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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

[Y]ou need to be clearer about your material – not all people who suffer with anxiety/ depression are going to Hell. If a person unconsciously desires to harm, then this is unconscious (not in one’s consciousness, therefore, not a volitional act). . . . How can something unconscious be a sin?… [Y]ou need to revise your theology. You are more or less saying that unless people know the material on your website (i.e. their need to heal from childhood hurts), they are doomed to Hell. This is a grave misunderstanding. What about the many people who lived prior to the psycho-dynamic theory was even thought of? . . . You cannot tell people: Well, turn away from the satisfaction of thinking that you are in a state of grace when you unconsciously desire to harm yourself and others. . . . Unconscious “desire” cannot be sinful – it is not volitional. . . . I just don’t want to be carrying a false sense of guilt. If what you are saying were true, then by all means, I would accept it. But it undermines Catholic doctrine. You have not given me anything Catholic to support what you are saying except an opinion based on psychotherapeutic studies. Where there is confusion between opinion and Church teaching, I rest with the Magisterium.

Outline of the Answer
• Nothing More Catholic Than God’s Mercy
• Telling Others What To Do
• Futile Desire
• The Will to Chaos and Death
• Holy Desire

 
There’s nothing more Catholic than putting your trust in God’s mercy and love. How beautiful to accept your wretchedness gracefully and trust in God’s mercy! If you did this you would not be afraid of anything.

  
Telling Others What To Do

Nevertheless, many who call themselves Catholic are afraid to trust in God’s mercy. Because of humiliation from being mistreated in childhood they hide their wretchedness. They hide it from everyone, even themselves. As children they were not taught by their parents to turn to God for comfort, and so they were unable to turn to God for comfort when they experienced distress. Consequently, they learned nothing about emotional honesty. Instead, they fell into the trap of intellectualizing their distress by telling others what to do.

When experiencing emotional hurt because of something someone did or said, the hurt bypassed their conscious awareness and passed into their unconscious, and all they could think about consciously was the desperate desire for others to act differently. “You can’t do this,” or “You can’t say that,” or “You need to do such and such” all amount to saying, “Change your behavior so I can feel good about myself.” In its more primal sense—that is, to a helpless child—it means “Care for me so that I can live. Without your love I am in danger of perishing.”

 
Futile Desire

Without deep spiritual scrutiny or psychotherapy, this desperation—this futile desire to go around proving that someone is wrong—will be carried on into adulthood. Demanding. Critical. Accusatory. Argumentative. Angry. These qualities will define such a person’s life. It’s a life of sad desperation on a continuum whose extreme is terrorism.

Always telling others what to do, you believe that you have done nothing wrong. Yet underneath it all you carry the guilt of being angry at your parents, and it’s an anger that has now been driven into your unconscious. Because you fear the guilt you are desperate to call it a “false sense of guilt.” It’s all because you lack faith, and you fear God’s mercy. Instead of admitting your wretchedness to God and calling upon His mercy to be freed of guilt, you try to convince yourself that you haven’t sinned. Trying to convince yourself that you haven’t sinned, though, is opposed to God’s mercy. How can you say, “God have mercy, I have sinned” if you persist in saying, “But I haven’t sinned!”? When you are warned, you get angry, and you fall into the futile desire of trying to tell others what to do. 

  

Let me say also that when we are given a warning and corrected for doing something wrong, we should not be so foolish as to take offense and be angry. There are times when we are unconscious of the sins we commit because our hearts are fickle, lacking in faith. Futile desires becloud our minds.

  

Think about that. It sounds like something that psychodynamic theory would say, right? Well, it was actually said in a homily written in the second century.[1] It was a truth given to Christians who lived well before psychodynamic theory was even thought of.

 
The Will to Chaos and Death

In Canto I of Book I (Hell) of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Dante finds himself lost in a dark woods (symbolizing the spiritual blindness of a heart hardened by sin). He tries to escape by climbing up a beautiful mountain, but he is driven back to the woods by three animals, a leopard (symbolizing lust), a lion (symbolizing violence) and a wolf (symbolizing malice). Back in the woods he meets the shade of Virgil, an ancient Roman poet, who proposes to guide Dante down through Hell to get to Purgatory and ultimately Paradise. 

  

The Mountain, which on the mystical level is the image of the Soul’s Ascent to God, is thus on the moral level the image of Repentance, by which the sinner returns to God. It can be ascended directly from the “right road” but not from the Dark Wood because there the soul’s cherished sins have become, as it were, externalized, and appear to it like demons or “beasts” with a will and power of their own, blocking all progress. Once lost in the Dark Wood, a man can only escape by so descending into himself that he sees his sin, not as an external obstacle, but as the will to chaos and death within him (Hell). Only when he has “died to sin” can he repent and purge it. Mount Purgatory and the Mountain of Canto I are, therefore, really one and the same mountain as seen on the far side, and on this side, of the “death unto sin.”

  

Dorothy Sayers [2]

So what is the “will to chaos and death” within us that Sayers describes but the futile desire to commit sin that characterizes our fallen nature. The psychological implication of this is that in order to attain holiness we must all descend into the inner hell of a “desire to commit sin” that lurks in the unconscious of us all and that will lead us to our doom unless we encounter it and pass beyond it with a courageous desire for purification.

 
Holy Desire

Everything on this website points to one fundamental spiritual truth: our salvation depends on our renouncing the deep futile desire to commit sin that lurks in our hearts because of our fallen nature. If we can renounce that desire to commit sin and battle against it in every moment, then we will be on the way of perfection, motivated by the holy desire to seek God with a pure heart.

Your predicament is like someone who has received the gift of spiritually enlightened truth, and then, because the truth he sees conflicts with his futile, unconscious desires, sins by trying to turn off the lights.

Well, if you refuse to learn from your mistakes, maybe someone else will learn from them here. As for you: do what you want.

 

V. 

From my secret sins cleanse me, O Lord.

R. 

And from those of others spare Thy servant.

 

Who wrote this web page?
 

Notes.

1. See the Liturgy of the Hours: Office of Readings, Saturday of the Thirty-Second Week in Ordinary Time.

2. From her commentary on Canto I of Cantica I: Hell (L’Inferno) in Dante’s The Divine Comedy, trans. Dorothy Sayers (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1949).

 

Related pages:

Scruples

Sending yourself to hell to prove that someone has hurt you

Unconscious anger

Blind to your own anger

What is “anger without sin”?

 


 
Recommended Reading
 
A treasure of a resource for psychological and spiritual healing. Information gathered from my websites (including this webpage) is now available at your fingertips in book form.

 

Falling Families, Fallen Children by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. Do our children see a mother and a father both living in contemplative love for God with a constant awareness of His presence and engaged in an all-out battle with the evil of the world? More often than not our children don’t see living faith. They don’t see protection from evil. They don’t see genuine, fruitful devotion. They don’t see genuine love for God. Instead, they see our external acts of devotion as meaningless because they see all the other things we do that contradict the true faith. Thus we lose credibility—and when parents lose credibility, children become cynical and angry and turn to the social world around them for identity and acceptance. They are children who have more concern for social approval than for loving God. They are fallen children. Let’s bring them back.

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Where Catholic therapy (Catholic psychotherapy) is explained according to Catholic psychology in the tradition of the Catholic mystics.