Spiritual desolation versus depression
By Father Robert Gross
Special to The Witness
On the Second Sunday of Advent, I spoke about a common struggle that every Christian must face during the process of growing in holiness, purification and the test of faith. That struggle is discouragement. Discouragement for me is another name for spiritual desolation. Spiritual desolation is the experience of losing the sensible closeness to God in the life of faith and prayer. An example is dryness in prayer. Maybe you have felt close to God when you come to Mass, pray the Rosary, read a Bible passage or read some spiritual book. Maybe you feel close to God when you serve the needy at the food pantry or by thinking of others and serving others in your life. And then it becomes dry. You don’t feel connected. You feel uninspired by the very spiritual things that once inspired you.
That can happen in a vocation as well. When a newly married couple who were in love with each other, considerate of each other and vulnerable with each other, and then the saying goes, “the honeymoon has worn off.” In all these examples that I have cited I think desolation many times is more at work that clinical depression.
I am the first one to acknowledge and thank God for the great advances of psychological care. I have been one who has received counseling and also the benefit of medication. But many times in my experience people continue to be stuck, and I sometimes think people forget the spiritual reality that is happening. We have to remember that just as there is the Holy Spirit of God who is the Third Person of the Trinity, along with the reality of angels who are constantly serving God, there is also the weaker but potent influence of evil in our lives. The Bible calls him Satan or the Devil, and there are fallen angels whose one purpose is to destroy the beautiful dignity that God has given us by creating us and by redeeming us. Evil can pry on our thoughts. And I think that the source of much of our discouragement and desolation comes from listening to the thoughts that the Evil One places in our minds, and we believe the lies that he tells us.
One thought that comes into my mind as a priest and minister of the Gospel is this, “What’s the point in working so hard, you are never going to get people back to church. People are hopeless. The Gospel is not attractive anymore. You made a mistake in becoming a priest.”
Sometimes those thoughts are very powerful. They can overwhelm me. But even though that causes doubt and sadness, I know that those voices are not from God. Those thoughts are trying to derail me from pursuing the good of preaching the good news of Jesus Christ!
What are the discouraging thoughts that you hear in your heart? Do you listen to them? If you do, then you are seeing the real root of your sin. Sin is believing the lie that evil puts in our minds and hearts. Sin is believing that God’s way isn’t necessarily better. Jesus says to that voice, “Be gone Satan!” In other words, get away from evil. Holy Spirit abide in me.
So who are you listening to in your life? Is it the constant good news of the Word of God and the teaching of the church, or is it the values of this world that conspire with the Evil One who ultimately wants to destroy our souls? The faith of Christ teaches us that God defeated Satan. Good is stronger than sin. Virtue is better than vice. Let us remember that when discouragement and desolation come our way. It will, because there are forces in the world that do not want you close to God. Reject those forces and welcome the goodness of Christ’s Holy Spirit in your life.
Just some musings from a priest who needs to hear this as much as anybody else!
Father Gross is pastor of the linked parishes in Calmar, Festina, Ossian and Spillville.