Category Archives: Depression
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A few months ago I came across the essay “How God Makes a Pencil” on the Acton Institute’s blog. In 1958 Leonard Read published his essay “I, Pencil” and recently a video illustrating Read’s point was made. The article itself by Joe Carter is worth a read; most especially the video (and essay) is worth a look.
— 2 —
In his essay Read quotes G.K. Chesterton:
You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery—more so than a tree or a sunset or even a flash of lightning. But, sadly, I am taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril. For, the wise G. K. Chesterton observed, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”
What Chesterton wrote a century ago is more true today. In this single paragraph one could make the argument that we are more than ever today treating and using the wonder that is human life with the same “supercilious attitude” with which we regard the pencil. It struck me during the course of the past few weeks how deeply shocked we were and how strongly we mourn the deaths of so many young and innocent children in Connecticut. And rightly so! But every day in this country we silently acquiesce to the murder of over 3300 infants in their mother’s wombs. We are a society leaning ever more closer to legalizing euthanasia for our elderly and infirm. Our blind eyes turn away from prostitution, the sex-trafficking of children and the strength and stability of the traditional family unit for reasons too numerous and complicated to get into here today. We glorify violence, paying ever increasing amounts of money to reward those who produce it, and accept the ridicule and scorn heaped upon the institution of fatherhood. Joseph was a man of whom no words or speech is recorded in Scripture. Silently he did the honorable and just things by protecting his young bride and child and providing for them. In fact today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents, to honor the memory of the children of Bethlehem slaughtered by King Herod. These children died specifically because Herod wanted to kill the Christ child of whom he’d heard the prophecies regarding Christ being a king. Those children died in place of the baby Jesus, who was saved by Joseph’s obedience to an angelic dream warning him to take his family and flee to safety in Egypt.
Today Joseph would be celebrated only had he been a drunken, belching fool sitting on a barstool with his buddies and bedding the occasional bar floozy while shooting one-liners from the hip that would be posted on Facebook. “Good ol’ Joe,” we’d snicker. And then he’d get a sitcom on ABC Family called “Who’s Yer Daddy?” in which Mary is a lesbian and teen Jesus is supporting the family by dropping out of school and running a porn site.
This is what we glorify today. It is the truth-that-no-one-dares-admit-or-mention. No one will because to admit this fact is to admit our own guilt and complicitness. So we ignore it all…all the wonder around us represented in our neighbors, family and friends…and turn on the damned television and pass the blame on to other things. We’re perishing without having a clue.
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All of this can be disheartening to a Catholic guy. Fortunately there exists in the world strong Catholic women. (Talk about a portion of society who is not only vastly misunderstood but openly ridiculed!) One of them, Supertradmum, recently posted some encouragement for her Catholic male friends:
First of all, as heads of families and as husband and fathers, you cannot wallow in depression. You must rise to the occasion.
Second, did you not expect these turns of events-the mystery of evil, which some of us have seen for 40 years coming?
Third, it is your responsibility to be the spiritual as well as material leaders in your families and in your parishes. Leaders, like Christ, pray, accept the burden of suffering and decide what to do.
She lists twelve, of which I pasted the first three above. All of them are good reminders, but just receiving acknowledgement and encouragement from someone was salve to the wound. Her list is mostly about shaking off the depression surrounding recent events in the world. And the truth is I was depressed for several weeks after November 6. That Depression has given way to disgust and contempt, but I try to remind myself of something J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in one of his letters:
“Actually I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ – though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.” (Letter 195)
And so I am first made courageous, then humble, and finally I remain hopeful. I’m hopeful because as Mark Shea wrote last week:
The journey into God’s love does not end here. It never ends. The horrors in Connecticut are not a sudden revelation that the gospel is a fraud, but a sudden revelation of how blind we have become to the depths of human and demonic evil that Jesus died and rose to defeat. We have been too long comfortable and sentimental about the gospel. But the gospel was born into a world that welcomed the Christ Child by slaughtering innocents in Bethlehem. … Christmas is not and never was a celebration of Kodak moments. It is D-Day: the moment when the Son of God landed on the beaches of Occupied Earth and began the work of liberating a population captive to sin, death, and the powers of hell. The powers of hell shoot back and have a special hatred for children and other innocents – and they will continue to do so until they are cornered in the last bunker of hell. But Christ, who has conquered death, is the great champion of children and good martyrs still. And he is coming with all the Holy Innocents from down the ages to exact judgment against the devil and all his angels and on That Day, to wipe away every tear from our eyes. So we weep at this obscenity as He did at the grave of Lazarus. But we also are “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:33 – the Greek contains the idea of growling anger) and when we are done weeping, we get up, don our spiritual armor, seek all the graces of Christ in the sacraments, and go off to make war on sin, hell and death with the weapons of the Spirit and not the weapons of this world.
One more from Supertradmum’s list:
Eleven, Christ was crucified. So what do you expect?
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Just three days ago we celebrated the birth of a baby whose mom had no inn in which to give him birth. Her husband found the best place he could and made it as comfortable for her as possible. I read a quote that I considered posting all alone as my Friday Five this week. At first glance it appears to be a bumper sticker slogan that could be posted to Facebook and quickly forgotten. But there is much here to contemplate upon.
“Life is a night spent at an uncomfortable inn.” ~ St. Teresa of Avila
While we’re spending this long night at such an uncomfortable inn, I thought of something that Chesterton (yes, him again) wrote about Charles Dickens. I had forgotten it until reading an article in the National Catholic Register last night about the final lecture given at Georgetown University by one of my favorite authors, Fr. James Schall, who quotes the passage. I happen to own a copy of a biography Chesterton wrote about Dickens because a friend of mine in California, knowing of my love of books, of Dickens and of Chesterton, purchased and shipped it to me when she found it in a used bookstore in San Diego.
“There is ‘a long way to travel before we get back to what Dickens meant: and the passage is along a rambling English road, a twisting road such as Mr. Pickwick traveled. But this at least is part of what he meant; that comradeship and serious joy are not interludes in our travel; but that rather our travels are interludes in comradeship and joy, which through God shall endure forever. The inn does not point to the road; the road points to the inn. And all roads point at last to an ultimate inn, where we shall meet Dickens and all his characters: And when we drink again it shall be from the great flagons in the tavern at the end of the world.’”
As Clarence wrote to George Bailey: “No man is a failure who has friends.” I have been truly blessed with many and can only hope I’ve been the same in return. May we hoist our flagons together in the hereafter.
— 5 —
As a palate cleanser, I offer one of my favorite scenes from a series laden with favorite scenes.
Merry Christmas. Because it’s still Christmas, ya know. It didn’t end at midnight on the 25th.
“Boredom of course is another matter. It has little to do with what actually exists in the world outside any of us. The world is just fine; it is full of beauty and miracles abound even in the midst of the most desolate of deserts.” – Kevin Codd. To The Field of Stars: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Santiago de Compostella. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (2008).
I read these lines just before turning in last night. The words struck hard at the heart of what has become such an epidemic in today’s modern world. Everyone, it seems, is bored. Or they are scared of being bored and race and work and stretch themselves in a million directions at once in order to avoid the fear of being bored. We stuff our lives and our homes with mountains of stuff, hoping that the next thing will once and for all fill that hole in our soul. When it doesn’t we work longer hours and push ourselves harder to make enough money to buy the next thing. Yet the hole remains, as we remain on the mad gerbil’s wheel. Instead of considering the miracles that surround us with each step we take, we bemoan the fact that our lives are drab, unexciting…boring.
It’s a paradox perhaps that the hub of what modern man sees as the necessary excitement and activity is the modern city. But it is within these city walls that we block out the very miracles to which I refer. The sun setting (or rising) on the distant horizon is difficult to see when surrounded by city buildings or suburban rooftops. Nature, grass, animals (outside of the squirrel, possum or rat variety) are non-existent unless one goes to the zoo. And my personal favorite, millions of stars and the constellations that fill the night sky, are almost impossible to see in the illuminated city at night. God’s wonder in nature hasn’t left us…we left it.
And when nothing seems to work and we begin to wear down from all the fruitless pursuit of activity we can succumb to boredom, acedia, and finally melancholia. “What’s the point of all this?” we ask ourselves. “Is this all there is to life? How long will I wander in this paved, urban desert?”
The answer, I believe, is provided in many places. I happened upon one of them a few weeks ago when I read the following poem by Alfred Noyes (1880-1958):
To A Pessimist
Life like a cruel mistress woos
The passionate heart of a man, you say,
Only in mockery to refuse
His love, at last, and turn away.
To me she seems a queen that knows
How great is love—but ah, how rare!—
And, pointing heavenward ere she goes,
Gives him the rose from out her hair.
You see, I believe the hole that lies in the hearts of humanity is, to use a well-known cliché, God-shaped. It is a huge hole, one capable of only being filled by God. And what is God? Love, of course.
I’m sure I sound like a Hallmark card to you by now and I’d have to agree, but I also know from my own personal experiences in this life that this is true. I’ve ridden the depression rollercoaster. I’ve also watched as it took hold of friends and loved ones and attempted to pull them down below the ocean waves of this life. You feel as if you’re drowning; gasping; struggling to stay above water to breathe while clinging to any life raft, driftwood or flotsam you can find each time you can get your head above water. Only too many times we are grabbing an anchor, weighed down by yet another purchase or another activity that we gravitate towards instead of the one thing that we need. Such is the stubborness of man.
In his second stanza Noyes perhaps is pointing the way. I’m not a learned interpreter of poetry by any stretch of the imagination, but to me the “queen” he refers to is Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who knows the depths of love that God’s heart is capable of storing, as well as the depths of depravity possible in a human heart. She points heavenward, and gives the pessimist a “rose from out her hair.”
A rose is a widely recognized as the queen of flowers and a symbol of love. Catholics who pray the Rosary also know the significance of Mary and roses. Indeed, the word Rosary means “Crown of Roses”. One piece of Catholic imagery says that each time they say a Hail Mary they are giving Mary a beautiful rose, and that each complete Rosary makes her a crown of roses.
From The New Baltimore Catechism of 1941, Part 1, Lesson 1: The Purpose of Man’s Existence, we read
1. Who made us?
God made us.
2. Who is God?
God is the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect, who made all things and keeps them in existence.
3. Why did God make us?
God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.
4. What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven?
To gain the happiness of heaven we must know, love, and serve God in this world.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church today begins thusly:
God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life. (CCC 1)
Both the old and the new Catechisms in their following paragraphs point towards Jesus as the key to knowing love and finding the chief truths taught by Him. The Rosary is a biblical meditation upon the life of Jesus and one of the best ways I’ve found to come to know Him.
Or, if you prefer, perhaps the queen is an allegory for what the Greeks called sophia; that is, Wisdom. The concept of wisdom goes all the way back to Plato and his Protagoras dialogue. It is also a common tenet in Christianity where it is not only found throughout the Old Testament in Proverbs, Psalms, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, the Book of Wisdom, etc., but also in the New Testament where Christ referred to wisdom, as in “the wisdom of God.” Indeed, wisdom is mentioned over 220 times in the Bible.
So what do I do when I feel I’m about to go under? The first thing I try to do is to get out of the city for awhile. Go camping. Or hiking. Visit family or friends who live in the country. And when I can’t get out of the city? I seek wisdom in the very spot I’ve been planted.
No matter which method or activity you choose, whether accepting the conclusions of Socrates in the Protagoras:
Socrates claimed that “all virtue is knowledge and therefore one. He argues that the reason people act harmfully, to others or themselves, is because they only see the short term gains while ignoring the long term losses which might outweigh them, just like one makes errors in judging the size of objects that are far away. He says that if men were taught the art of calculating these things correctly, have a more exact knowledge that is, they would not act harmfully.
or by seeking, sharing and serving God in this world:
So that this call should resound throughout the world, Christ sent forth the apostles he had chosen, commissioning them to proclaim the gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Strengthened by this mission, the apostles “went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it.” Those who with God’s help have welcomed Christ’s call and freely responded to it are urged on by love of Christ to proclaim the Good News everywhere in the world. This treasure, received from the apostles, has been faithfully guarded by their successors. All Christ’s faithful are called to hand it on from generation to generation, by professing the faith, by living it in fraternal sharing, and by celebrating it in liturgy and prayer. (CCC 2-3)
or both (because they are not necessarily mutually exclusive) pick one. Remember Psalm 19:1: The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Then (and with humility) end each day with these words from G.K. Chesterton:
“Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world around me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?”
[Admin: It should come as no surprise to anyone that my daughter's name is Sophia Rose. It was chosen for many of the reasons I've just mentioned. Also, I chose not to go into depth regarding the Rosary as I plan on writing more about this prayer in the coming week or two. This single prayer, meditation, or exercise…whatever you choose to call it…has been responsible for deepening and widening my faith more than any other. It has opened the door for me to a rich world in which my head is able to stay above water. At least for the most part. I am human after all.]