Join our Lenten Campaign 2024.
Sorrow and sadness might seem just a part of life, a normal human emotion. But there’s another type of sorrow that is actually a vice. This was the explanation given by Pope Francis on this February 7, as he continued his general audience series on virtues and vices.
“[There is] a rather ugly vice, sorrow, understood as a despondency of the soul, a constant affliction that prevents man from feeling joy at his own existence,” the Pope explained. This second type of sorrow “creeps into the soul and prostrates it in a state of despondency … it comes from the Evil One.”
The Holy Father differentiated between the good sorrow, felt for example, by the Prodigal Son when he recognized his sin, and the sorrow that is vice, manifested by the disciples on the way to Emmaus, with their despondent reply to Jesus, “We had hoped …”
Playing the victim
This sorrow is “like the pleasure of non-pleasure; it is like taking a bitter, bitter, bitter candy, without sugar, unpleasant, and sucking that candy. Sorrow is taking pleasure in non-pleasure,” the Pope warned. “Sorrow, from being a natural emotion, can turn into an evil state of mind,” he said and this mental state somehow enjoys lulling oneself into endless sadness.
It is a devious demon, that of sorrow. The fathers of the desert described is as a worm of the heart, which erodes and hollows out its host. This is a good image … A worm in the heart that consumes and hollows out its host.
This vice-sorrow brings us to “wallow in melancholy, allowing it to fester in their hearts.”
Certain protracted griefs, where a person continues to expand the void of one who is no longer there, are not proper to life in the Spirit. Certain resentful bitternesses, where a person always has a claim in mind that makes them take on the guise of the victim, do not produce a healthy life in us, let alone a Christian one.
Joy of Jesus
In contrast to this wallowing state, we must stay focused on Jesus who “brings us the joy of resurrection,” the Pope said.
However full life may be of contradictions, of defeated desires, of unrealized dreams, of lost friendships, thanks to Jesus’ resurrection we can believe that all will be saved.
While it’s true that life has many difficult moments, “Jesus rose again not only for Himself, but also for us, to redeem all the happiness that has remained unfulfilled in our lives,” he said. “Faith casts out fear, and the resurrection of Christ removes sadness like the stone from the tomb.”
The Pope alluded to the effort that this joy might imply, by observing: “Every Christian’s day is an exercise in resurrection.”
He concluded with two reflections taken from literature:
Georges Bernanos, in his famous novel Diary of a Country Priest, has the parish priest of Torcy say this: “The Church has joy, all that joy that is reserved for this sad world. What you have done against her, you have done against joy.” And another French writer, León Bloy, left us that wonderful phrase: “There is only one sadness, […] that of not being holy”.
“May the Spirit of the risen Jesus help us to defeat sorrow with holiness,” the Pope prayed.
Holy Spirit’s help
In comments to various language groups, he expanded on the importance of the Holy Spirit.
He said, “In the struggle against sadness we confidently turn to the Holy Spirit who is the perfect comforter. He frees us from loneliness by infusing our hearts with the love of God that enables us to console in turn the afflicted and the needy.”
Our faith is protection, he added: “Those who believe in God do not allow themselves to be suffocated by weeping, whatever the reason. But, he overcomes it by the power of the Holy Spirit and transforms it into a new life.”