Overcoming Despondency and Discouragement (part 1)

Despondency and discouragement are a disease; they do not proceed from God, and they do us no good whatsoever. Let us follow, then, the example of Bl. Mary of Jesus Crucified, who, after having succumbed to despair, renewed her faith and confidence in her loving Saviour, Who wishes only to bestow on us His grace and blessings. Below are some quotes and ‘maxims’ that will help you to stand strong against this pernicious temptation. The key to understanding these insights will be supplied in the next post (‘Overcoming Despondency… part 2).

“Everything comes from love; all is ordained for the salvation of man. God does nothing without this goal in mind.” – St. Catherine of Siena

“Don’t let temptations frighten you; they are the trials of the souls whom God wants to test when he sees they have the necessary strength to sustain the struggle, thus weaving the crown of glory with their own hands.” – St. Pio of Pietrelcina

“Bear in mind that the more the enemy assaults you, the closer God is to your soul. Think about, and penetrate this great and comforting truth.” – St. Pio of Pietrelcina

“Without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. The gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase.” – St. Rose of Lima

“Virtue is nothing without the trial of temptation, for there is no conflict without an enemy, no victory without strife.” – St. Leo the Great

“When God intends to grant a man any particular virtue, it is His way to let him be tempted to the opposite vice.” – St. Philip Neri (The same saint says that, when tempted, we must immediately have recourse to prayer).

“Jesus offers you the cross, a very heavy cross, and you are afraid of not being able to carry it without giving way. Why? Our Beloved Himself fell three times on the way to Calvary, and why should we not imitate Him?” – St. Therese

“It is by battle against temptations that we give God fruits of our love.” -St. John Vianney

“Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you. All things are passing; God never changes. Patience obtains all things. He who possesses God lacks nothing: God alone suffices.” – St. Teresa of Avila

“It is the nature of our enemy to become powerless, lose courage, and take to flight as soon as a person who is following the spiritual life stands courageously against his temptations and does exactly the opposite of what he suggests.” – Saint Ignatius of Loyola

“When tempted, invoke your angel. He is more eager to help you than you are to be helped! Ignore the devil and do not be afraid of him; He trembles and flees at the sight of your guardian angel.” – St. John Bosco

“I do not reward for good results but for the patience and hardship undergone for My sake.” – Jesus to Sr. Josefa Menendez

“You have wounded Me both by word and deed; still I wish to do you good and to let you share all My treasures… They [souls] have not understood My Heart. For it is their very destitution and failings that incline My goodness toward them. And when acknowledging their helplessness and weakness, they humble themselves and have recourse to Me trustfully, then indeed they give me more glory than before their fault.” – Jesus to Sr. Josefa Menendez

“Believe Me, it is with trials that I send My greatest graces.” – Jesus to Sr. Mary of the Trinity

“It is not when everything is going well that you love Me. It is when everything is going wrong, and in spite of it your soul remains united to Me, peaceful, occupied only in diffusing a good spirit.” – Jesus to Sr. Mary of the Trinity

“One opportunity of forgiving, of overcoming evil by good, is a great present on My part.” – Jesus to Sr. Mary of the Trinity

“A little effort and pain, then such a great reward- and already her below the reward of seeing love, generosity, and the Faith spread irresistibly, like a spot of oil.” – Jesus to Sr. Mary of the Trinity

“See, My little daughter, I really have to send trials to those whom I love in order to wrench them out of the network of habits or errors wherein you run the risk of burying yourself. ‘The disciples are not above the Master’: it is by the Cross that I saved the world.” – Jesus to Sr. Mary of the Trinity

“If you invoke the Blessed Virgin when you are tempted, she will come at once to your help, and Satan will leave you.” – St. John Vianney

“There is no more evident sign that anyone is a saint and of the number of the elect, than to see him leading a good life and at the same time a prey to desolation, suffering, and trials.” – Saint Aloysius Gonzaga

“The more you are tempted, the more I will love you.” – St. Francis of Assisi to one of his Brothers

“Although we do not feel confidence in God, we must not fail to make acts of hope. Distrust of ourselves and of our own strength should be accompanied by humility and faith, which obtain the grace of confidence in God. The more unfortunate we are, the more we should have confidence in Him who sees our state, and who can come to our assistance. No one trusts in God without reaping the fruits of his hope. The soul should remain tranquil and rely on Him who can give the increase to what has been sown and planted. We must not cease to labour, but in toiling we must trust in God for the success of our works.” – St. Francis de Sales

“Be grateful for trials and tribulations! When all is going well, we forget God; only in adversity do we seek Him for comfort.” – St. Francis de Sales

“It is not new to fall; what is wrong is to lie down after you have fallen. Remember where you stood before you fell. The devil once mocked you, but now he will know that you can rise stronger than ever before… Do not draw back from the mercy of God.” – St. Abraham Kidunaia

“The trials that seem to defy our hope and ruin the very foundations of all patience are meant, by the Spirit of God, to make our hope more and more perfect, basing it entirely in God, removing every visible support that can be found in this world. For a hope that rests on temporal power or temporal happiness is not theological. It is merely human, and has no supernatural strength to give us.” – Father Thomas Merton, OCSO

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterward you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory when it is displayed to all the world.” – 1 Peter 4:12-13

“The longer the trial to which God subjects you, the greater the goodness in comforting you during the time of the trial and in the exaltation after the combat.” – St. Pio of Pietrelcina

“There is always a great temptation to discouragement and distrust even after our sins have been forgiven. We feel that God still holds our sins against us, that His providence will be less favourable to us in the future, that He no longer trusts us not to offend Him again, and He will be reserved and sparing in His graces. We feel too that no matter how great our progress in the future, the ultimate result will always be spoiled by that unfortunate past. The phantom of what might have been had we always been faithful mocks our efforts, lessens our hopes, and disheartens us. There is a certain height, we imagine, which we might have reached, but which is now impossible.

All that, natural though it may be, is quite wrong. It is based upon a wrong notion of God and is the result of a failure to understand His power and goodness. God can always give us the means to make up for lost time. To them that love God, all things work together unto good, writes St. Paul, and St. Augustine would include in “all things” even their sins. It follows then that God can use all things for the good of those who love Him. Even if we conceive of His plan as setting a certain height of holiness for each man, we should also remember that He can lead us to that height from any point we reach in our wanderings. If we lose our way and leave the path He has marked out for us, He can still bring us to the goal by another route. Let us be convinced that no matter what we have lost, what we have ruined, or how far we have wandered into the wilderness from the right path, God can give us back all we have lost or damaged. God can show us a road — or if necessary, build a new road for us — that leads from our present position, whatever it may be, to the heights of sanctity.” – Dom Eugene Boylan

Maxims (inspired by Fr. P.J Michel’s book, ‘Spiritual Despondency and Temptation’)

1. Despondency is an insidious temptation. It blinds us to God’s goodness, weakens our wills and paralyses our soul.

2. The remedy for discouragement is humble, persevering prayer. God has promised us victory and- in the end- eternal life; we must respond to God’s infallible promises with confidence in He alone Who can (and ardently wills to) give us the strength to persevere.

3. “…where sin abounded, grace did more abound.” (Rom. 5:20) If we fall through weakness, there is mercy; if we fall through malice, there is mercy (provided that we are contrite). Boundless mercy merits boundless confidence; though this is only possible with God’s grace.

4. Everything God wills (or permits) is for our ultimate good. Therefore, we should always be grateful to God for whatever befalls us!

5. Sloth leads to discouragement. We must not wait for extraordinary graces that will render our trials ‘easy.’ We must fight courageously. We have the assurance of victory, provided that we lean on God.

6. It is heresy to believe that we can avoid all sin without a special grace from God.

Furthermore, we would do well to meditate on God’s promises; His perfect fidelity; His delight in granting great graces to those who persevere in prayer (cf. the Scriptures and the lives of the saints, for example); our weakness and misery, which entitles us to God’s strength and mercy etc.

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“Confidence is Fortified by Faith”

Taken from ch. 2 of ‘The Book of Confidence’ by Fr. Thomas de Saint-Laurent:

Confidence Is Fortified by Faith
What sovereign strength fortifies hope to the point of rendering it unshakable in the face of the assault of adversity? Faith!

The confident soul remains mindful of the promises of her Heavenly Father; she meditates upon them profoundly. She knows that God’s word cannot fail, and from this she draws her certainty. Danger may threaten, surround, and even strike her, but she always preserves her serenity. In spite of the imminent danger, she repeats the words of the Psalmist: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life: Of whom shall I be afraid?”

There is the closest affinity between faith and confidence; the two are most intimately related. A contemporary theologian tells us that confidence has its “source and root” in faith. Hence the more profound our faith, the stronger and more deeply rooted will be our confidence. In the Scriptures, we find that the sacred writers designated these two virtues by the same word: fides.

Confidence Is Unshakable
… “Confidence,” writes Father Saint-Jure, “is firm, stable, and constant to such an eminent degree that it cannot be shaken – I no longer say just overthrown – by anything in the world.”

Neither the most afflicting temporal misfortunes nor the greatest spiritual difficulties will disturb the peace of the confident soul. Unforeseen calamities may lay her happiness in ruins around her; this soul, more master of herself than the ancient wise man, will remain calm: “Impavidum ferient ruinae.”

She will simply turn to the Lord. She will lean on Him with a certainty that increases in proportion to the degree that she feels herself deprived of human help. She will pray with greater fervour and, in the darkness of the trial, continue on her path, waiting in silence for the hour of God.

… We find sublime examples of this degree of confidence in the Scriptures and in the lives of the saints.

Such was the confidence of Job. Stricken with every possible misfortune – the loss of his wealth, the death of his children, the ruin of his health – he was reduced to direst poverty and afflicted with a dreadful disease. As he sat on a dunghill, his friends, even his wife, increased his pain by the cruelty of their words. But he did not allow himself to be discouraged; no murmuring was mixed with his groaning. He kept his mind fixed on thoughts of faith. “Although He [the Lord] should kill me,” he said, “I will trust in Him.”

This was an admirable confidence that God rewarded magnificently. The trial ceased; Job recovered his health, gained a considerable fortune again, and enjoyed a life more prosperous than the one he had before the trial.

On one of his journeys, Saint Martin fell into the hands of highwaymen. The bandits stripped him and were going to kill him. Suddenly, however, touched by the grace of repentance or moved by a mysterious fear, they turned him loose and, against all expectations, freed him. Later, the illustrious bishop was asked if, during that pressing danger, he had not felt some fear. “None,” he responded. “I knew that as human help became more improbable, the divine intervention was all the more certain.”

Unfortunately, most Christians do not imitate such examples.

Never do they approach God so seldom as in the hour of trial. Indeed, many do not even send forth that cry for help which God awaits in order to come to their assistance. What a fatal negligence! “Providence,” Louis of Granada used to say, “wishes to give the solution to the extraordinary difficulties of life directly, while it leaves to secondary causes the resolving of ordinary difficulties.” But it is always necessary to cry out for divine help.

That help God gives us with pleasure. “Far from bothering the nurse who suckles him, the baby brings her relief.”

Other Christians pray rervently, but they do not persevere in prayer. If they are not answered immediately, they quickly fall from exalted hope into a state of unreasonable discouragement. They do not understand the ways of grace. God treats us like children; He plays deaf at times because He likes to hear us invoking Him. Why should we become discouraged so quickly when, on the contrary, it would be convenient for us to cry out with greater insistence?

This is the doctrine taught by Saint Francis de Sales: “Providence only delays in coming to our aid in order to excite us to confidence. If our Heavenly Father does not always grant us what we ask, it is because He desires to keep us at His feet and to provide us with an occasion to insist with loving violence in our petitions to Him. He showed this clearly to the two disciples at Emmaus, with whom He did not consent to remain until the close of the day, and even after they had pressed Him.”

Confidence Counts on Nothing but God
Unshakable firmness is, then, the first characteristic of confidence.

The second quality of this virtue is even more perfect. It leads a man not to count on the help of creatures, whether such help be drawn from himself, from his own intelligence, from his judgement, from his knowledge, from his skill, from his riches, from his friends, from his relatives, or from any other thing of his; or whether it be assistance that he might perhaps hope to receive from someone else: kings, princes, or any creature in general, because he senses and knows the weaknesses of all human help. He considers human helps to be what they really are. How right Saint Teresa was in calling them “dry branches that break under the first pressure.”

But, some will say, does not this theory proceed from false mysticism? Will it not lead to fatalism or, at least, to perilous passivity? Why should we multiply our efforts in trying to overcome difficulties if all human support must crumble in our hands? Let us simply cross our arms and await divine intervention!

No, God does not wish us to sleep; He demands that we imitate Him. His perfect activity has no limits. He is pure act.

We must act, then, but from Him alone must we expect the efficacy of our action. “Help thyself that heaven may help thee.” Behold the economy of the providential plan.

To your posts then! Let us work with our spirit and heart turned on high. “It is vain for you to rise before light,” says the Scripture; if the Lord does not aid thee, thou shalt attain nothing.

Indeed, our impotence is radical. “Without Me you can do nothing,” says Our Saviour. In the supernatural order, this impotence is absolute. Heed well the teachings of the theologians.

Without grace, man cannot observe the commandments of God for a long time or in their totality. Without grace, he cannot resist all the temptations, sometimes so violent, that assault him.

Without grace, we cannot have a good thought; we cannot even make the shortest prayer; without it, we cannot even invoke with piety the holy name of Jesus.

Everything that we do in the supernatural order comes to us from God alone. Even in the natural order, it is still God who gives us victory.

Saint Peter had worked the whole night; he had endured in his labours; he had a profound knowledge of the secrets of his difficult occupation. Nevertheless, his movements over the gentle waves of the lake had been in vain; he had caught nothing. Then he receives the Master into his boat; upon casting his net in the name of the Saviour, he attains an undeniably miraculous catch; the nets break, such is the number of fish.

Following the example of the Apostle, let us cast our nets with untiring patience; but let us hope only in Our Lord for the miraculous catch.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola used to say: “In everything you do, behold the rule of rules to follow: Trust in God, acting, nevertheless, as if success in everything depended entirely on you and not at all on God; but, employing your efforts to attain this good result, do not count on them, but proceed as if everything were done by God alone and nothing by you.”

Confidence Rejoices Even at Being Deprived of Human Help
Do not be discouraged when the mirage of human assistance fades away. To count on nothing but the help of heaven, is this not already a most high virtue?

Even so, the vigorous wings of true confidence rise to even more sublime regions. It reaches them by a kind of refinement of heroism. Then it attains the highest degree of its perfection. This degree consists in the soul rejoicing when it finds itself stripped of all human support, abandoned by its relatives, its friends, and all the creatures who do not wish to or cannot help it, who cannot give it counsel or assist it with their talents or credits, who have no means left to come to its aid.

What a profound wisdom this joy denotes in such cruel circumstances!

To intone the Canticle of Alleluia under blows which are, naturally speaking, sufficient to break our courage, one must know the Heart of Our Lord to Its depth; one must believe blindly in His merciful and fatherly love and His omnipotent goodness; one must have absolute certainty that He selects for His intervention the hour of the desperate situations.

After his conversion, Saint Francis of Assisi despised the dreams of glory that had dazzled him previously. He fled from human gatherings, withdrew into the forest in order to surrender himself to a long period of prayer, and gave generous alms. This change displeased his father, who, dragging his son before the diocesan authority, accused him of dissipating his goods. Then, in the presence of the marvelling bishop, Francis renounced his paternal inheritance, removed the clothing that had come to him from his family, and stripped himself of everything! Then, vibrant with supernatural happiness, he exclaimed: “Now, yes, O my God, I can call Thee more truly than ever, ‘Our Father, Who art in heaven’!” Behold how the saints act.

You souls wounded by misfortune, do not murmur over the abandonment in which you find yourselves reduced. God does not ask of you a sensible joy, impossible to your weakness. Just rekindle your faith, have courage, and, according to the
expression dear to Saint Francis de Sales, in the “innermost point of your soul,” try to have joy.

Providence will eventually give you the right sign by which you shall recognise Its hour; It deprived you of all support. Now is the moment to resist the distress of nature. You have reached that hour in the office of the interior of the soul in which you should sing the Magnificat and put incense to burn. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice… The Lord is nigh!” Follow this counsel; you will feel the benefit of it.

If the Divine Master did not allow Himself to be touched by such confidence, He would not be the same Person shown by the Gospel to be so compassionate, the One who trembled with painful emotion at the sight of our suffering.

Our Lord once said to a saintly religious, who died in the odour of sanctity: “If I am good to all, I am very good to those who confide in Me. Dost thou know which souls take the greatest advantage of my goodness? They are those who hope  the most. Confident souls steal my graces!”  (*These words were spoken to Sr. Benigna Consolata Ferrero).

How To Be Holy.

“Often all that is required of a soul to render it holy, is to let Me act.” – Jesus to Sr. Benigna Consolata Ferrero

Let Me act. Refuse Me not. Trust Me lovingly- trust Me blindly.” – Jesus to Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Let Me act.” – Jesus to Sr. Mary of the Trinity

Allow My love to act.” – Jesus to Sr. Benigna Consolata Ferrero

“My creatures make Me out as one who is fear-inspiring rather than kind; and I, on the other hand, delight in being always and solely kind. What is it that I require? Love, and love only, for he who loves Me, serves Me.” – Jesus to Sr. Josefa Menendez

“I delight to work in a soul. You see, I love to do everything Myself; and from this soul I ask only that she love Me… Allow Me to do it! … Allow me to do it all! … Let Me do everything… Follow Me with an unceasing act of love, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute! I will attend to everything else! I will provide for everything!” – Jesus to Sr. Consolata Betrone

“Sanctity is to allow Me to live in you, and it is I who bring it to pass within you. It is to give Me your human nature so that I may live on among you.” – Jesus to Sr. Mary of the Trinity

“Unceasingly use My life, My Blood, My Heart… confide constantly and without any fear in this Heart; this secret is known to few; I want you to know it and to profit by it.” – Jesus to Sr. Josefa Menendez

“You ask how to obtain perfection. I know but one way- Love.” – Little St. Therese of Lisieux

 “It is wrong to spend one’s time on useless worries, instead of reposing on the Heart of Jesus.” – Little St. Therese of Lisieux

“Love me Consolata, love Me alone! Love is everything, and so you will be giving Me everything. When you love Me, you give Jesus everything He desires from his creature: love! Love is everything! If you will now concentrate upon this one resolution, you will be giving everything to Jesus!” – Jesus to Sr. Consolata Betrone

“If you wish to be a saint it is not hard. Have one aim, to please Jesus and to unite yourself more intimately to Him.”

– Little St. Therese of Lisieux

“How foolish is your fear of being damned!”

(The title contains the words of our Lord to Sr. Consolata Betrone)

Here are some words that should eliminate any irrational fears of damnation; such as any fear that springs from distrust in the INEXHAUSTIBLE mercy of God. I have combined the words of our Lord to Sr. Consolata Betrone, Sr. Josefa Menendez, Sr. Mary of the Trinity, St. Mechtilde and Sr. Benigna Consolata Ferrero, without distorting their true meaning.

“I bought you at the price of My Blood, the Blood of God. That I might not condemn you, I allowed Myself to be condemned in your place… How foolish is your fear of being damned! … If only one second of life remains to you, in that one second you can buy back eternal life! … For as long as a breath of life remains a man may have recourse to mercy and ask for pardon… You see, final impenitence is found only in a soul who purposely wishes to go to Hell* and therefore obstinately refuses My mercy, for I never refuse to pardon anyone. I offer the immense gift of My compassion to all, for My Blood was shed for all, for all! No, it is not the multiplicity of sins which condemns a soul, for I forgive everything if she repents, but it is the obstinacy of not wishing to be pardoned … For terrible is the condition of an impenitent heart; I cannot penetrate it. It is not I who condemn it; it is he who wilfully repels Me…These souls (“Those… who want to be damned”) are chased by my mercy much more than a wrongdoer is chased by the police, but they run away from my mercy! … Sins may be enormous and numerous; but provided that the soul returns to Me, I am always ready to pardon all, to forget all… do not fear; that soul alone is lost who absolutely wills it** in spite of the repeated solicitations of My grace… Every desire that a soul has ever had to possess Me is inspired by Me… When a soul returns to Me after a fall, the comfort she gives Me is a gain for her, for I regard her with very great love… I never refuse love to someone who asks for it… Oh, if you knew how much I love you, My little child!”

* “O my Jesus, Your goodness surpasses all understanding, and no one will exhaust Your mercy. Damnation is for the soul who wants to be damned; but for the one who desires salvation, there is the inexhaustible ocean of the Lord’s mercy to draw from… God will not deny His mercy to anyone. Heaven and earth may change, but God’s mercy will never be exhausted.” (St Faustina’s diary: 631 and 72)

** Such souls never repent. God does not refuse His mercy to them.

“Heaven is filled with converted sinners of all kinds.” St Bridget

“Heaven is filled with converted sinners of all kinds, and there is room for more.” – St. Joseph Cafasso