Category Archives: Suffering

Why do we suffer?

-by Matt Nelson

Since 1670, when they were first published, Blaise Pascal’s Pensées (Thoughts) have proven to be extraordinarily influential upon the minds of Christians and non-Christians alike. Avery Dulles noted, “Few if any apologetical works have brought so many unbelievers on the way to faith.”

One might even argue that these scribbled thoughts of a French philosopher and mathematician have grown in importance over time. Peter Kreeft says they are “for today”—that, whereas most modern works of Christian apologetics are written as though we were still living in a Christian culture, the Pensées speak “to modern pagans, not to medieval Christians.” And Pope Francis praised Pascal’s “brilliant and inquisitive mind” just this past year.

What is the greatest good for man? What is every human being really looking for? Most people will readily agree with Aristotle that it is happiness. Pascal agrees: “All men seek happiness. There are no exceptions.”

The trouble is that we tend not to get what we want in this life—at least not entirely. Here enters the universal reality of human suffering. We are left unfulfilled in this life, and therefore we suffer.

The loss and deprivation of happiness are normative experiences for all human beings. “We seek happiness and find only wretchedness and death,” writes Pascal. This is where his approach is so strong. It begins with the most obvious spiritual fact about humanity that not even skeptics can deny, what Chesterton called the only part of Christian theology that can really be proven: the damaged soul of man.

Every man knows through his own interior experience that he is “wretched,” Pascal continues, “but he is truly great because he knows it.” Man knows he is wretched because he possesses an intellect; therefore, he is also able to do something intelligent about it. Man’s greatness resides in his power to change his situation.

Because Pascal understood the fundamental human condition of suffering, he had wise insight into the psychological barriers involved with conversion. One of those barriers, he says, is fear: “Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true.” The eminent atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel gives credence to this observation:

I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

What could be so scary about Christianity? One plausible answer might be the obligations, religious and moral, that logically follow if Jesus is God. Perhaps non-believers recognize that they would need to change, radically, if Christianity turned out to be true. And change tends to involve suffering in direct proportion.

When a potential Christian fixates on the cost of discipleship—on the cross to be borne—conversion to Christianity seems utterly painful and undesirable. It is only once he sees clearly what is to be won (everything, according to Pascal) that the suffering of change and giving up short-term desires appear worthwhile. Even those who are not altogether convinced of Christianity may come to see that the eternal attainment of the greatest Good is perhaps worth the wager.

One of the reasons my fellow countryman Jordan Peterson, a University of Toronto psychologist, has influenced such a wide swath of people—Catholics and Protestants, believers and non-believers, men and women—is that he speaks hard truths about human nature with genuine conviction. Like Pascal, he doesn’t sugarcoat the indiscriminate reality of man’s wretchedness.

Like Pascal, Peterson only begins with suffering. Then he moves to commonsense solutions—not for eliminating suffering, but for living a meaningful life despite it. Peterson’s solutions are essentially practical in nature. Pascal, though, moves beyond the merely practical. His ultimate remedy for sin and suffering is not a mere strategy or archetypal interpretation of reality, but a real, personal Savior who is the incarnation of the all-loving God:

Not only do we only know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ; we only know life and death through Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ we cannot know the meaning of our life or our death, of God or of ourselves.

Teachers like Peterson offer hope for this life, and that is good and necessary, but we desire an end to our sin and suffering, indeed victory over death itself—not mere coping skills. Christ alone offers the ultimate, all-sufficient solution.

The overall form of Pascal’s approach is nothing new. It is the same general plan of evangelization used by the apostles 2,000 years ago, when they set the world ablaze. It is essentially the program laid out in St. Paul’s epistles: all men are sinners (Rom 3:23); if Christ has not been raised, then we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17); but Christ has been raised (1 Cor. 15:20)! Therefore, whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life (John 3:16).

Pascal knew that faith working in love was the only way to the truest experience of happiness in this life; that a person can have all the coping strategies in the world, but if he has not uncompromising love for God and man, he has nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3, Gal. 5:6). Life is suffering, yes. But in the life to come there awaits eternal bliss that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived of (1 Cor. 2:9). For that reason, the Christian life is not marred by misery. It shines with joyful expectation.”

Love & His Joy, only He can give,

Suicide – Jn 11:25

-by Casey Chalk

“A new federal suicide prevention hotline has witnessed a significant increase in calls and texts, with 154,585 more calls, texts, and chat messages in November 2022 compared to the old national lifeline in November 2021, according to the Associated Press. This comes at a time when depression ratesoverdose deaths, and suicide rates have all exploded.

When people think about Catholicism and suicide, it is often through lenses informed less by magisterial teaching and more by popular portrayals of how the Church has responded to those who take their own lives. I remember, for example, once seeing a cinematic portrayal of Vlad the Impaler (later mythologized into Dracula) that showed his first wife killing herself. Vlad’s realization that the woman cannot be buried in consecrated ground and that eternal damnation is her punishment drives him into darkness and evil. Alternatively, today, priests have been disciplined for even suggesting that hell might be the result of death by suicide, and many presume that all those who commit it must be mentally ill and those incapable of mortal sin.

Catholics (and all Americans) need a more coherent understanding of suicide—one that not only addresses the above misconceptions, but also takes full account of the human person and better protects those who are most vulnerable to being persuaded that death is the only or the best option for themselves. Thankfully, Catholic teaching offers quite a bit of clarity on the topic of suicide, prioritizing our dignity as persons, as well as our inescapable indebtedness to the divine—the “God factor,” as it were.

To properly contextualize this conversation, we need to start with God. For it is to God, not ourselves, that we owe our lives. Human life—pace atheists or transhumanists—is not solely our own, nor some sort of material product, to do with as we see fit. Yes, we possess freedom via our will. But our lives originate in the divine—indeed, even our wills are in certain senses circumscribed, because we are free to choose not anything, but only those things that our corporeal, intellectual, physical, economic, historical, and geographic circumstances allow.

It is God Who created us and sustains us, at every moment of our lives, in His omnipotence and omnipresence. We are entirely His, whether we believe it and act like it or not. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,

everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of (2280).

That idea runs counter to our increasingly post-Christian culture, which elevates autonomy as the greatest of all virtues. It’s also in tension with our culture’s acceptance of in vitro fertilization and surrogacy, which treat children not as gifts, but products. Parents can “produce” babies with preferred genetic traits and even declare fetuses faulty if they have some debilitating genetic defect. In that sense, our dystopian future is already upon us.

Yet if we can accept that our lives are first God’s, rather than our own, then the danger of suicide becomes more easily apparent. By taking our own life, we are destroying something that is not ours to destroy. Only God, in his infinite (if often obscure) wisdom and justice, has the right to take human life, or confer on his creatures that right (e.g., self-defense or just war).

There is more than this to the evil of suicide. Suicide, as St. John Paul II would say, encourages a “culture of death” that affects everyone. The Catechism explains:

Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God (2281).

It’s not just that suicide undermines love of God. It also undermines love of neighbor, the second greatest commandment. As Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper argued, each of us has obligations to one another, or pietas. We have obligations to parents, siblings, children, friends, neighbors, and fellow parishioners and citizens. We are obliged to love and serve them, and even communicate the love of Christ to them. In killing ourselves, we repudiate those duties.

To anticipate one likely objection, we should remember that this duty is reciprocal. In other words, our parents, siblings, children, friends, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and fellow citizens all have obligations to us, too. In destroying ourselves, we deny them the opportunity to love and serve us, especially when we are most in need of it. When we are depressed or diseased, or have some terrible, perhaps even terminal condition, that is precisely when those around us are most expected to exemplify both virtues on our behalf. If we are a burden, it is for their good.

It’s true that the Catholic Church has acknowledged that “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide” (§2282). Yet we should not allow that reality to persuade us into an indifference toward the dangerous threat posed by a culture that permits and even encourages suicide. The Catechism also teaches, “If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law” (2282). It is horrible indeed when some prominent figure or celebrity kills himself, inspiring their acolytes to consider the same fate.

Given the increasing frequency of suicide in our nation, readers may know someone, even a loved one, who has committed suicide. I know a few, including a close relative I never got to meet. It is a real possibility that such troubled persons are in hell, and that is a harrowing thought, indeed. But we cannot know the thoughts of the deceased, who may have repented even as they died, or may have lacked full knowledge of what they were doing. The Catechism itself gives us hope:

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).

As serious (and evil) a thing as suicide may be, there remains reason to hope in a merciful God. Like so many other complicated areas of life, Catholic teaching navigates a middle path between unreserved contempt for those who kill themselves and, alternatively, eliding the real culpability we have for our decisions, even when there are mitigating circumstances.

Whether we have contemplated it ourselves or know someone who has, we must reject the lie that tells us our lives are solely our own, to keep or kill as we wish. It is a blessing, not a curse, that we are God’s from birth to death.”

Love, Jesus save me,

Job 30:20-22

“Why does God give light to one who is in misery,
and life to those whose soul is bitter,
to those who wait for death that does not come,
and search for it
more than for hidden treasures,
who rejoice even to jubilation,
and are exultant when they find the grave?
-Job 30:20-22

“It’s often difficult for those who have never experienced depression to imagine a feeling of utter emptiness, the collapse of the will to live, the devastating loss of self-worth that fills the heart of the person who seeks to live with the heavy burden of depression or mental illness. I remember the early days of illness that transformed my once happy and ambitious dreams into clouds that faded on the horizon, leaving behind the dull grey ache of loneliness and isolation. We are fragile things. God knows how much we need his strength, particularly in times when sadness and grief rob us of the joy of life and the will to live. God is the one, I discovered, who heals the brokenhearted, who wipes away our tears, who binds up our wounds, who helps us fly again. There was simply no way through my pain but to hold my beloved Father’s hand.

The darkness engulfed and suffocated everything…I still prayed even though it seemed useless. But one day Jesus’ message shouted through the weltering gloom that He too had experienced the same darkness on the cross. Those last moments were actually the depth of darkness for Him, feeling even His Father disowned Him. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t find life in this inspiration. I couldn’t believe that his situation could touch mine.

Depression was a swirling black hole that sucked me in until I was in well over my head and drowning. The energy needed to fight against it was immense and at times I just let it take over. I was so tired…I don’t know how to feel happy anymore.

I can relate when I hear them. Though my experience of depression has been different, and though each person’s symptoms of depression and struggle to survive are unique, it is not difficult if we’ve suffered with depression to resonate with the story of inner sorrow when someone shares it with us.

What Is Depression?

Depression has been called the “common cold” of mental disorders. Everyone experiences situations or events in their life that make them sad for a few days, a few weeks, or even a few months. A death, a move, a change of job, graduating from college, or a loss of a pet can be painful and sad, but the feelings are relatively short lived and not permanent. Even positive experiences for some can be followed by a feeling of letdown. Depression, on the other hand, interferes with daily life and causes great distress for you and those around you for an extended period of time. Though depression is a common illness, it is a serious one and should be treated with the same care with which you would handle any other medical condition. Depression affects more than your feelings. It affects your body, mood, thoughts, and the way you feel about yourself. It affects the way you eat and sleep. It influences your perspective on life, on yourself, and regarding others. Sadness is only a small part of depression. In fact, some people with depression do not feel sadness at all. A person with depression may also experience many physical symptoms, such as aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems. Someone with depression may also have trouble with sleeping, [Ed. I have anxiety, too, so I have nightmares that awaken me violently, and so take a PTSD drug] waking up in the morning, and feeling tired.

-Hermes, Kathryn. Surviving Depression, 3rd Edition: A Catholic Approach . Pauline Books and Media. Kindle Edition.

I believe, Lord, but let me believe more firmly.
I hope, Lord, but let me hope more surely.
I love, Lord, but let me love more warmly.
I repent, Lord, but let me repent more deeply.
St. Anthony Mary Claret

I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice
and my supplications. Because He inclined His ear to me,
therefore I will call on Him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”
-Ps 116: 1-4

I remember taking communion from a lay minister who came on Sunday to a place where I could be helped, and rather than “Amen”, I said, “Jesus, save me.” The lay minister seemed to approve of that, and from that day on I promised myself in my heart I would always save “Jesus, save me” when taking communion. I still do. Jesus, save me.

I think to truly understand, as it should be understood and appreciated and celebrated, praised, Resurrection/Redemption, we have to die many times in our lives. Resurrection must pass from intellect to the gut, and it is this necessarily repeated process, and grace, which allows it, to be saved. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…on repeat. Even if you don’t believe, or having a tough time doing so, at least have a crucifix, gaze upon Him from time to time in life. Hold it, tightly. I do. Like the fragrance of flowers, grace and faith will come.

If you’ve ever walked into a space where flowers were in abundance, that fragrance can be overpowering, practically knocking you from your feet.

Love & hope,

The evil of human suffering

Even in Eastertide…

-by Peter Kreeft, PhD

“Suffering is not like technology or fashions in clothing or architecture. Suffering is like childbirth or sunlight. It is one of the unchanging features of the human condition.

It’s easy to rediscover God in a moment of crisis and lose him again as life regains normalcy. But any piety that depends on circumstances is a house built on sand. Circumstances change, and at death all will change at once by disappearing, leaving each of us with the only two realities we can never escape, to all eternity: ourselves and God. These are the two essential foci of our lives; everything else is circumstance circling around them, like planets orbiting a double star or like the albumen surrounding a double yolk.

Though truth is our mind’s natural food, sin has made it “natural” (or rather, normal) for us to be so unnatural as to lose our appetite for it. And so we forget or ignore God until a large and sudden crisis looms and then forget him again when it passes.

This habit is the opposite of the good habit, or virtue, of piety. Piety moves us to give—first of all to God, then to our parents, ancestors, country, and all in authority over us—the reverence and respect that is due to them. It is a part of justice, and like every virtue, it is an application to a specific area of virtue’s most general rule, the rule of the three R’s: right response to reality.

Our habitual forgetfulness of piety is probably one of the reasons we suffer. It prevents a God who is not only infinitely more good but also infinitely more loving, and not only infinitely more loving but also infinitely more kind and compassionate than we can conceive, from letting us have the settled contentment we crave. We need crises, for we have spiritual sleeping sickness and need frequent alarms. God, therefore, stoops to conquer—stoops to use crude measures like national crises to remind us of our permanent needs and our constant situation.

In fact, suffering and even crisis is our normal situation. The bubble of pain-free and ordered living that we modern Americans think of as our normal state is highly abnormal judged by historical standards. In most cultures throughout human history, people could expect to experience monthly about the same amount of physical pain most of us encounter in a lifetime. Remember, for instance, that anesthetics and pills were invented only about a century ago.

This is probably one of the reasons why people in scientifically advanced cultures tend to be more secular and people in scientifically primitive cultures tend to be more religious: not because religion is based on scientific ignorance or because any scientific discovery has ever disproved a single doctrine of the Christian faith; but because science’s child, technology, has conquered or mitigated so many of life’s pains and limitations that it has put us into this soundproofed bubble that God has to burst just to get our attention. As C.S. Lewis put it, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (The Problem of Pain).

Of course, God no more enjoys using this megaphone than a good human parent does. The fact that he does use it means one of two things: either we need all the pain we get, and it is for our own good and allowed only out of perfect (and perfectly wise) divine love; or else we do not need it and yet Omnipotence allows it—in which case Omnipotence is not Love.

To quote Lewis again, “Is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t” (A Grief Observed).

We might want to add two minor amendments to this argument. First, we might change Lewis’s necessary to good. The tortures of the saintly martyrs were not all strictly necessary for their salvation, but they must have been good for them in the long run, hollowing out hidden places in their souls that in heaven could “contain” more of the light and joy of the beatific vision.

Second, we might interpret Lewis’s use of the word we collectively rather than individually. Not all of my sufferings may be for my good; some may be for others’ good. And when I love those others as myself or more than myself (which I shall surely do in heaven, at least), then I shall rejoice as much or more in this vicarious use of my sufferings as I shall rejoice in whatever personal profits they yield to me. Vicarious atonement, the innocent suffering for the guilty, “my life for yours”: This great mystery lies at the very heart, at the very crux, of Christianity—and of reality, if Christianity is true.

It is a mystery, of course, not a proof. Apologetics can show that it is possible and show us clues in nature and in history that invite us to enter the mystery by a leap of faith. But it is a leap in the light, not a leap in the dark.

The clues abound. All of nature operates by the principle of “my life for yours”—you never ate a hamburger or conceived a baby without it. And all of history and fiction is full of heroic Christ-figures who pluck a string deep in our heart when we hear of them. Who but a fool would call Sidney Carton a fool at the end of A Tale of Two Cities? “It is a far, far better thing I do than ever I have done; it is a far, far better place I go than I have ever been.”

What Can We Know of God’s Character?

The problem of suffering raises two major problems for apologetics: the existence of God and the nature, or character, of God. In Scripture, the first problem never arises. Only “the fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1). It is the second problem the Bible claims to shed light on—light not obvious, perhaps not even available, to human reason. It is obvious from nature that God is real and intelligent and powerful; it is not obvious to everyone that he is good.

Human history manifests three basic concepts of God’s nature, and the problem of evil—which includes the problem of suffering—is a touchstone that sharply distinguishes them.

On the one hand, there is paganism, with its many gods and goddesses, none of which is all-wise and all-powerful. None of these gods controls all of nature or all of human life because none of them created it. The idea of the creation of the entire universe out of nothing by a single omnipotent God is an idea that has never occurred to any known religion throughout history except that of the Jews (who claim it was revealed by God) and those who learned from the Jews, mainly Christians and Muslims.

Paganism (as I am using the term)—the notion that God is not (or the gods are not) omnipotent—is far from dead. One form of it is “process theology,” which claims that God is in process, in change, is still growing, still evolving, and is not yet powerful enough to conquer all evil.

Another form of paganism is pop psychology (which, judging by the shelves of bookstores, is America’s favorite religion). Paul Vitz says that modern America is the most polytheistic culture in history: It worships not thousands of gods but 260 million.

A religion with a God or gods who are not able to conquer evil can still have some God or gods who want to, who is or are all-good. This allows us to love God, rather like a big brother, but not wholly to trust him to conquer evil. (Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People is an example of this solution to the problem of suffering.)

A second religious option, more Eastern than Western in origin, is pantheism. The god of pantheism, unlike the god or gods of paganism, does not confront any forces outside himself (or itself) simply because there is nothing outside god. Pan-theism means that everything is god and god is everything. God never created a universe. Pantheism is not only false, it is 15 billion years behind the times: it has not heard the good news of the Big Bang.

Pantheism solves the problem of evil simply and radically: it declares that God is equally present in both good and evil. He has a dark side, like the Force in Star Wars. Vishnu the Creator and Shiva the Destroyer are equal manifestations of Brahman, “the One without a second” in Hinduism. Transposed into biblical terms, this means that Satan is not God’s enemy but part of God himself.

The other form of pantheism says that God is equally absent from both good and evil—that the distinction between good and evil is created by unenlightened human consciousness. In both forms, god is not the God of the Bible, where “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). The god of pantheism, like the gods of paganism, is very American. He is nonjudgmental. He does not discriminate between good and evil.

This notion of God allows us to love God only if we are either pop psychologists who have sunk below moral discrimination or mystics who (claim to) have risen above it.

The third notion of God is that of Judeo-Christian-Muslim theism: God is both all-powerful, unlike the gods of paganism, and all-good, unlike the God of pantheism. This notion of God raises the problem of why the righteous suffer to new heights of difficulty. It seems that God either must lack the will to right all wrongs or the power to do so. For if he wants to conquer and eliminate all evil, and if he can do whatever he wants, it seems to follow that there should be no evil.

The evil of sin can be explained by human free will. But what of the evil of suffering, especially unjust, undeserved suffering? If there is God, why is there Job?

There are only two possibilities: either God is wrong or we are. Either these sufferings are not good or they are. Either we do not need them and yet God allows them, in which case he is either wicked or weak or stupid; or we do need them, in which case “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, KJV). All things, even the most horrendous and inexplicable tragedies.

We live by faith, not by sight. If we live by sight, we will probably conclude when tragedy strikes, “So that’s what God is like. Deceive yourself no longer.” If we live by faith, by trust, by “the fear of the Lord [that] is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10), we will conclude that God is the one who knows what is good for us and that we are the ones who don’t, rather than vice versa. (Is that an unreasonable conclusion?)

In Arabic, the word for this attitude of trusting submission of our will to God’s, the word for this thing that is the beginning of wisdom and the essence of piety and the heart of all true religion, is islam.

The history of religions if full of ironies. In the name of the religion that is named after this solution to the problem of unjust suffering, some who call themselves Muslims created a vast new explosion of the problem of unjust suffering. Islam also means “the peace that results from submission.” (It is etymologically akin to the Hebrew shalom. ) It is the peace that comes only from submission to God’s will. This is the “peace the world cannot give.”

T.S. Eliot says that Dante’s line “in his will, our peace” is the single most profound line in all literature. What is ironic now is that in the name of the religion whose very name connotes peace, young Palestinians commit suicide to murder Jews in order to derail the peace process.

God and Evil: Either/Or?

The other apologetic question raise by suffering, the existence of God, is more familiar, and deservedly so because if there is no God then both apologetics and theology are not just changed but eliminated.

Suffering, and evil in general, is the only argument atheists ever point to that seems to refute the existence of God. Other arguments seek to put God in question (e.g., the very concept of God is not meaningful); or claim that God is an unnecessary hypothesis, like the Abominable Snowman; or point out the foibles of theists (e.g., people who believe in God supposedly commit more murders, proportionately, than atheists); or point out the practical disadvantages of theism (e.g., interference with one’s sex life); or show that belief can be explained without God (e.g., Freudian psychology). But there is no other logically persuasive argument that concludes God does not exist from any other premise than the existence of evil.

When Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa, he found at least three serious objections to every one of the thousands of theses he argued for except the most important, foundational one of all—that God exists. Though he could find dozens of arguments for God’s existence (from which he selected five), he found only two against. One was the problem of evil. The other was the apparent adequacy of the natural and human science to account for all that we experience without God—which does not conclude “therefore there is no God” but only “therefore it is not necessary to suppose that there is a God.”

Aquinas’s formulation of the problem is: “If one of two contraries be infinite, the other is totally destroyed. But ‘God’ means infinite goodness. Therefore if God exists, no evil should be discoverable in the world. But there is evil. Therefore God does not exist.”

The question is answerable: “As Augustine says, God would not allow any evil to exist unless out of it he could draw a greater good. This is part of the wisdom and goodness of God.”

Not only is the argument against God that appeals to the data of evil answerable, but this very same data (evil) that seems to count against God can be used as the premise of an argument for God in at least two ways.

One way is by reflecting on not evil itself but our knowledge of evil. How is it that we can judge a thing to be evil? Unless such judgments are all meaningless or false—unless the terrorist massacre of over three thousand innocent civilians isn’t really evil, and we are merely “judgmental” when we claim that it is—we must have some true knowledge of what is really evil. But this means that we must also have some true knowledge of what is really good. Without knowledge of the standard we cannot judge by that standard.

But the relative goods we know are measured by the standard of the absolute good. Just as eleven is two integers closer to infinity than nine, a saint is closer to ontological perfection than a worm. But nothing in the created world is absolute goodness. Therefore, unless we discount, subjectivize, or relativize all our judgments of good and evil—which is exactly the move the secularist makes to avoid this checkmate—there must be a God.

Another way of using evil to prove God is by noting that we protest evil. We hate evil, even when our pseudo-Christian ideologies tell us to hate nothing. Innately and inescapably, we desire good—all good—and fear evil—all evil. To fear evil is to desire good. But every innate, natural desire corresponds to a real object. We may desire unreal objects, like seeing the Land of Oz or being Superman or witnessing the Red Sox win game seven of a World Series, but we do not desire them innately and thus universally.

We do desire food, drink, sleep, sex, knowledge, beauty, and companionship innately and universally, and all these things exist. We also desire goodness—all kinds of goodness—innately and universally. But we desire goodness without limit. We are not wholly satisfied with finite goodness. We have a lover’s quarrel with the world, no matter how good or beautiful we find the world. In fact, this dissatisfaction with the world arises in us most poignantly when we experience the most, not the least, goodness in this world.

From these two premises that come from our own experience—that every innate desire corresponds to a real object and that we have an innate desire for unlimited good—we logically conclude that infinite goodness exists. But infinite goodness is another term for God. Only God is infinitely good. Therefore God exists.

There is one more argument from evil to God. It is quite eccentric, but it may be a valid argument. (I am not sure.) Let us assume there is no God. If there is no God, there is no Creator. If there is no Creator, there is no act of creation. If there is no act of creation, then the universe, or the sum total of all matter and energy, was not created. If the universe was not created, it was always here. There was no first moment. However many cycles of change, or catastrophic changes, or relatively big bangs there may have been, there was never any Big Bang, no absolutely first event. So there has already been infinite time. If we could take a time machine and journey into the past—which we probably cannot, even in principle, ever do physically, but which we can certainly do mentally—we would never come to an end (i.e., an absolute beginning).

So far, the argument seems logical. But we now add a premise that, while it may be unnecessary, is nevertheless a premise most atheists admit: namely, cosmic evolution. By this I mean not just the evolution of species of plants and animals on this planet by “natural selection” but evolution in the broader sense of progress in order throughout the cosmos.

From relatively undifferentiated matter (“star stuff”) emerge galaxies, solar systems, and life-supporting planets, and on these planets emerge increasingly complex and increasingly conscious forms of life until self-conscious, rational entities appear. Then, within the history of these entities, which we know firsthand on this planet as ourselves, there is further progress from barbarism, ignorance, and animal-like violence to enlightenment and peace.

Most atheists accept both these premises. But if both are true, why have we not yet reached perfection? The history of time is a history of progress, and there has been an infinite amount of time already; so why has progress reached only a finite level? Another way of posing this is: Why is there still evil? According to the atheistic premises, there should be no more evil already. But there is. Therefore one or both of these premises must be false.

Of course the atheist, faced with this argument, will probably modify his second premise, the one about progress, in order to save the first premise, the one about infinite time and no act of creation. So it is not an argument that refutes atheism as such, only “progressive atheism”—that is, atheism plus the idea of progress.

Another move made by the apologist—or rather by God himself in revealing this move, which found its way into the scriptures of all three Abrahamic religions—is to trace suffering back to sin. The story in Genesis 3, however literally or nonliterally it is interpreted, necessarily involves the distinction between these two kinds of evil, physical (suffering) and moral (sin) and connects them causally: We suffer because we sinned.

This we is not individual but collective. It is the human race, it is human nature itself, that must suffer and die, as a necessary, just punishment and inevitable consequence of sin.

The connection between sin and suffering is like the connection between jumping off a cliff and breaking your bones, or like the connection between overeating and obesity. It is not like the connection between not studying and getting an F or like the connection between stealing cookies and getting a spanking. It is a natural, intrinsic, necessary, and inevitable connection, not one set up by an outside authority and therefore revocable.

The reason for the connection between moral evil (sin) and physical evil (suffering) is the connection between the soul (psyche) and the body (soma), the psychosomatic unity. Once the soul declares its independence from God, the body declares its independence.

The soul’s authority over the body is a dependent authority. Its Creator and Designer delegates it. It is like the authority of a knight over his squire: If the knight rebels against the king, his squire is no longer bound to serve the knight.

(Thus the centurion who asks Jesus by the mere word of his command to heal his servant understands the chain of authority and who holds it when he says, “For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one ‘Go,’ and he goes” [Luke 7:8]. His soldiers know that the centurion is transmitting the authority of Caesar, lord of the world. The centurion has authority over his soldiers because he stands under, and submits to, the authority of Caesar. Similarly, Christ has authority over life and death because he transmits, stands under, and submits to the authority of his Father ]John 5:30]. Authority is always exercised through submission, for it is delegated, it is hierarchical.)

The unsolvable mystery of suffering is not why we must suffer, but why I must. The distribution of suffering is the mystery, not the existence of it. There is a general causal connection between sin and suffering, but not a particular one. This was not yet wholly clear in Jesus’ time, for his disciples asked him this question about the man born blind, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). They were surprised when Jesus answered, “Neither.”

Job’s three friends were also convinced that each individual received the sufferings his sins deserved; that is why they were convinced that Job, the greatest of sufferers, was the greatest of sinners. They were astounded when God said he was angry at them for not speaking rightly of him (Job 42:7).

But if God is all-just and all-powerful and all-knowing, it seems he must give each individual what he deserves.

But no. The best man who ever lived was the “Man of Sorrows.” Many Jews simply could not believe Jesus was the Messiah because he was covered with suffering and disgrace. This is a key to Job: As a Christ-figure he suffers not for his own sins but for the sins of others. Job atones for his three “friends” by sacrifice (Job 42:8), as does Christ for us.

In fact, the “righteousness of God,” or “justice of God” that Paul announces as the main theme of Romans (Rom. 1:17), the world’s first systematic Christian theology, is the atonement via the crucifixion. The only man who deserved no pain suffered the most—and this Paul calls God’s “justice.” Sin and suffering are connected, but not individually. Both original sin and vicarious atonement are mysteries of solidarity. For both are mysteries of heredity—the first physical, the second spiritual heredity (via the “new birth”).

Our being as humans is not only social but also familial. We are by essence not only environmental but also hereditary creatures. And heredity cannot be confined to biology and the body; it is spiritual as well, because we are not ghosts in machines or angels in disguise but rational animals with psychosomatic unity. Everything in the fathers is visited upon the children: physical and spiritual, cranial capacity and original sin, or original selfishness, which is observable in any infant.

Our incorporation into Christ is as psychosomatic as our incorporation into Adam. It is not faith alone, but faith and baptism, that makes us his, according to his own words: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). His blood shed for our sins came from Mary, the second Eve. Redemption, like sin, is psychosomatic, spiritual and physical at once. Unless Christ rose physically, he cannot save us spiritually (1 Cor. 15:17).

Such mysteries of solidarity as original sin and baptism are not the neat little nuggets of popular wisdom we expect. Like the history of science, the history of theology is littered with human expectations that reality has rejected and built largely of surprises that reality has revealed and our minds have boggled at.

Christian Wisdom about Suffering

Let us attempt to summarize, in a few propositions, the surprising Christian wisdom about suffering that we find in divine revelation and will not find in the New York Times, in self-help books, on Oprah, or in a consensus of “leading experts.”

1. Suffering is not a biological necessity. We were not created in a state of suffering. We suffer because we sinned, and we die because we sinned. God did not design us for death but for life, and he did not design us for suffering but for joy: the joy of sanctity, the bliss of self-forgetful love.

2. God has intervened miraculously in our history, and even in our very human nature, our essence. In Christ God added human life to himself so that in Christ man might add divine life to himself. This transforms our sufferings, and especially our death, which is the consummation of all our sufferings and losses. It transforms them into a means of salvation and sanctification and glorification. We may now say of suffering what the old hymn “Open Our Eyes” says of death: “Thou hast made death glorious and triumphant, for through its portals we enter into the presence of the living God.”

3. Because Christ entered into our sufferings, suffering is now a way of entering more deeply into Christ. We are never closer to Christ than when we share his cross.

4. This intimacy through suffering, when freely chosen, can bring about something exceedingly strange and wonderful: a deep, strong, and unmistakably authentic joy. To experience even little sprinkles of the joy of the saints is to praise the depth of the divine mercy in allowing us to share this unique and incomparable intimacy with Christ.

The difference between the Creator and the creature is incomparably greater than the difference between suffering and joy. That is why his sufferings are incomparably better than all the world’s joys—not because they are sufferings but because they are his. It is an utterly profitable bargain to accept his cross, because he is on it.

5. Suffering has become redemptive not only for the one who suffers but also for the ones for whom he suffers. Vicarious atonement is a mystery, but not an exception: We can share in it. If we are “in Christ” (that primary mystery of solidarity, of incorporation), we, like him, can offer up our sufferings to the Father—and he uses them. They become seeds, or rainwater, and something beautiful springs up that we seldom see in this life.

If you offer up your sufferings today, in faith, to the Master of the universe, then someone else, perhaps a hundred years and a thousand miles away, will have the strength to live and love and hope—and if not, not. There is no power in the universe greater than suffering love. Love without suffering is like water; suffering without love is like potassium; put them together and you get an explosion. That explosion shattered the chains of hell and opened the gates of heaven two thousand years ago. And it continues.

How does it work? In his movie Hannah and Her Sisters, Woody Allen plays an atheist son of a Jewish family who in an argument asks, “If there is a God, why are there Nazis?” His father replies, “How should I know? I don’t even know how the can opener works.” The wisdom of Job: we don’t know. To quote C. S. Lewis again, ” When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer’…Like ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand’” (A Grief Observed).

We don’t have to understand; we have to trust and obey. To use Lewis again, “Now that I come to think of it, there’s no practical problem before me at all. I know the two great commandments, and I’d better get on with them. . . . What’s left is not a problem about anything I could do. It’s all about weights of feelings and motives and that sort of thing. It’s a problem I’m setting myself. I don’t believe God set it to me at all” (ibid.).

God is less concerned with almost everything else than we are. Our feelings are our tyrants. All the saints tell us our feelings are less important than we think, and warn us not to rest our faith, our hope, our love, or our deeds on them. Surely God is far more compassionate than we are; but he has compassion on us, not on our feelings; on our sufferings, not on our feelings about them.

Our sufferings are, or can be, holy. Our feelings are not. Our choices to love and our deeds of love are holy. Our feelings of love are not. Feelings are indifferent to holiness (which is our end, our destiny, our fulfillment). But suffering is not indifferent to holiness. Suffering is essential to holiness.

In the two thousand years since he entered “the wild weather of his outlying provinces” (as George Macdonald put it) to show us the meaning of suffering, to enact the meaning suffering and of love, nothing essential has changed. Nothing has been added or subtracted from our essential human condition: not the Fall of Rome, not technology, not anesthetics—and not the fall of two tall buildings on 9-11-01.

But one essential change has happened. Christ’s coming and dying and rising has changed everything—or rather the meaning of everything. Especially the meaning of suffering.”


Eternal and temporal divine punishment – the Cross & efficacy of the suffering of the baptized

-“Christ on the Cross with Saints Vincent Ferrer, John the Baptist, Mark and Antoninus”, by Master of the Fiesole Epiphany (Italy, Florence, active circa 1450-1500), painting, tempera and oil (?) on panel, 72 3/4 x 79 3/4 in. (184.79 x 202.57 cm); framed: 120.0787 x 114.17 x 18.90 in. (305 x 290 x 48 cm); sight: 79 1/4 in. (201.295 cm), Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Please click on the image for greater clarity.

There is evidence in Scripture for the doctrine of temporal punishment to repair damage even after the sin is forgiven. Thus even though his sin of doubting God’s word had been forgiven, Moses was still not allowed to enter the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 32:51–52) David was forgiven his adultery with Bathsheba, but still he had to endure the pain of seeing the child die. (2 Samuel 12:1-23)

The punishments of sin

“CCC 1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life [Ed. mortal sin kills the life of grace within us], the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of (unthinking) vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. [Ed. the fulfillment of justice due to transgressions against God.  The state does not seek vengeance, but rather to fulfill justice, to the extent possible, and how one society understands, justice.] A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.84

CCC 1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin [Ed. through the superabundant sacrifice of Christ on the Cross], but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the “old man” and to put on the “new man.” cf Eph 4:22, 24.”

Sin has TWO consequences since it offends God. As a bad analogy, if you throw something like a brick at a head of state, rather than someone on the lowest social rung, apologies to the inherent dignity of man, the offense is considered greater. If you offend God, since God is infinite, your offense is infinite, and cannot be redeemed…except by God.

Even when Christ had died and risen and redeemed us from our eternal punishment due to offending God, there is still the temporal justice. The car/money must be restituted to its rightful owner, the damage must be repaired/paid for, the prosecution/sentence of imprisonment must be served. This should make complete sense to us, this temporal punishment in this life. It is nothing other than what we try to achieve for victims each and every day. And, yet, we know justice is not allows perfect in this life nor proportionate it would seem. Where is the righteousness in that reality? As in all things, it lies with God. “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” -Lk 12:7. “Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” -Mt 5:26. God, by His promises, will bring ultimate justice to pass. Justice is a real mercy to the offended. Thomas Aquinas tells us one of the joys of the saved will be watching the punishment of the damned: ST., SUPPL., Q. 94.

-by Karlo Broussard

“….But simply waiting to arrive at the threshold of that door (of salvation) while I’m going through tremendous suffering here and now doesn’t seem to be much of a hopeful message.”

I agree. But God reveals that the path to the threshold is not one of waiting but an active participation in God’s providence of leading our own souls, and the souls of others, to salvation.

Consider how suffering can contribute to our obtaining eternal life. St. Paul teaches us that we can make our sufferings a sacrificial offering to God: “I urge you, brothers and sisters . . . to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Rom. 12:1).

Christianity makes it possible for suffering to be used for good rather than wasted. When done through Jesus it can actually be transformed into an act of worship, and thus an act of love for God, which in turn will be rewarded with eternal life in heaven.

So we can love God through our suffering.

Moreover, when animated by love for God, suffering has the potential to conform us to Christ and make us more like him. As St. Peter says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps.” (1 Pet. 2:21).

By uniting our suffering to Christ and offering it to God in self-sacrificial love we become like Christ, Who offered His suffering in self-sacrificial love so that we might receive the reward of eternal life.

In this ultimate gift, we see that suffering not only can play a role in our own salvation but also in helping others obtain salvation.

Consider, for example, what St. Paul says in Colossians 1:24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church.”

The Church has never understood this to mean Christ’s death was insufficient on an objective level. As the Catechism says, Christ “makes amends superabundantly for the disobedience of Adam” (CCC 411; emphasis added; cf. Summa Theologiae III:48:2). Rather, Christ intends for us to actively participate in that part of his redemptive work in which we are able to share, namely making satisfaction for the debt of temporal punishment due to the sin.

Satisfaction is an act whereby a sinner, out of love, willfully embraces some form of suffering, whether imposed by God (e.g., illness, natural disaster) or self-imposed (e.g., fasting, abstinence from physical pleasures), in order to remit the debt of punishment due for sin.

But because we’re finite, and thus unable to make satisfaction for the eternal debt of sin, we can only make satisfaction for the temporal debt of sin. And it’s that aspect of satisfaction that Christ wills for us to actively participate in, not only for ourselves but also for others.

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that given the bond of charity among members of Christ’s Mystical Body, making us “all one in Christ” (Gal. 3:28), “the work that is done for another becomes his for whom it is done: and in like manner the work done by a man who is one with me is somewhat mine” (ST Suppl. 71:1). St. Paul hints at this principle in 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

The rewards for such works can’t pertain to the state of another person’s soul, such as putting him in a right relationship with God here on earth and beatitude in eternal life. But the rewards for these works done for another can pertain to remission of the debt of temporal punishment.

By virtue of the bond of charity, the satisfactory value of one Christian’s penitential works can be applied to another Christian for the remission of his or her debt of temporal punishment. Again, Aquinas explains,

“Since those who differ as to the debt of punishment, may be one in will by the union of love, it happens that one who has not sinned, bears willingly the punishment for another: thus even in human affairs we see [people] take the debts of another upon themselves” (ST I-II:87:7; emphasis added).”  [Ed. the Treasury of Merit]

Like Christ, we can suffer in the place of fellow members of Christ’s Mystical Body, enduring the pain merited by our brothers’ sins, and thus become “secondary and subordinate redeemers.”

This is what St. Paul meant in Colossians 1:24. For Paul, Christ wills to associate us with his redeeming work on the cross in applying the merits of his passion and death to others, at least with regard to the remission of temporal debt. And inasmuch as the debt of temporal punishment serves as an obstacle to one’s relationship with God, our efforts to help remove such debt for others contributes to their salvation.

So, the suffering wrought by Covid-19 might be a discordant note in God’s original score. But he’s revealed that with that discordant note he wills to write a whole new symphony. And we’re all called to be active participants in it.

We can trust that in the end the symphony will be a beauty to behold. And we’ll be able to say with Paul, “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55).

Love, & Holy Thursday,

Offer it up – Is 55:8-9

-by Br Bertrand Hebert, OP

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways. (-Isa 55:8)

Saint Thomas draws from various medieval authors (especially Saint Boethius) to explain why it is hard for man to comprehend God’s lofty perspective. To illustrate this difference in perspective, St. Thomas uses a simple analogy. Man is likened to someone traveling on a road that is along the side of a hill. He is only able to see what is a little behind him and before him—that is, some of the past and the present. This perspective differs drastically from someone who is standing on top of the hill. In a single glance, he is able to see all of these different perspectives of the traveler. Unlike the traveler, the one on the hill doesn’t have to wait for something down the road to come into his view; everything is already before him as if all of it were the present (ST Ia q. 14 a. 13 ad. 3). In a similar way, God sees all our past, present, and future in a single, all-encompassing glance.

Saint Thomas’s insight transforms the idea that we just have to “deal with” God’s providence into something more consoling: “God sees and is planning something beyond all of this.” However, every analogy limps; even so, this particular hobble ends up being helpful. God is not living on top of a hill with a far-removed and indifferent perspective on what is happening in the world of man. His higher and eternal perspective doesn’t prevent Him from having perfect knowledge of temporal things as well as Fatherly concern for the things we experience (Ps 8:5). After all, God, Himself, came into the world through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8). Saint Paul reminds us here that God is intimately involved in our lives, even from His elevated state. In this relationship, He both governs the events that unfold on these winding roads, while also walking with us.

This last point clarifies Isaiah’s words above, and it further defends them from a disheartening interpretation. Although God is active in our lives, we can still say that He acts differently than us because, in a way far beyond our capacity, He governs with an attentive and loving concern for our greatest good. This good is ultimately found in God, Himself. He is concerned about matters from our perspective, but He also looks beyond them because he calls us to join Him in His own lofty heights.

This loftiness is what makes His ways different from ours. Even though His ways are different, we shouldn’t think they are worse. They are infinitely greater and better than our ways because they are the roads that ultimately lead us to Himself.”

Love & comfort, healing, grace,

What I wish people knew about depression

“I AM sorrowful, even unto death.” -cf Mt 26:38

-excerpts from Therese Borchard

“I wish people knew that depression is complex, that it is a physiological condition with psychological and spiritual components, and therefore can’t be forced into any neat and tidy box, that healing needs to come from lots of kinds of sources and that every person’s recovery is different…

I wish people knew that medications don’t provide all the answers…(Ed. They only treat the symptoms, sometimes don’t work that well, have side effects which are depressing themselves and take joy out of life, and wane in effectiveness with age and use, and age aggravates EVERYTHING. It just wears, and wears, and wears you down until nothing, and everything is another reason to take action not to go on.  You just want the pain to stop and that becomes the overriding purpose of everything.)

I wish people knew that millions of people don’t respond to medications, and that, while brain stimulation technologies (electro-shock like my father deceived my mother into receiving after he found her wandering around in the clothes closet of their condo) offer hope for treatment-resistant depression, these persons are dealing with a different kind of beast altogether and should not be blamed for their chronic illness.

I wish people knew that a depressed person is capable of fake laughing for two hours through a dinner only to go home and Google “how to kill yourself”, that most depressed persons deserve Academy Awards for outstanding acting, and that it can be practically impossible to pick up on the desperation and sadness in a person who wants so badly to die because chances are she is the one cracking jokes in a crowd…

I wish people knew that the endorphins from exercise are as close as a anti-depressive will get to an anesthesia for pain but that it’s possible to swim 5,000 yards a day or run seven miles a day and still be suicidal, that a sad swimmer can fill up her goggles with tears.

I wish people knew that while yoga is helpful for some, a person can walk out of the studio just as depressed as she was before Namaste.

I wish people knew that the worst part about depression is the sheer loneliness, the inability to express the anguish that rages within, and that the smiley-face culture we live in worsens that loneliness because depressed persons are so scared to tell the truth.

I wish people knew that persons who struggle with depression aren’t lazy, uncommitted, and weak, that they are not trying to get attention.

I wish people knew that depressed brains looked different on high resolution X-rays, that when experts scanned the brains of depressed people, they discovered that the front lobes of the brain displayed lower activity levels than those in non-depressed patients, that there are breakdowns in normal patterns of emotional processing, that depression can be associated with the loss of volume in parts of the brain and can inhibit the birth of new brain cells, which is why renown psychiatrist Peter Kramer believes it is the “most devastating disease known to mankind.”

I wish people knew that taking one’s life can feel like sneezing to a severely depressed person, that it can be a mere reaction to the body’s strong message, that after fighting a sneeze for years and years, some people simply can’t not sneeze anymore, that they should not be condemned or demonized for sneezing.

I wish people knew that the hardest thing some persons will ever do in this lifetime is to stay alive, that just because staying alive comes easily to some, it doesn’t mean arriving at a natural death is any less of a triumph for those who have to work so very hard to keep breathing…”

Love, pray for me,

Surviving depression w/the saints – St Jean-Marie Vianney

-from the above

Jesus is in the darkness. Help me, Lord. Save me, Lord. Salva me, Domine.

St. John Vianney, the famous Cure’ of the tiny French village of Ars, is most popularly known as the holy and humble priest who spent sixteen to eighteen hours a day hearing confessions and giving advice to long processions of people. He practiced extraordinary penances and fasts for the conversion of sinners and was subject to diabolic persecution all his priestly life. It is said that the devil revealed once that if there were but three priests in the world like the Cure of Ars, the devil would lose his kingdom.

What is less known is the overwhelming depression that weighed upon John Vianney’s soul without relief his entire life. Though he was the most sought-after man in all of France, he seemed incapable of seeing the immense amount of good he was doing. Despite the tens of thousands of pilgrims who traveled to Ars each year in the hope of receiving the sacraments or a word of advice from him, he believed himself useless. The priest who had reawakened the faith of a village and set all France aflame through his preaching and holiness felt God so far from him that he was afraid he had no more faith. He believed himself to have no intelligence or gift of discernment. It is as if God drew a veil over his eyes so that he could see nothing of what God was doing through him for others. The Cure feared he was ruining everything and had become an obstacle in God’s way.

The root of John Vianney’s severe depression was his fear of doing badly at every turn, and the thousands who traveled to Ars increased his terror. It never occurred to him that he might have a special grace. Instead, he feared that the long line of penitents to his village church were a sign that he was a hypocrite. He feared facing the judgment with the responsibility for all these people on his conscience. There was not a moment when he felt that God was satisfied with him. A great and profound sadness possessed his soul so powerfully that he eventually could not even imagine relief.

Whenever the tempests of depression seemed to have enough power to drown him in the vision of his own miseries, the Cure’ would bow his head, throw himself before God like “a dog at the feet of his master,” and allow the storm to pass without changing his resolve to love and serve God if he could. Yet he kept this pain so private that except for a few confidantes, most people saw only tranquility and gentleness in his bearing.

Jesus is in the darkness with you

You may discover that the shadows and tempests of depression alter the way you look at God and the way you believe God looks at you. When you pray you may be unable to sit still or to keep your mind focused for more than a few moments. Everything may appear to be a huge gaping hole of silence, all so useless. God may seem to be mocking your attempts to pray. I know people who have gone three, five, ten years without “praying,” though they were faithful to setting time aside for prayer regardless of its seeming uselessness. In the haunting darkness where all communication had gone silent, they found loneliness, boredom, frustration, anger. Nothing. Only pain. Were they praying? Yes.

Recognizing agony in a void that is filled only with darkness and absence calls a depressed person to be present to the Now, even if the Now is darkness. There is a God in that void, the God of Jesus. To be present to this God, to know that Jesus is in the darkness with you and for you as prayer, even were no words or act of love to pass through your heart. God’s abiding love is deep within, never forsaking you in darkness. You are alone in the void with the Son of God-both of you keeping silent. Suffering with you is Jesus, the abandoned Son on the cross. When it is impossible to hold on to a thought or to pray, Jesus is praying and contemplating within the one who is suffering from depression. Day by day, moment by moment, groping in the darkness, you are not alone. Jesus is struggling with you. He is there feeling it all. Nothing goes unnoticed by Him or His Father. Through Jesus’ Spirit Who is in you, you can hope for peace.

St. Gregory Nazianzus wrote these words during a time when he found anxiety and depression crowding out any space for prayer in his soul:
“The breath of life, O Lord, seems spent. My body is tense, my mind filled with anxiety, yet I have no zest, no energy. I am helpless to allay my fears. I am incapable of relaxing my limbs. Dark thoughts constantly invade my head ….Lord, raise up my soul, revive my body.”

Love & His Joy, alone, can save us,

May 15 – St Dymphna, 7th century, depression & the saints

(n.b. in the 2004 Martyrologium Romanum, St Dymphna’s feast day was moved to May 30.)

Dymphna was the only child of a pagan king who is believed to have ruled a section of Ireland in the 7th century. She was the very picture of her attractive young Christian mother.

When the queen died at a very young age, the royal widower’s heart remained beyond reach of comfort. His moody silences pushed him on the verge of mental collapse. His courtiers suggested he consider a second marriage. The king agreed on condition that his new bride should look exactly like his former one.

His envoys went far a field in search of the woman he desired. The quest proved fruitless. Then one of them had a brilliant idea: Why shouldn’t the king marry his daughter, the living likeness of her mother?

Repelled at first, the king then agreed. He broached the topic to his daughter. Dymphna, appalled, stood firm as a rock. “Definitely not.” By the advice of St. Gerebern, her confessor, she eventually fled from home to avoid the danger of her refusal.

A group of four set out across the sea – Father Gerebern, Dymphna, the court jester and his wife. On landing at Antwerp, on the coast of Belgium, they looked around for a residence. In the little village of Gheel, they settled near a shrine dedicated to St. Martin of Tours.

Then spies from her native land arrived in Gheel and paid their inn fees with coins similar to those Dymphna had often handed to the innkeeper. Unaware that the men were spies, he innocently revealed to them where she lived.

The king came at once to Gheel for the final, tragic encounter. Despite his inner fury, he managed to control his anger. Again he coaxed, pleased, made glowing promises of money and prestige. When this approach failed, he tried threats and insults; but these too left Dymphna unmoved. She would rather die than break the vow of virginity she had made with her confessor’s approval.

In his fury, the king ordered his men to kill Father Gerebern and Dymphna. They killed the priest but could not harm the young princess.

The king then leaped from his seat and with his own weapon cut off his daughter’s head. Dymphna fell at his feet. Thus Dymphna, barely aged fifteen, died. Her name appears in the Roman Martyrology, together with St. Gerebern’s on May 15.

In the town of Gheel, in the Flemish-speaking region of Belgium, great honor is paid to St. Dymphna, whose body is preserved in a silver reliquary in the church which bears her name. Gheel has long been known as a place of pilgrimage for persons seeking relief of nervous or emotional distresses. In our century, the name of St. Dymphna as the heavenly intercessor for such benefits is increasingly venerated in America.

-“The Beheading of St Dymphna”, by Godfried Maes, 1688, oil on canvas, Height: 337 cm (132.7 in). Width: 225.5 cm (88.8 in), Saint Dymphna Church, Geel, Belgium, please click on the image for greater detail

-from an article by Michael J. Lichens, a convert from Evangelical Protestantism to Roman Catholicism, featured in the Catholic Gentleman

“The Catholic Church has dealt with mental illness for quite some time. Long before our modern system of mental health, the hospital at Geel, Belgium was established under the patronage of Saint Dymphna, the patron saint of those suffering from mental illness. A good seven centuries before psychiatrists opened offices, the good nuns in Geel introduced a system to take care of the mentally ill, and some of these patients even found healing through treatment and prayer.

As a convert, this information was quite helpful. While my Evangelical church denied mental illness and only told me to pray against it, I found that medieval nuns had the foresight to start treating those tortured by the mind. Our Catholic Church is still learning, and she offers many great resources.

Some of our finest saints, such as Venerable Francis Mary Paul Libermann and Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, suffered great bouts of depression. While they would be struck to the heart with grief, they still found comfort in their faith. Ven Francis Libermann once wrote,

“I never cross a bridge without the thought of throwing myself over the parapet, to put an end to these afflictions. But the sight of my Jesus sustains me and gives me patience.”

The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote moving words about his afflictions in the “Terrible Sonnets,” and was especially heartbroken by what seemed like the silence of God in the face of his suffering. One cannot read his poetry and not be moved to compassion for him.

I bring these figures up to show that you are not abnormal; you have intercessors in heaven and on Earth who do know that the mind has many mountains and cliffs. Perhaps it is not always enough, but I know that the loneliness can be the worst part of depression. Knowing that I am indeed among friends in my suffering has been enough for me to keep going and to find hope.


I find great comfort in the Incarnation. We as Catholics believe in a God whose love for us is so powerful that he took on our lowly nature in order to redeem it. Christ didn’t become human just to teach us some new lessons; He shows us a whole new way to be human and, ultimately, how to share in His divinity.

In my darkest moments, when I truly was giving in to despair, I found that saying the Jesus Prayer and meditating on the Nativity of Our Lord was enough to let me go on another day and pursue help. In those moments, knowing that Christ was and is among us enabled me to find just enough light and comfort to believe that life was sweeter than death.

Prayer is very hard when you are depressed. I, for one, have nagging doubts when I go through my black dog days. God seems silent and I wonder where He is and what He’s doing. All the same, I do pray, and peace eventually comes. In one case, it took me two years of praying, but peace did come. Mother Teresa’s dark night of the soul lasted several years, but she endured. You can find strength in the same faith.

If you are praying and meditating and the words do not come, then sit in silence. Find an icon or an adoration chapel and utter the words, “You are God, I am not. Please help.” If nothing else, your mind will slow down and will shift its focus to God, who sustains all life and is the source of our strength.

I know this is hard, and sometimes you will want to give up. If you can do nothing else, try to take comfort in knowing that Christ didn’t die and rise again just to leave you alone. Find the saints who did suffer from grief and depression and ask them for help. They, more than any other, are eager to come to your aid.


My MDD is a lifetime condition that is not likely to be cured except by a miracle. While there may be some forces contributing to your depression that are beyond your control, such as growing up in a troubled home or experiencing a difficult period of your life, there are other things that you can control, and it can be helpful to focus on them.

It’s perfectly normal to want to find an outlet for your depression. In my own and my family history, that has included a cocktail of food, sex and booze. I don’t need to tell you why those are bad ideas.

Instead of harmful behavior, seek to find constructive outlets for depression. I know that a walk can be helpful, and exercise has a profound effect on your mood. It not only takes your mind off of things outside of your control, but it elevates your mood and gives you something to work towards. I personally love reading and writing. Perhaps you have a passion and your depression has made you lose interest in it. But I assure you, you will find the fire of passion coming back if you work at it for even an hour. Even if you do something as simple as clean your house or, if your depression quite sever, get up and dress yourself well, it’s a small accomplishment you can take pride in.

As you probably know, your situation has the ability to give you understanding and greater empathy. Reach out to folks to talk about it, especially if they seem to be going through similar frustrations. You will relieve loneliness, a great problem of our isolated age, and also help to build a support network for you and others.

The point of all my suggestions is to not let your grief and depression rule over all your life but to find the small things you can control and do good with them. Believe me, it’s much harder than I’m making it sound, but it can be done.

To go back to prayer, I do firmly believe that offering up your sufferings for the conversion of the world and the souls in purgatory can do great things. You are turning your mind to charity, and doing so will teach your heart to love people in the midst of grief. Christ will use your prayers and tears to bring more souls to Him.


While mental illness has a stigma in our society, there is no shame in seeking help. Not everyone needs medicine or therapy, but it is there for those who do. In many cases, your priest is not unfamiliar with mental illness and can be a great help. Not all priests can give you full counseling, but they can be men who you can talk to and pray with and who can offer resources for further help. Likewise, I have met many fine nuns whose wisdom has helped through many trials, and there are few weapons as powerful as a nun’s intercession.

In all things, your victory is in perseverance. As I said above, I often can’t even leave my house on particularly bad days and I have no doubt some of you are right there with me. But if we can claim small victories like seeking help and taking steps to finding comfort, then we are on the path to a greater victory.

Finally, let’s pray to the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and the Joy of all Who Sorrow. Ask her to help you and all who are plagued by grief and depression.”

-please click on the image for greater detail

-please click on the image for greater detail

Lord Jesus Christ, Thou hast willed that St. Dymphna should be invoked by thousands of clients as the patroness of nervous and mental disease and have brought it about that her interest in these patients should be an inspiration to and an ideal of charity throughout the world. Grant that, through the prayers of this youthful martyr of purity, those who suffer from nervous and mental illness everywhere on earth may be helped and consoled. I recommend to Thee in particular (here mention those for whom you which to pray).

Be pleased to hear the prayers of St. Dymphna and of Thy Blessed Mother. Give those whom I recommend the patience to bear with their affliction and resignation to do Thy divine will. Give them the consolation they need and especially the cure they so much desire, if it be Thy will. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

-“Martyrdom of St. Dymphna and St. Gerebernus”, between 1603-1651, oil on canvas, height: 176 cm (69.2 in), width: 206 cm (81.1 in), Bavarian State Painting, Schleißheim State Gallery, Attributed to Jacques de l’Ange (f 1630 – 1650), Attributed to Gerard Seghers (1591–1651), please click on the image for greater detail

Love & Heaven’s Joy!!!! BEAR YOUR CROSSES!!!! We must LEARN HOW TO SUFFER!!! Lk 9:23-24 It is HIS will!! And we do not need to know why, in this life! His will be done!!! PRAY!!! How else will you survive anything??

Lent, Suffering, & Offering it Up!!!


-by Lliana Mueller

“Lent causes suffering. The small (perhaps large to us) sacrifices that we make are meant to bring us closer to the cross. They are meant to bring us to greater reliance on Jesus instead of whatever it is we’ve chosen to give up. We can also “offer up” our myriad annoyances and sufferings, or the fact that we’ve committed not to eating chocolate and there is a chocolate birthday cake in the break room. These offerings can benefit our loved ones or the greater world. Your current suffering might involve feeling constantly exhausted due to the demands of caring for young children that don’t sleep through the night. Maybe you’re a student spreading yourself thin with academics, jobs, and extracurriculars. No matter your current state in life and the challenges that have come with it, at any given moment there is always someone suffering much, more more.

Naturally, we try to avoid suffering. It isn’t pleasant. When we’ve experienced one setback after another, or a day when absolutely every moment seems filled with a disaster, it’s easy to feel “woe is me.” We are human and need to process our frustrations, and at times may need to take steps to change a situation. But the moment we begin to dwell on the negatives is the moment where selfishness creeps in and we become the most important person. We forget the sufferings of so many brothers and sisters, both within our own circles and throughout the entire world. Instead of spiraling into bitterness about the sufferings that we have been asked to carry, or even put upon ourselves in some way, what if we remembered the suffering of someone else? What if we “offered it up,” benefitting another human being? In the process, we, too, can become better people.

Let’s take a look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Though this paragraph is about illness specifically, I believe it can apply to suffering in general and how it hinders or helps us.
“Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him.” (¶1501, Catechism of the Catholic Church)

As I gripe about car problems and issues at work, I forget that having a job and a car are luxuries. A stable job that allows one to support a family shouldn’t be a luxury, but sadly these days it is. Poverty is a stark reality for millions of people throughout the world. Jobs that will support a family in third world countries are scarce, and many times when food is available, parents make the choice to feed their children and go without. Some people walk hours to their jobs that barely pay. Many in the United States involuntarily rely on public transit systems that can be unreliable and add large amounts of time to a commute, and that may force them to stand outside in sub-zero temperatures in order to keep a roof over their family’s head. Most of what we complain about is actually a blessing, and too often we forget that.

As we finish up this Lent and walk into Holy Week, let’s finish strong. Let’s allow our small burdens to mature us and also, in some way unknown to us, benefit our suffering brothers and sisters. May we embrace the cross and have a greater realization of Jesus’ love for us, as well as the immense sufferings that so many people throughout the world carry daily.”

Love & compassion,