds, the noble hearts, and the shining characters of all history. Saints and heroes of hundreds of years offer you their knowledge and companionship on the shelves of libraries.

This is one of the greatest blessings of a love of reading: it brings us into communion with the choicest spirits of all the ages. Entering a library in a thoughtful and reverent mood, we can stretch forth our hands and bid this, that, and the other of the most excellent of mankind to speak to us. In great books, we find a revelation of human character in its excellence and nobility that our personal experiences could never offer us. The ordinary dealings of everyday life are sometimes like a game of hide-and-seek, in which men and women carefully conceal even their own excellences. They are reluctant to show the finest depths of their characters. But the wonder of good books is that they can faithfully reveal these hidden excellences of human nature and can acquaint us with the in ­ward workings of good hearts and cultured minds. Therefore, in our reading, we may choose our associates from the most ex ­cellent of mankind and, through our knowledge of them, learn to emulate their finest characteristics.

Then, too, in our wonderful times, when nations are drawn so much nearer, we can become acquainted with the intellec ­tual and spiritual nobility of all the nations. We should avoid  that excessive nationalism which sees no good in people of other nations. On the contrary, we should try to recognize in nationalities, as in individuals, the excellent qualities in which they excel. This is one reason among many why it is a fortu ­nate achievement for anyone to learn a new language. When ­ever you learn a new language, you think the thoughts of another race and acquaint yourself with new models to imi ­tate, new excellences to emulate.

Human nature, therefore, lies before you, like a beautiful garden, in which a variety of exquisite flowers delights the eye. Some are more beautiful or more fragrant than others, and through the exercise of your intelligence and your will, choos ­ing from each character its more beautiful blossoms, you can pick for yourself an exquisite bouquet of fine characteristics and make for yourself a personality that will bring color and fragrance into the lives of others.

Credit to  Edward F. Garesche, SJ &  CatholicExchange.  

 

Saintly Wisdom for Worriers

By: Judy Keane

worried man

A recent  Gallup  poll revealed  that most Americans, ages 18 to 65+, say that the U.S. economy is their greatest worry followed by the national debt crisis and sluggish job market.  While it is not surprising that economic issues are top of mind when it comes to what American’s are most worried about, I think we can also agree that, to one extent or another, we worry about many things during these challenging times.   We may worry about our relationships, retirement, our children, or our individual workplaces.   Perhaps we cling to worries of the past, or are anxious about the future? We may worry about paying the bills on time, making rent, our endless “to-do” list, health issues, and so many other things!

We can literally wear ourselves out with worry! It is now widely known that chronic and excessive worry can negatively impact the body leading to high anxiety, high blood pressure and higher risk of serious disease.   While it is unrealistic to eliminate stress and worry entirely from our lives, wouldn’t it be far more beneficial to dramatically reduce our worries and instead, like the Saints, increase our prayer and trust in God to the point of resting in his love and care for us?

Here we can confidently look to the saints and their wisdom in helping us to overcome our many worries. While there is no Church declared “patron saint of worriers”, one can certainly look to St. Padre Pio for some great advice.   In fact, the motto most often associated with Padre Pio is, “Pray, hope, and  don’t worry!” Padre Pio noted that, “Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer!” With unwavering faith in God’s providence, St. Pio never hesitated to abandon his past, present and future into God’s hands saying, “My past, O Lord, to Your mercy; my present, to Your love; my future to Your providence.”  We would be wise to imitate Padre Pio’s great faith, especially when we feel overwhelmed amid our worries and concerns.

St. Louis-Marie De Montfort also emphasizes that we focus on living in the present, placing our trust explicitly in God and Our Lady, “What God wants of you…is that you should live each day as it comes, like a bird in the trees, without worrying about tomorrow. Be at peace and trust in divine providence and the Blessed Virgin, and do not seek anything else but to please God and love Him.”

Soon to be canonized Blessed John Paul II also encourages us to find answers to our worries by spending time with Jesus in the Eucharist, “Confidently open your most intimate aspirations to the love of Christ who waits for you in the Eucharist. There you will receive the answer to all your worries and you will see with joy that the consistency of your life which he asks of you is the door to fulfill the noblest dreams of your youth.”

Passionist Founder Saint Paul of the Cross advises us, “When you notice that your heart is moving away even the tiniest bit from that inner peace that comes from the living faith-experience of the divine presence in the soul, stop and examine what the cause of this anxiety might be. Maybe it is some worry concerning your house or children, or some situation you cannot change at present. Bury it in God’s loving will.”

You may find that you are more of a “Martha” than a “Mary” when it comes to having many cares.  Like Martha, are you also “worried and upset about many things?” (Luke 10:41-42). American humorist Erma Bombeck once wrote that “worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere!”   The saints recognized this and with prayerful perseverance, abandoned their cares and entire selves to Christ, knowing that nothing happens without the Lord’s knowledge and permission.   St. Paul of the Cross knew such worrying was counterproductive saying, “Stop listening to your fears! God is your guide and your Father, Teacher, and Spouse. Abandon yourself into the divine bosom of His most holy good pleasure. Keep up your spiritual exercises and be faithful in prayer.”

So this Lent, why not pay special attention to spending less time worrying and instead make a conscience effort to prayerfully bring all of your worries to Jesus.  Such relinquishing prayer along with positive thinking and positive self-talk has the ability to transform your life.   According to physicians at Mayo Clinic, more positive thinking and less worrying can increase your life span, promote better psychological and physical well-being and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.   On a spiritual level, like the saints, let us refocus our hearts, minds and souls on our Divine Savior amid the worries and anxieties of our day, trusting that his providence and grace is sufficient for all our needs.   Once we begin the practice of bringing our cares to our Lord in prayer, the sooner we can begin to experience His peace in our lives and leave the energy zapping worry habit behind us.   It is also important to reflect back on our lives and remember how often the things we worried about never came to pass!

Let us also call to mind the actions, dispositions and words of the Saints who refused to let worry overcome them.   After all, there isn’t enough room in your mind and soul for both worry and faith — therefore you must decide which one will live there!    I close this article with a prayer for worriers like me to Saint Anthony and hope this Lent we can all worry less and pray more with the help of our friends, the Saints.

O Holy St. Anthony, your deep faith in Jesus Christ comforted your heart, especially during times of trial and distress.   Help me to grow in faith, so I may experience peace of mind and heart in my present needs (here mention).   Free me from undue anxiety, needless worry, and burdensome fears.   Grant me sure confidence; unfailing trust in God’s loving mercy and daily serenity.   Amen.  

Credit to  Judy Keane of CatholicExchange.