Saturday, December 1, 2012

Hazards of discouragement and its cure

Never have the Saints hoped in God because they were faithful to Him; they were faithful to Him because they hoped in Him.

-Fr. De LeHen, The Way of Interior Peace (1888)


In his book, The Way of Interior Peace (1888), Fr. De LeHen writes about the hazards, sometimes insidious, of how discouragement takes a toll on a soul. But he also gives the cure.

I remember watching the class 1946 Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. When Clarence the angel was summoned by heaven’s council, he asked about his assignment. He asked if George Bailey was sick and a member of that council said something like, “No…worse. He’s discouraged.” And off Clarence went. Long, long ago, even Hollywood understood the lethal effects discouragement had upon the soul.

Do you know a discouraged soul? Remind them their hope is not in their merits. As St. Augustine once said, “The sufficiency of our merit is to know that our merit is insufficient.” Rather, our hope is God’s mercy and strength. It should not startle us, then, when we commit a fault, especially a serious one. So give a discouraged soul a helping hand.

The Way of Interior Peace on discouragement:

Why does discouragement produce in the soul effects so sad? Listen to my answer to this question: A disheartened soul is perfectly convinced of her oft-tried weakness; she feels keenly how hard it is to overcome herself, and how seldom she really does so. Wholly occupied with her own sad thoughts, she loses courage; she does nothing for God; she considers it labor lost to seek her refuge in the Lord; for imagines that, in her present state, He would not even hear her.

Strange effects of human pride, as if the good that we do and the happiness to which we aspire could be attributed to no one but ourselves. How greatly is such a state in opposition with the words of the Holy Spirit: What is it that you have not received?

The despondent soul dwells only on her own efforts, her own strength: on these alone she counts; so that her discouragement decreases, ceases, returns, and increases according as she acts well or ill. She forgets that the mercy of God, and not her own merit, is her support and help; that the good she does is an effect of the undeserved grace of God; and that the treasury of eternal mercy stands open to her in every circumstance, so that in the exercise of good works she can always receive a necessary grace.

If you try to convince such a soul that she ought, in imitation of the Saints, to place her confidence in the Lord, she at once replies: “They were Saints and faithful servants of the Lord. It is no wonder that they had confidence in God; but as for me, I have no such reason to hope in Him.” Moreover, she does not see that such a manner of speaking is opposed to the maxims of our holy religion.

Hope is a divine virtue, and, consequently, can be founded only on God. But the souls of which we are speaking make it a purely human virtue, since they found it wholly on man and his actions. No, never have the Saints hoped in God because they were faithful to Him; they were faithful to Him because they hoped in Him.

Were the alleged objection correct, then no sinner could evoke an act of hope; and yet it is precisely such an act that prepares the way for his return to God…

Mercy always goes before our good works, and obtains for us the grace to accomplish them. Never did the Saints reflect upon their own merits in order to strengthen their confidence in God; on the contrary, they were deeply impressed with this teaching of the Divine Master: “When you shall have done all of these things that are commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which we ought to do.”

The more holy they were, the more humble they became. In their humility they saw the perfection to which they had not yet attained. Far removed from the presumptuous sentiments of the proud Pharisee, they discovered nothing in themselves that could arouse confidence; but they sought and found it in God, the immovable foundation of their hope. This plank upheld them. Let it likewise encourage you. And let it give your wearied soul new life.