Pope Francis: Overcome desolation with prayer, not pills or drink

The Pope’s advice on how to get through hard times and help others do the same

Pope Francis: Overcome desolation with prayer, not pills or drink

© Antoine Mekary / ALETEIA

VATICAN CITY — What should you do when you, or a friend or loved one, are experiencing spiritual darkness due to a family tragedy, illness, or something that is weighing you down?

Today, Pope Francis said that prayer is the way to overcome our darkest moments, rather than resorting to pills or drink to escape the reality of our troubles. His comments came during his homily at Holy Mass this morning in the chapel of his residence at Santa Marta.

Commenting on today’s first reading from the Old Testament, in which Job pours out his sorrows to God after losing everything, even his children, Pope Francis focused on the spiritual desolation that we all experience and explained how we can overcome it.

The pope pointed out that, although Job had lost everything, he did not curse God but rather poured out his troubles to him as “a son to his father.”

Sooner or later all of us experience spiritual darkness

“Spiritual desolation is something that happens to all of us: it can be stronger or weaker … but that feeling of spiritual darkness, of hopelessness, mistrust, lacking the desire to live, without seeing the end of the tunnel, with so much agitation in one’s heart and in one’s ideas…  Spiritual desolation makes us feel as though our souls are crushed, we can’t succeed, we can’t succeed and we also don’t want to live: ‘Death is better!’ This was Job’s outburst. It was better to die than live like this. We need to understand that when our soul is in this state of generalized sadness we can barely breathe: This happens to all of us… whether strong or not … to all of us. (We need to) understand what goes on in our hearts.”

Pope Francis went on to pose the question: “What should we do when we experience these dark moments, be it a family tragedy, an illness, something that weighs us down?” Noting that some people would think of a sleeping pill to help them escape their problem, or drinking one, two, three or four glasses,” he warned that these methods “do not help.” Instead, today’s liturgy shows us how to cope with this spiritual desolation, “when we are lukewarm, depressed and without hope.”

The Pope said the way out from this situation is to pray, to pray loudly, just as Job did, day and night until God responds.

“It is a prayer to knock at the door but with strength! ‘Lord, my soul is surfeited with troubles. My life draws near to Hell. I am numbered among those who go down into the pit; I am a man without strength.’ How many times have we felt like this, without strength? And here is the prayer. Our Lord himself taught us how to pray in these dreadful moments. ‘Lord, you have plunged me into the bottom of the pit. Upon me, your wrath lies heavy. Let my prayer come before you, Lord.’ This is the prayer and this is how we should pray in our darkest, most dreadful, bleakest and most crushed moments that are really crushing us. This is genuine prayer. And it’s also giving vent just like Job did with his sons. Like a son.”

Silence, closeness, and prayer: how to help those who are suffering

Silence, closeness, and prayer is the best way to be a friend to those going through times of darkness, Pope Francis said, as he warned that sometimes words and speeches in these situations can do more harm than good.

“First of all, we must recognize in ourselves these moments of spiritual desolation, when we are in the dark, without hope and asking ourselves why. Secondly, we must pray to the Lord like today’s reading from Psalm 87 teaches us to pray during our dark moments. ‘Let my prayer come before you, Lord.’ Thirdly, when I draw close to a person who is suffering, whether from illness, or whatever other type of suffering and who is experiencing a sense of desolation, we must be silent: but a silence with much love, closeness and caresses.  And we must not make speeches that don’t help in the end and even can do harm.”

The Pope concluded his homily by asking the Lord to grant us these three graces: the grace to recognize spiritual desolation, the grace to pray when we are afflicted by this feeling of spiritual desolation, and the grace to know how to be close to people who are suffering terrible moments of sadness and spiritual desolation.”