The Right Reaction to Sin

Death Comes to the Dinner Table‘ by Giovanni Martinelli

In the last blog, we established that having a sensitive nature is not a problem. It is how our sensitive nature responds to certain stimuli that may or may not be a problem. Judging whether or not our sensitive nature is reacting in the right way can be helped by assessing whether or not our reaction is aligned with the feelings of Our Lord.  Following on from this, this article examines the contrast between our reaction and Our Lord’s reaction to that most disturbing of horrors – sin.

            Societies of today, particularly in Western countries, are immersed in the most atrocious filth and garbage. We have sodomites as leaders of countries and we have just been through a month which takes ‘pride’ in the most scandalous, despicable and disordered of sinful behaviours, a sin which cries to Heaven for vengeance. We are deliberately surrounded by and exposed to talk and news of the most horrific scandals. Due to our innate sensitive nature, if we are not very careful, we gradually become soaked in this filth ourselves. The natural abhorrence towards certain vices, which God has planted in our souls, becomes diminished.  Surrounded by and immersed in the filth, we develop a numbed sensitivity to the horrors we are exposed to until eventually we either fail to react the way we should to these horrors or, due to our tendency toward evil, we start embracing and loving the filth itself. It is like death has arrived at our dinner table and we are not even shocked by his arrival as we are already half dead ourselves. Fr Ripperger highlights this desensitisation when speaking about fornication – ‘Culturally, in the past, fornication was looked down upon as a great moral and societal evil because of all the evil effects to the individual and society, one of which is the general erosion of morality within a society.  As fornication and sexual licence became more pervasive, the society began finding it difficult to judge fornication as morally evil and today it has virtually no evil connotation at all.  What started out as particular individual difficulties with respect to passions has affected, over the long haul, the universal judgement of society about the evil of fornication in general.’ (1). To combat this ‘erosion of morality’ and this societal acceptance of filth, there needs to be a re-educating about what sin really is coupled with a reawakening of the correct response to it. There is an ordered, healthy and sane reaction to sin.  This blog will highlight what this is and how we can cultivate this reaction in ourselves.

What Sin Is

            Sin is rebellious opposition to God’s will. It is either a turning away from God (venial sin) or the complete severing of friendship with God (mortal sin).  It is a ‘destructive, disruptive thing. It un-does, it uncreates.’ – Fr Steuart (2). It is a voluntary rejection of Him Who wills our eternal happiness. It is a rejection of Him who is Truth Himself. It is a prioritising of our self-love over reality and it can thus it has been described as the embracing of unreality – Fr Leen (3). ‘Every sin is a conscious disordered manifestation of self-centredness.’ – Fr Fahey (4). It a scorning of the Divine Plan for our souls:

‘When we commit sin we inconsiderately prefer a finite good to God, the infinite Good.  If our sin is mortal our minds despise God to that extent that they judge that finite good worthy of being our god, and as such decree it to be the final object of our existence. If our sin is venial our minds scorn the friendship of God to the extent we gratify our self-love…Sin is a revolt, an act of the basest contempt and the vilest ingratitude towards the God of infinite majesty and goodness; an act which renews the cause of the death of Jesus Christ…From a child of God and an heir to the kingdom of heaven it degrades him into a slave of Satan, and condemns him to the punishment of hell.’ – Fr Geiermann (5). 

            Sin is also a rejection of His infinite love. To capture some of the awfulness of sin vivid comparisons to physical sufferings were often used by wise Catholic priests/writers. As Fr Gerard (6) says:

Sin is like a disorder and confusion in the moral law. The human spirit is gifted with freedom. The fair and full use of that freedom, however, depends on the way in which it is adjusted to certain fore-ordained laws. The spirit, even as the body, is ruled by a legal system designed for its own goodness and beauty. It may fall in with its laws and act according to their guidance; or it may go against them and do violence to all their directive influence. The latter course is to bring on the leprosy of sin. To turn away from God the everlasting Good and to turn away from Him for the sake of some passing good is to throw order into chaos, to turn health into disease, and, instead of life without end, to produce death without end.

Or as Fr Leen (3) explains:

If we were to multiply that desolation [of the world wars] a thousand fold, and embrace the whole world, and countless numbers of possible worlds and conceive them swept by the same desolation, the picture of horror would be of appalling magnitude. Yet all that falls short – infinitely short – of the evil involved in one mortal sin. Because all that destruction of human work and human life is the ruin of something finite. But mortal sin is ‘the evil of God’, the ruin not of the Divine, but of something that borders on the Infinite…There is something Infinite in the evil of sin. Though committed by a finite creature, once committed it passes out of his control, it affronts God and has a quasi-infinite malice.’

But it is not just mortal sin but all sin that turns us away from Love:

‘Sin is un-love, and it is therefore dead and death-dealing like a corpse.  The least sin is a more devastating agent of dissolution and corruption to the soul of man than every plague in history has been to his body.  The Church does not use exaggeration when she says that no material disaster can be compared in magnitude of evil to the effect of one deliberate venial sin.’ – Fr Steuart (2).

All these descriptions are designed to give us a true understanding of sin and help us to see the horror that it is and the destruction it causes.

Along with the vivid descriptions above, we have Fr Faber’s (7) outline of Our Lord’s hatred and abhorrence of sin, keenly felt and experienced through His Sacred Humanity:

‘As the soul is to the body, so was the sensitiveness and sympathy of our Lord’s Soul to the delicacy and susceptibility of his Body. Even to us, with our common gift of faith, the word sin is a real terror. It expresses a whole world of darkness. It is the negation of all that is bright, hopeful, desirable, or attractive. The possibility of our sinning is a thought to make us tremble. The likelihood of our sinning is our deepest fear; and our actual sin is by far our most real unhappiness. Yet we can scarcely understand the shrinking heavenly-mindedness which caused saints to fade away at the bare mention of the name of sin. Such a fact is an index to us of sublimities of love and of union with God which are to us little better than terms of mystical theology, respectfully believed in, but out of the range, not only of our experience, but of our comprehension also. How far then are we from being able to fathom our Lord’s horror of sin! The uncreated sanctity of his Divine Person had communicated to his Human Soul an unspeakable spotlessness, together with such a tenderness regarding the honour and purity of God as it is impossible for us to picture to ourselves, except in the most inadequate manner. If we might venture to think of disease as an emblem of a thing so holy, we might say that the wretched and unclean world was to our Lord’s shrinking Soul what the meridian beam of the sun would be to a wounded eye. It was something intolerable. It was a spiritual agony, seemingly unendurable for a moment, yet actually endured his whole life long.’

            Now, when we read the descriptions of sin from these Catholic priests above do we really feel what they are trying to tell us about the horror of sin? When we read Fr Faber’s description of Our Lord’s disgust at sin, do we begin to realise how non-reactive and indifferent we are to the sin that surrounds us? Do we really sense what sin actually is? Honest answers to these questions show us that we have become numb to the reality of sin. Our constant exposure to the filth and disorder of the world and our lack of understanding of the infinite goodness of God who is Love Himself has darkened our minds and dampened our natural abhorrence to certain vices.  Because we don’t understand the toxicity of sin, including venial sin, we start out on the slippery and almost imperceptible downward slope to mortal sin and eternal damnation. ‘It is simply a psychological law that repeated venial sin, committed with all due deliberation, must of necessity lessen in the soul the horror for sin and evil generally. It must deprive it of that delicacy of conscience which is the soul’s greatest safeguard. The removal of these safeguards makes the soul an easy prey to serious moral transgression.’ – Fr Vonier (8). Eventually, if we continue to slide into further sin, our conscience will become seared. A conscience barely reacting to the most heinous of sins severely reduces the chances of recovery from this disease, as Fr Meyer (9) explains,

‘Will they acquire again that delicacy of conscience which they have forfeited? Without a miracle of grace, such a change of heart seems impossible.  And who will dare look for a miracle in favour of those who have made themselves unworthy even of the ordinary aids of grace? It is possible, no doubt, because ‘with God are all things possible.’ But no one, certainly, that is in his sober senses, would stake his own salvation upon it.’

            So, let us be honest and acknowledge that we do not have the right idea or reaction to the horror that sin is. God cannot err nor sin as He is infinite Truth and Goodness. He has created us in His image so that we may know, honour, and love Him and, by doing so, we gain eternal happiness with Him in Heaven. He does not force us to accept His invitation as He has given us free will. We decide on the route we wish to take. By sinning, we scorn this most loving of invitations and, if we die unrepentant, we condemn ourselves to eternal misery. What madness to do so! Yet, this is the madness that many choose. Now, one of the keys for choosing the right path is developing the right understanding and reaction to sin. This involves a healthy dose of education about the reality of sin and the fortification of our minds in this reality, which is especially necessary in these times of moral depravity. We must detox our minds from the mires into which they have sunk. We must avoid frivolous relations with sin or light talk of it. The advice of Fr Leen (3) to missionary nuns applies equally to us today, as it is in our own countries where we are in daily contact with sin:

‘School yourselves never to speak lightly of what is mortal sin, of deeds which imply violation of God’s law. Never speak without horror of disregard for, or violation of, God’s law. That warning is not an idle one. You are going to a foreign country to combat sin; you will be brought up against it daily, and it could easily happen that your feelings could become blunted to the awfulness of sin. That is what happens to us priests if we do not stir up our faith often.

        Even here at home if you read of crimes in the newspapers, murders, sins of pride, perjury, etc., do not think lightly of it. Always remember that these things are mortal sins, and mortal sin is an appalling calamity, no matter by whom it is committed.’

            These efforts to avoid the contamination of sin require mortification of our curiosity, vigilance and perseverance but it is by these efforts that our happiness, even in this life, is increased rather than hindered, as Fr Faber (10) explains:

‘The soul of sadness is self-love. We are sad because we are weary of well-doing and of strict living.  The great secret of our cheerfulness was our anxiety and diligence to avoid venial sins, and our ingenious industry to root them out. We have now become negligent on that very point, and therefore we are sad. If indeed we still try, as much as we did before, to avoid actual venial sins, we have lost the courage to keep ourselves away from many pleasant times and places which we know to be to us occasions of venial sin. We content ourselves with an indistinct self-confidence that we shall not fall; and at once the light of God’s countenance becomes indistinct also, and the fountain of inward joy ceases to flow.’

            Most importantly, we need supernatural grace to give us the strength to combat and understand sin.  A sincere, humble, and well-prepared for confession is where this strength and understanding is to be found. ‘You will find a great alleviation of soul, you will find a great refreshment and above all you will receive that special grace of the Sacrament of Penance – a great strengthening against the evil tendencies in yourself, because you receive some of God’s own horror and aversion for sin and everything leading to it.’ – Fr Leen (3). It is here where Our Lord through His representative, the priest, provides the means for cleansing our souls. But, it is up to us to prepare for this cleansing.  Through the Sacrament of Penance we are offered the graces to die to self and live for God as Fr Leen (11) explains:

‘To live to God we must die to sin, and this death to sin cannot be achieved without its own passion. It was through the Cross that the world was redeemed – it remains that by the Cross and the Cross only, personally borne and endured, each individual enters fully into the redemption and is sanctified.  Self must die in order that God may reign in undisputed sway in us.’

So let us be horrified by the slightest sight and sound of sin. Let us rid our lives of sin and not look back on it with fondness or pleasure but instead remind ourselves how offensive it is to God.  ‘It behoves us to kindle our contrition and repentance as much as we possibly can, so that it may reach even to the very smallest appearance of sin. Thus it was that the Magdalen, when converted, so entirely lost all taste for her past sin and its pleasures, that she never again cast back one thought upon them; and David declared that he hated not only sin itself, but every path and way which led thereto.’ – St Francis de Sales (12). As Fr Geiermann (5) notes, ‘The spirit of compunction (‘the habitual grief of the soul arising from a constant remembrance of our own sinfulness’) prompts us to do violence to ourselves for the kingdom of heaven.’ Our weakness is always something we must keep in mind. And let us remember that, due to the effects of Original Sin, we ‘are more susceptible to occasions of sin than snow is to fire.’ – Fr Scupoli (13). 

This battle against sin is one we all must face and one, where only the strong, wise, humble, and persevering, will be victorious. Let us cultivate the right attitude and reaction to sin. Finally, ‘unless we keep the Christian ideal and the evil of sin vividly before our minds, they will gradually fade away, and, in proportion as they do, will they be replaced by worldly-mindedness and selfishness of heart.’ – Fr Geiermann (5). So let us keep the final goal of sanctity, the Christian ideal, and Heaven in our minds so that we will fly from all occasions of sin. And lest we feel overcome with the extent of our sinfulness and we fear that we are completely lost in the mire let us remember the mercy and goodness of Our Father who lovingly embraces the prodigal son on his return. As we run from sin let us run into the arms of Our Loving Father as:

The essence of Christian perfection consists in union with God by charity…In other words, charity is the force uniting man to God, and sin the force drawing him away.’ – Fr Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen

God bless you in your efforts to cultivate the right attitude and reaction to sin and by the grace of God, may this article be of some help in aiding you to do so.

References:

  1. Fr Ripperger, C. (2013). Introduction to the Science of Mental Health. Lincoln: Sensus Traditionis Press
  2. Fr Steuart, R. H. J. (1934). World Intangible. London: Longmans, Green & Co.
  3. Fr Leen, E. (1958). My Last Retreat. Cork: Mercier Press.
  4. Fr Fahey, D. (1945). The Mystical Body of Christ and the Reorganisation of Society. Palmdale, California: Christian Book Club of America.
  5. Fr Geiermann, P. (1914). The Narrow Way’. New York: Benziger Brothers. Available here: https://archive.org/details/narrowwaybriefcl00geie
  6. Fr Gerard, T. J. (1908). The Cords of Adam. Republished by SSPX Press, Kansas.
  7. Fr Faber, F. W. (republished, 1955). Bethlehem. Baltimore: John Murphy Co.
  8. Fr Vonier, A. (1913). The Human Soul and Its Relation to Other Spirits. London: B. Herder Books. Available here: https://archive.org/details/humansoulitsrela00voni
  9. Fr Meyer, R. J. (1906). Science of the Saints. St. Louis: B. Herder Books. Available here: https://archive.org/details/scienceofsaints01meyeuoft/page/n5/mode/2up
  10. Fr Faber, F. W. (republished, 1960). Growth in Holiness. London: Thomas Richardson & Son. Available here: https://archive.org/details/GrowthInHoliness/page/n7/mode/2up
  11. Fr Leen, E. (1944). In The Likeness of Christ. New York: Sheed & Ward. Available for online borrowing here: https://archive.org/details/inlikenessofchri0000leen/mode/2up
  12. St. Francis de Sales, (original 1600’s). The Devout Life. Copy available here: https://www.catholicspiritualdirection.org/devoutlife.pdf
  13. Fr Gabriel of St. Margaret Mary (1964). Divine Intimacy. New York: Desclee Co.

The Ignorant 19th Century Priest and The Enlightened 21st Century Editor


Catholic doctrine tells us that the primary duty of charity does not lie in the toleration of false ideas, however sincere they may be, not in theoretical or practical indifferent towards the errors and vices in which we see our brethren plunged, but in zeal for their intellectual and moral improvement as well as for their material well-being.‘ – Pope St. Pius X, ‘Letter of Pope St. Pius X to the French Bishops on the Sillon’

When it comes to psychological or emotional issues, such as depression, the world today likes to pretend it is more knowledgeable, enlightened and cultured than the ignorant fools of yesteryear. It forgets or rejects Catholic doctrine and guidance which provides answers to the perplexing and sorrowful difficulties people experience in this life. For this blog I have decided to imagine how a modern editor of a imaginary popular psychological magazine which offers ‘self-help’ tips might respond to an article on psychological advice offered for publication by a 19th century priest.  Let us imagine that he has just received the following article called ‘Means Against Sadness’, from ‘The Way of Interior Piece’, written by Fr De Lehen and published in English in 1888 (see endnote).  It has been submitted for publication in 2020. Here are the edits and comments I reasonably suspect this editor would make:  

Dear Fr De Lehen,

I appreciate the submission of your article, ‘Means Against Sadness’ to our magazine. You make some very reasonable and helpful points. However, I can not proceed with the publication of this article as it currently stands. It will require quite a substantial amount of editing before it is fit for publication in our magazine.   I have crossed out the words that really will not appeal to our modern readership and replaced them with more appropriate words. Please find these edits below:

Means Against Sadness:

‘Here are two rules[MM1]  suggestions that seem to be of the utmost importance here.  The first is that you make use of the natural means offered you by Providence[MM2]  your life circumstances, in order to shake off sadness. Do not overburden yourself with laborious occupation, spare your corporal[MM3]  physical and spiritual[MM4]  psychological strength; reserve for yourself some leisure hours in which to pray[MM5]  meditate, to read, and to enjoy good conversation. Cheer your soul[MM6]  mind with thoughts of eternal[MM7]  happiness, and shake off depression by spiritual and physical diversion taken in the Lord[MM8] .

Comments: [MM1]‘Rules’ is too strong a word; [MM2]Too many religious connotations; [MM3]People don’t use this language anymore;  [MM4]Too religious in its connotations, ‘psychological’ is better;  [MM5]Meditation is popular today, prayer not so much;  [MM6]Too religious; [MM7]Many of our readers don’t believe in life after death so this would put them off;  [MM8]Too religious

           Seek also a discreet and trusty friend[MM9]  counsellor to whom you can pour out your heart. To such a one disclose everything that is not the secret of another[MM10] . Perfect confidence enlarges and enlightens the mind. A sorrow long concealed oppresses the heart. Speak out, and you will discover that you have made the matter over which you are grieving much more serious than it really is. Nothing so quickly dispels gloom as the simplicity and humility with which, at the sacrifice of self-esteem[MM11]  you reveal discouragement and dejection, and seek light and consolation in the holy[MM12]  healthy communication that ought to exist between the children of God you and your counsellor. Confine yourself to those of your acquaintances whose conversation is cheerful and recreative. It is not necessary that your circle should be large, nor must you be too fastidious[MM13] fussy. Be ready to converse with all peaceable and reasonable people. Again, whenever you feel sadness creeping over you, read, work, or take a walk. Change occupation, that weariness may not attack you. In short, do whatever your frame of mind may suggest provided there is nothing sinful in it [MM14] it works

Comments: [MM9]There are lots of great professionals out there today and friends are not trained to manage psychological difficulties; [MM10]Detraction is not really a big deal anymore; [MM11] This does not make sense. Pride in oneself is a good thing!; [MM12]Again, too religious!; [MM13]Might be a bit too complex a term for our readers; [MM14]Let’s avoid this type of moralising!

If you feel that, in spite of these helps and rules suggestions, sadness asserts its reign, then follow the second rule suggestion: Endure patiently. Interior desolation carries the soul more speedily forward on the way of pure faith than all exterior exercises could do. [MM15] Challenges in life can help to make our minds stronger in the end. But do not let yourself be held back by it them. Do not indulge in relaxation which will aim at usurping possession of your interior[MM16] . Keep battling and stay focused. One step when in this state is always a giant stride, and is of more value than thousands when the soul is in consolation the mind is more peaceful. Despise your dejection and go on quietly, for this state of soul is more useful, more meritorious to you than gigantic, heroic strength and courage[MM17] , for ‘life isn’t waiting for the storm to pass…it’s learning to dance in the rain.’

Comments: [MM15]Too negative and too many religious connotations – soul and faith are both mentioned;  [MM16]What’s wrong with indulging in relaxation?;  [MM17]Soul mentioned again!

                   O how deceitful is that sensible courage that finds everything easy, undertakes all, suffers everything, and unhesitatingly attributes all to self! Ah, it nourishes self-esteem and confidence! It pleases the world; but to the soul it is a refined person[MM18] . Challenges and trials give us a sense of our weakness and our dependence on each other.  Society is delighted if we are productive, robotic-like workers or joyous consumers. It does not value the interior trials that we go through as only we or those closest to us have a sense of the battles we have to face.

Comments: [MM18]Too negative in the language used and too much focus on the soul. It is better to talk about societal problems and interior struggles as, while we avoid mentioning the soul, this still appeals to our readership. 

                   A soul that, like Christ in the Garden of Olives, is sorrowful unto death, and with her crucified Lord, cries out: ‘My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken me? (Mark 15:34) is much more purified, much better fortified in humility than the valiant one who rejoices in peace over the fruits of her virtues.’[MM19]  Let us look to heroes from the past, such as Nelson Mandela who faced many battles but courageously overcame any fears to become the great leader that he was. Keep battling and as Mandela said, ‘The greatest glory in living is not in falling, but in rising every time we fall.’

Comments: [MM19]Christ is too divisive a figure.  Mandela appeals to a bigger audience and he is less divisive. (This is fine just as long as we don’t mention him being the leader of the terrorist Communist group, UmKhonto we Sizwe, (MK) that killed innocent women and children).

So, Fr De Lehen, if you can just change the article to reflect the edits suggested then your article would very likely be suitable for publication.  You will have noted my explanation for the edits above but my overall reason is that many people do not want to know about religion and Christ is an especially divisive figure today. However, they still need advice on how to deal with sadness. Now, no doubt, you have some good common-sense advice to offer, but psychological services have moved on from direct talk about the soul or religion. In these more enlightened times, we understand more about psychological problems than in the 19th century. Whilst admittedly your times did not have near as many suicides or the levels of addiction to prescription and illegal drugs compared to our times I am sure if you were able to see the progress we have made in our knowledge in the 21st century and the amount of psychological services we now have for all age categories and conditions then you would understand why I cannot accept the article as it is.  If you can polish it up as I have shown above then it would appeal to our readership which is far more educated, cultured, and enlightened than the credulous and ignorant audience you were writing to.  May the advice I share also help you to see things more clearly as well. 

Sincerely,

Editor of ‘Psychology Matters 2020’ (PhD)

Endnote:

Fr De Lehen’s excellent advice from ‘The Way of Interior Peace’, published in 1888 by Benzinger Brothers (without the ‘progressive’ edits):

Means Against Sadness:

‘Here are two rules that seem to be of the utmost importance here.  The first is that you make use of the natural means offered you by Providence, in order to shake off sadness. Do not overburden yourself with laborious occupation, spare your corporal and spiritual strength; reserve for yourself some leisure hours in which to pray, to read, and to enjoy good conversation. Cheer your soul with thoughts of eternal happiness, and shake off depression by spiritual and physical diversion taken in the Lord.

           Seek also a discreet and trusty friend to whom you can pour out your heart. To such a one disclose everything that is not the secret of another. Perfect confidence enlarges and enlightens the mind. A sorrow long concealed oppresses the heart. Speak out, and you will discover that you have made the matter over which you are grieving much more serious than it really is. Nothing so quickly dispels gloom as the simplicity and humility with which, at the sacrifice of self-esteem you reveal discouragement and dejection, and seek light and consolation in the holy communication that ought to exist between the children of God. Confine yourself to those of your acquaintances whose conversation is cheerful and recreative. It is not necessary that your circle should be large, nor must you be too fastidious. Be ready to converse with all peaceable and reasonable people. Again, whenever you feel sadness creeping over you, read, work, or take a walk. Change occupation, that weariness may not attack you. In short, do whatever your frame of mind may suggest provided there is nothing sinful in it.  If you feel that, in spite of these helps and rules, sadness asserts its reign, then follow the second rule: Endure patiently. Interior desolation carries the soul more speedily forward on the way of pure faith than all exterior exercises could do. But do not let yourself be held back by it. Do not indulge in relaxation which will aim at usurping possession of your interior. One step when in this state is always a giant stride, and is of more value than thousands when the soul is in consolation. Despise your dejection and go on quietly, for this state of soul is more useful, more meritorious to you than gigantic, heroic strength and courage.

                   O how deceitful is that sensible courage that finds everything easy, undertakes all, suffers everything, and unhesitatingly attributes all to self! Ah, it nourishes self-esteem and confidence! It pleases the world; but to the soul it is a refined person.

                  A soul that, like Christ in the Garden of Olives, is sorrowful unto death, and with her crucified Lord, cries out: ‘My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken me? (Mark 15:34) is much more purified, much better fortified in humility than the valiant one who rejoices in peace over the fruits of her virtues.’ – p. 250-1

A Light on Sorrow/Understanding Sadness

Sorrow that is in congruity with reason is morally good’ – Fr Ripperger, ‘Introduction to the Science of Mental Health’

At moments in our lives sorrow and sadness can hit us hard.  Things seem pretty black. We feel like we can not go on and our zeal for life is completely drained from us.  This usually lasts a short time and as time passes, we get back to a place where colour comes back into life and we are able to face the battle again.  At times, sorrow is a perfectly natural and reasonable response to events or situations in our life, e.g. bereavement, relationship difficulties. It is indication that we have lost or are potentially losing someone or something in our life that we love, cherish or take delight in.  As long as these attachments to creatures and things are not inordinate and do not detract from or replace love of God, then this sorrow is reasonable.  This is shown by the fact that while some painful and poignant memories may remain and come into our mind from time to time, feelings of sorrow do not cripple us or lead us to neglect our spiritual and temporal duties.  Sorrow is a natural result of losing or potentially losing those things and people that we love, i.e. things and people we believe to be good or who we believe to be important for our ultimate happiness.  

The spouse of Christ who longs to become perfect must begin with her own self.  She must put aside, forget everything else, and enter into the secrecy of her own heart.  When she has done this, let her sift narrowly all her weaknesses, habits, affections, actions and sins.  She must weigh everything carefully, and make a thorough examination of past and present.  Should she discover even the least imperfection, let her weep in the bitterness of her heart.’ – St Bonaventure, ‘Holiness of Life’

Sorrow can also stem from us damaging or severing our relationship with God who is the ultimate good.  After having engaged in a sinful/immoral/unnatural act, sorrow, in the form of guilt, can come to the surface. This is particularly true of those with more sensitive consciences, i.e. those who have not numbed their consciences by persistent immoral lifestyles.  The sorrow that rises as a result of transgressing the natural and divine law is a wonderful gift as it can indicate to us that we are going astray and losing our connection with the ultimate source of goodness. ‘If one does not have sorrow, one’s intellect is not conforming to the truth and the will is not following right order, which is to sorrow for evil done.  In effect, by not sorrowing for one’s sin, one is not in contact with reality. Sin itself is a denial of reality or a stepping away from reality by the intellect and will, since one chooses something under the aspect of the good when, in reality, it is evil and harmful to oneself.’ – Fr Ripperger (‘Introduction to the Science of Mental Health’).  Feelings of sorrow can give us reason to stop, think and reflect about the road we are on.  It can help lead us back to God and the path to true happiness. It can call us to Christian perfection. 

Now, one must be careful to apply reason when examining why one is feeling sorrowful as unreasonable sorrow can be a way of dragging oneself further from God rather than lifting one back towards Him.  This can result in scrupulosity, despair and anxiety.  This is particularly dangerous amongst those individuals who have a melancholic temperament.  As people with this temperament tend to feel deeply, be very analytical and lean towards a pessimistic outlook on life, sorrow can have a particularly disabling effect on them.  However, sorrow, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing and, if it helps to guide us back to the truth then it is positive.  This is where people with a melancholic temperament are really beneficial to society as, oftentimes, they are the first to point out the reality of a truely terrible or dangerous situation – they can be likened to the solider on the lookout post letting his squadron know about the incoming enemy or the canary in the mine whose behaviour alerts miners of the danger of a gas leak before they are even aware of it themselves.  So, without glorifying sorrow and taking note of its dangers and entrapments, we can note that sorrow has its benefits when it leads us to the truth.  We can also note that those with a melancholic temperament can play a useful role in families, communities and society when they highlight the real dangers before anyone else. 

Modern day solutions to sorrow:

Sorrow has its function and its place, as noted above. However, it usually has more negative than positive or useful effects as St Francis de Sales points out (see note and link below).  Therefore, it is natural that society tries to find ways of treating and managing sorrow. There are all sorts of solutions proposed for treating the sorrow and sadness people experience today. Some of these are reasonable and can be beneficial, e.g. talking with a virtuous friend, distracting oneself briefly from one’s care with exercise/music/entertainment, changing one’s diet, finding a new job, developing a routine.  There is nothing wrong with these approaches*. At times, we might even need chemical help to settle our nerves and relax, e.g. a certain medication for a short period of time or a glass of wine/beer to take the edge off.  These approaches, however, should not be used excessively and they most definitely should not be used to distract or take us away from spiritual solutions. 

Men and women are not cured of all sorrow, of interior disappointment and the perverse will by legislation and classes and physical and social well-being. Othello may be a prince, but he is subject to jealousy and mad fits, and the longing of Psyche is not contented with mortal love.’ Fr M C D’Arcy, ‘Mirage and Truth’

In our current times where the majority of people, especially psychological professionals, have a misunderstanding of what a human being is and how the mind operates, the role of one’s conscience in sorrow is dismissed or there are attempts to explain it in more ‘modern’ and ‘progressive’ ways.  For example, instead of psychologists seeing how offensive abortion is to God, how killing one’s baby goes against the natural instincts of a mother to protect her young, and acknowledging the severe impact this has on women’s psychological health, the Psychological Society of Ireland explains away the guilt or sorrow a mother experiences post-abortion as societal judgement and lack of acceptance of abortion, i.e. society has made women who kill their babies feel guilty or sorrowful rather than this being an inevitable consequence of an unnatural and barbaric act.  This approach causes untold damage to women and society in general.  As Fr D’Arcy notes above, no amount of change in legislation or modern sociological theories about well-being will cure the guilt these women experience as they are missing what they truly need for healing . The sorrow these women experience is an opportunity to reconcile themselves with God but instead our modern services encourage women to carry on in their destructive path.  Out of ignorance or out of fear of hurting feelings the truth is passed over.  This is a disastrous result as Bishop Fulton Sheen notes, ‘If there is anything morbid in the sinner’s responsible admission of a violent relationship with Divine Love, this is a jovial sanity compared with the real and terrible morbidity which comes to those who are sick and who refuse to admit their illness.’ (‘Peace of Soul’)

Another modern-day approach that is very popular today is the numbing of emotions.  This can be achieved through alcohol or drugs, particularly prescription drugs.  Now, as I said above, there may be times when biological or chemical interventions may be necessary to ‘take the edge off’ but if used, they should be used very carefully and prudently. (This is particularly true of prescription drugs today and I would recommend doing some research such as checking out the website, www.rxisk.org, or listening to talks by Prof Peter Gotzsche before deciding on whether psychotropic drugs are a good option for you). The virtue of prudence when making decisions about psychological remedies is essential today as those in power have drifted further and further away from an accurate understanding of human beings and the meaning of life.  While God and the remedies He offers for souls in distress are kicked out, e.g. Confession and penance, the devil and his minions offer their ‘compassionate’ and ‘progressive’ solutions to replace what they lambast as the ‘unscientific’ and ‘superstitious’ remedies of God.  These ‘advanced’ solutions are marketed very cunningly and deceitfully by pharmaceutical companies who are driven by profits and have become slaves to Mammon having failed to heed the warnings of St Paul, ‘For the desire of money is the root of all evils; which some coveting have erred from the faith, and have entangled themselves in many sorrows.’ (1 Tim 6:10).  These pharmacological solutions are then pushed on people in distress by medical professionals, who are, most likely, duped by the propaganda as well.  Most of these psychotropic drugs cause emotional numbing, are incredibly addictive, some cause brain shrinkage and the scientific evidence shows that they increase psychological issues (Note: I have also spoken about this in recent talks here and I have shown scientific evidence for the psychological benefits of Catholicism here).  Numbing emotions, creating dependency on drugs and shrinking people’s brains are not solutions to sorrow yet this is what is being cleverly and deceitfully offered, in the guise of science, to people today. 

Now I am glad: not because you were made sorrowful; but because you were made sorrowful unto penance. For you were made sorrowful according to God, that you might suffer damage by us in nothing. For the sorrow that is according to God worketh penance, steadfast unto salvation; but the sorrow of the world worketh death.’ (2 Cor 7: 9-10)

Now, it is clear that people are struggling with sorrow in our world today. People are looking for solutions, but today’s modern approaches are part of the problem not the solution.  These approaches are built on ‘the sorrow of the world’ and its false understandings of man and not on ‘the sorrow that is according to God’.  Instead of taking the risk of being deceived, drugged up or duped by modern psychological services today, let us go back to some salutary advice from the likes of St Francis de Sales.  It is far more beneficial to our sanity and, more importantly, our salvation, to listen to the wise advice of the saints, such as St Paul and St Francis de Sales, who recognised the reality of life, rather than listening to anything you will find in modern psychological or sociological ramblings that promise a smooth path to the Garden of Eden by trying to bypass and forget about the Hill of Calvary.

It is strange that many who call themselves followers of Christ are so unwilling to walk after the manner of His life and take His yoke upon them.  They are scandalised by suffering and invent alternative theories of Christianity to that which their Founder taught again and again.  They seem to be rationalising and not reasoning, to be converting what is a natural fear of the hard into a denial of its place in the Christian dispensation; and the result is that they see nettles everywhere and hate the rose because of the thorn.’ – Fr M C D’Arcy ‘Mirage and Truth

Human beings are complex, life is hard and there are many things that can trigger sorrow, but to try to take God and spiritual causes out of consideration only leads to absolute disaster. One needs to get back to common sense, (accurate) science and the Catholic Faith if one is going to figure out how to traverse this valley of tears and get back on the straight and narrow path. The truth, no matter how unpalatable it may initially seem, is necessary for a happy life and eternal happiness.  One may be tempted to reject the rose because of the thorns.  But once the rose is accepted and the truth is assented to, it is then charity and the love of Truth Himself that lifts and transforms hearts, minds and souls as Abbot Jean-Baptiste Chautard explains in his brilliant book, ‘The Soul of the Apostolate’, ‘Only a burning and unchangeable love is capable of filling a whole life with sunlight, for it is love that possesses the secret of gladdening the heart even in the midst of great sorrows and crushing fatigue.’ We must humble ourselves and check that we have a firm grasp of the truth.  We must not run from the truth but face it bravely.  We must then check our own hearts, see what resides there and pray for and cultivate the love of God/Truth in it so we can overcome the sorrows, which will inevitably come our way, and continue on the road to true happiness.  

END

Note: Here is a link to St Francis de Sales’ classic book, ‘Introduction to the Devout Life’ – https://ccel.org/ccel/desales/devout_life/devout_life. He dedicates chapter 12 to ‘Sorrow/Spiritual Sadness’ and chapter 13 explains ‘The Role of Feelings in the Spiritual Life’.  I would highly recommend this and, especially, these two chapters to anyone or anyone you know experiencing sorrow.

* As long as these activities are not an occasion of sin, e.g. certain types of music, exercise and entertainment.