Stepping On The Serpent

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Ask Fr. Thaddaeus, August 2018

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By Fr. Thaddaeus Lancton, MIC (Aug 4, 2018)
Father Thaddaeus Lancton, MIC, the spiritual director of Friends of Mercy, answers questions from club members:

A Friend of Mercy asked:
Father, I have been suffering from a severe depression. I trust in Jesus and I am devoted to our Blessed Mother, but this depression will not lift. Does this mean I have to suffer for souls and in reparation for sin?

That is a good question. Without knowing the details of your case, I can't give an exact answer, but I can give a few guidelines for possible directions.

First of all, depression can be a side-effect of spiritual suffering, but depression is not in and of itself spiritual. The "dark night" that St. John of the Cross describes, for instance, is a spiritual state of the soul being purified, which can have emotional effects. Often, a spiritual director or a psychologist can help distinguish between the two.

Secondly, though prayer can help one through depression, depression itself is better treated as a psychological problem. That being said, prayer can help one remain "above water" amid the difficult emotions, and prayer is sometimes even used in certain forms of therapy. Christian psychologists can help immensely in integrating one's emotional and spiritual life. If this depression persists, I would recommend seeking a trusted psychologist who can help you understand depression from a Christian point of view.

Finally, all pain and suffering can be offered up. Each Mass is a way to unite ourselves, including our joys and sorrows, to Christ's self-offering to the Father. In this way, all that we are, do, and suffer is united to who Christ is, what He did, and what He suffered. In this way, our suffering is redeemed. The proper question is not whether to offer it up in union with Him for the salvation of souls. Rather, the question is whether the Lord would be asking you to seek help from a psychologist to aid you in these bouts of depression. Since the Lord Himself often went about healing others of their afflictions, I think that it would be good to at least try to seek help. If the depression still persists, then it can be offered up in peace to the Lord, knowing that you have done all that you can do, and that our Lord and Blessed Mother are with you in this suffering.

Another Friend emailed:
Father, I am having great trouble with one of my siblings. She is cheating my mother out of money, turning my mother against me, and mocking me for my Catholic faith. My mother's health is now failing, but I am being pushed farther away from her. I have suffered great psychological, emotional, and physical distress over this. Would I be forgiven if I walk away from them?

Your question at the end is an important one: "Would I be forgiven ...?" We are, indeed, called to love our neighbors as Christ has loved us (see Jn 13:15; 1 Jn 4). However, this does not mean that we enable others to take advantage of us to their own detriment or our own. Though we are called to bear the burdens of others, we cannot do for them what they themselves have to do. Nor are we to love others so much that we neglect our own responsibilities in life.

The important thing here is to draw boundaries with your family. You do not need to judge them (i.e., judge their character as evil or bad), but rather to state simply to yourself and to them, "You are doing X, and I feel Y. It would help me if we did Z. But if that does not happen, then I will do A." The key here is not to try to change them, but to change your own stance toward them. That is all you can do. You do have a right to protect yourself and your own well-being.

The important thing is to make sure that you don't completely close your heart to others. What I mean is this: Even if you cannot maintain contact with them, continue to pray for them and offer up some small sacrifice for them. The key here is not whether to love them, but rather what form that love takes.

For that, there is no need for forgiveness. Forgiveness is needed only when you act out of hatred or resentment to inflict pain on another out of revenge or hurt. By setting boundaries clearly and simply, you actually prevent hatred or resentment from becoming too much.

To set such boundaries, you will likely need support from others who can help you see the situation better and find the right ways to stay in His love even as you are firm. I pray that the Holy Spirit provides others for you who can help and assist you in this difficult period.

Got questions for Fr. Thaddaeus? Email us at FriendsOfMercy@marian.org or write to Friends of Mercy, Marian Helpers Center, Stockbridge, MA 01263.

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