Hope in Despair

Friday, Jun. 15, 2018
By Marie Mischel
Intermountain Catholic

I have struggled through the past several weeks. Tired, depressed and frustrated for reasons too wearisome to relate, I’ve been angry at everything in general and nothing in particular. This mood has been made worse by the knowledge that as a Christian I’m supposed to love those who drive like idiots, bless those who insult the work that I do, and give thanks to God despite my misery. That I am unable to love, bless or thank has only compounded my guilt, as did my current theology lesson on the role of the laity on the Church as described in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, which states that my vocation is to live a life “resplendent in faith, hope and charity” and to be to the world what the soul is to the body.

Any body depending on my imitation of a soul is gasping for nourishment.

About the only thing that has kept me from drowning in despair is that at least I have been able to force myself to sit daily in prayer – even if the only thought I can muster is that I am unable to pray.

Relief came on Monday, with this quote by St. Ignatius Loyola: “Our ancient enemy sets up all possible obstacles to turn us aside from the way on which we have entered. He makes use of everything to vex us. We find ourselves sad without knowing why. We cannot pray with devotion, nor contemplate, nor even speak or hear of the things of God with any interior taste or relish. He goes on to suggest that we are entirely forgotten by God our Lord and that all that we have done and all that we desire to do is entirely worthless. He thus endeavors to bring us to a state of general discouragement. We can thus see what causes our fear and weakness: It is a too-prolonged gaze at such times on our miseries.”

Reading that reminded me of a lesson from last year on how evil spirits work. I learned, again drawing from Ignatian spirituality, that when a person is turning to God, evil spirits inflict him or her with anxiety, sadness, spiritual turmoil, darkness of soul, and restlessness; and offer temptations that lead to the absence of faith, hope and love; all of which leads to a soul that is slothful, sad and separated from God.

That description fits my situation exactly.

Ignatius’ solution to this state of affairs is to double down on prayer, fasting and good works. This is more difficult than it sounds when harboring a suspicion that is all but conviction of being abandoned by God – and wondering if there is a supreme being, and if indeed there is then this divine one’s nature is more likely to be vengeful than loving.  

Into all of this came a prayer from a saint I’d never heard of.

St. Ita, an Irish mystic from the sixth century, said, “Three things that most displease God are a mouth that hates people, a heart harboring resentments, and confidence in wealth.”

Given my current spiritual state, that quote should have wrapped me in yet another layer of despair, but thankfully the reflection that accompanied it suggested flipping through my checkbook to see how often I’ve given to charity. On that score, at least, I’m not a total failure.   

I grabbed onto the ray of hope cast by my monthly contributions to the Utah Food Bank and Catholic Relief Services. Admittedly, the checks I write are for paltry sums, but God does credit those who give to the poor, and suddenly I am able to “behold God beholding me … and smiling,” as Anthony de Mello, S.J. suggested. To me it seems to be more an amused glance than a smile, but even that is enough to soothe my soul.

Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic.

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