Confronting Depression
Even in a 'Progressive' New World, Trusting in God's Providence is the Only Way

Fr. Urban Snyder (RIP)
(Remnant Columnist in the 1970s and '80s)

The texts of Sunday Masses during the season after Pentecost aim at keeping our attention focused on Heaven as the end and goal of life.  With this in view, Holy church selects Scripture readings which urge detachment from temporal and passing things.  She strives to deepen our sense of God’s loving Providence, and urges us to bear the sufferings of the present time with patience and tranquility of spirit.

Already on the Fourth Sunday, St. Paul observed: “I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us.”  St. Peter spoke similarly on the Fifth Sunday: “Who is there to harm you if you are zealous for good?  But even if you suffer anything for justices’ sake, blessed are you.  So have no fear of their fear and do not be troubled.

Both the Epistle and Gospel of the Seventh Sunday orient us starkly to the Beatific Vision as the only thing that matters.  “What fruit did you have,” says St. Paul, “from those things of which you are now ashamed?  For the end of these things is death.  But now, set free from sin and become slaves of God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and as your end, life everlasting.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is life everlasting in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  And in the Gospel of the same Sunday, Jesus says:  “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire…Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father in heaven shall enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Another profound truth constantly reiterated in the post-Pentecost liturgy, and which we should watch for in order to profit from repetition, is our absolute dependence on God for all things, our absolute inability to do anything of ourselves without His help.  Typical in this respect is the oration for the Eighth Sunday:  “Give us, O Lord, we beseech Thee, the gracious spirit of always thinking and doing what is right; so that we who cannot do anything without Thee, may be able to live according to Thee” (i.e., according to God’s guidance, will, and example).

The liturgy of this season is replete with reminders that God’s infinite power and wisdom rule the whole universe.  The oration for the Seventh Sunday begins with the marvelous phrase, “O God, whose Providence never fails in its dispositions…”  Realization that all things are in the perfect and complete control of our all-wise and all-loving Father is the secret of confidence and peace for the Christian soul, no matter how turbulent, violent, or wicked the world around him may become.  There is no situation in which we cannot or should not pray with absolute confidence as the church teaches us to do in the oration for the Fourth Sunday:  “That the course of the world may be peacefully ordered for our benefit.” 

The chaos and anarchy created around us by men and devils cannot prevent God from ordering everything that happens in such a way that it will be for the best good of a given soul who trusts in Him, keeping in mind that the end and the goal of life is eternal happiness with God in Heaven.  The lives of the saints all teach us this:  for example St. Thomas More, or St. Theresa of the Child Jesus.

Recently I had the duty of writing to friends who are undergoing very great trials, consisting  not only of a terminal illness in a dear one, but at the same time grave circumstances that could make for the worst calamities in the material order.  Since my remarks seem so appropriate to the liturgy of the season, I will share with you here the contents of my letter.  The text follows:

This morning after Mass the grace of God came to my aid, and I think I know now what I should say to you. I should like to draw your attention to where the real struggle lies – the only one that matters in your present afflictions.  The real field of battle is in your own hearts and minds; it is not in the external problems of money, food, housing, getting work done, etc.  All that, close as it seems to us, is secondary and peripheral.  Your real adversary, like Holy Job’s, is the devil, and you must not allow yourselves to be led away by the diversionary tactics he uses to deceive us and wear us out.  He will put constantly before your minds the material problems, together with possible future sufferings and humiliations.  He will exaggerate and excite beyond measure your natural fears and anxieties, so as to destroy or weaken your interior morale, your spiritual strength, your composure, your joy in God’s love.  This in turn will make it very hard for you to pray as you ought.  I therefore beg you not to allow your strength to be corroded by sadness, fear, confusion, worry, as if the solution of your problems and the shape of your future really depended on you.  We must, of course, give a reasonable amount of thought and attention to these things, but for the rest we should commend them to God with all confidence, and live one day at a time.  “Sufficient for the day,” says Our Lord, “is the evil thereof.”

Make a practice of casting every worry and fear instantly into the furnace of God’s omnipotent love; abandon yourselves to Him, refusing absolutely to allow your trust in Him to be shaken by any menace whatsoever, whether from within or without.  This, believe me, is the whole battle.  Be good captains then.  Martial all your troops to fight at the real point of danger, the point where you know the enemy is going to attack. If you win there, you will win on all fronts, and if you lose there, you will lose on all fronts.  For God allows the devil to try you in order to prove and purify you, and to give you a chance to show absolute faith and trust in Him as a living Father. 

Be alert, then, to spot in your mind the first faint onset of fear, worry, sadness, discouragement; attack it vigorously with acts of trust in God, then deliberately distract your mind to other things.  Like myself, you have spent years forming the bad habit of entertaining fears, worry, discouragement, dark thoughts, without recognizing these as mortal enemies.  But St. Francis de Sales tells us that, after  sin, nothing is more harmful to the soul than anxiety; and we are all the more vulnerable to this deadly poison by reason of thinking that we even have a duty to worry and be anxious, in spite of Our Lord’s strong words against it in the Gospel.  This poison is habit forming, like a powerful drug, but every habit can be replaced, little by little, by  another and better one.  In this case, the new habit must rest on a deep and pervading conviction that nothing can happen anywhere in the universe – not a sparrow fall to the ground, or a worm lift its head – which is not a part of God’s loving Providence. 

As I said, however, He allows the devil to test and probe our souls, just as He allowed him to try those two saints of the Old Testament, Job and Tobias, with physical afflictions, humiliations, and vexations from their friends.  At the end of the trials of Tobias, the Archangel Raphael said to him:  “Because you were acceptable to God, it was necessary that trials should prove you.”  Notice how he says, because you were acceptable to God.  It is a common temptation of souls to think that, if they have suffering and affliction, it is a sign that God does not love them. The very contrary is true, for, as the Scripture says, “Those whom the Lord loves, He chastises.”  It is better to have Purgatory in this life than in the next.

St. Thomas tells us that the loving Providence of God extends to all things, “even the smallest, even the most trifling (vilissima)”.  This is simply another way of saying what our Savior declares in the Gospel, “All the hairs of your head are numbered.”  Nothing happens or can happen anywhere in the universe which God does not either will or at least permit, and He is motivated by love alone.

I know you feel that your problems are very big and very heavy, and by human standards they truly are, and you know I feel great compassion for you; but I assure you that if you and all your problems and needs, together with those of all your dear ones and friends, were put into a scale, they would register exactly nothing as a burden or problem for the Creator of the universe. 

Our Father in Heaven is infinitely rich, all wise, all powerful, all loving towards His creatures.  That is why He is not pleased if we pinch, as it were, the pennies of His providence, because this betrays a lack of confidence on our part.  “Cast your care upon the Lord, and He will sustain you,” says the Scripture.  Nothing pleases Him more than to be taken at His word.  Which of us, by taking thought, can add to his stature a single cubit (one foot and a half, or eighteen inches!)  If we are not able to do such a “very little thing,” as Our Lord calls it, why are we anxious about the rest?

I repeat then: the battle field is your heart and mind, and revolves about your relations with God, your trust in His loving Providence.  Deploy the troops of your mental energy and spiritual resources on the field where the enemy really is, and do not let him divert your attention to what you shall eat, or what you shall put on, or how you shall pay the rent – for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things.

Great trials are harbingers of great graces to come, as we can see, for example, in the history of Joseph, son of Jacob, who was sold into slavery in Egypt.  Or again, we see it in the life of the great St. Joseph.  When he became aware that Mary, his virginal wife, was pregnant, he suffered intensely, yet God sent no angel until after he had been tried and tested.  God’s coming was at first a source of great pain, but afterwards a source of great and lasting peace.  Let us pray to St. Joseph for a deeper understanding of the ways of divine Providence.