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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

I have been having a lot of death thoughts. [Previously] I wished that I would die, but it has moved from being more passive to active. I have become obsessed with death. I visit cemeteries, listen to dark music, and watch videos on you tube where people jump off bridges and cliffs. Death has become an escape for me, something that helps to take the edge off things. I think about what it would be like to jump off a cliff, and wonder if you have second thoughts while you fall. I also considered how I don’t like this kind of death because it is too sudden (one minute you’re alive and the next you’re dead and who knows what is next...I would rather die gradually the way you enter a pool slowly instead of splashing in). Death seems to be a liberation from everything. I do not think I would be very sad to die, and I wouldn’t want people to miss me.

I told a priest this in confession and he told me that if I died deliberately (by suicide) I would probably go to hell. Another priest told me what that priest said was primitive because God is a God of mercy. I don’t tell other people my thoughts about death because I am afraid they will treat me with contempt and make me feel ashamed of myself or overreact and try to hospitalize me. Only a priest can’t do this in confession. Whenever something depressing happens, my thoughts turn to escaping by death and immediately my shame and fear of the future disappears. Time stops, I don’t fear growing old, being alone, or whatever bad things the future has in store for me. I can nullify everything, even my fear of God and damnation.

The priest told me to see a professional, but I don’t want to talk to anyone about it. It is not cathartic to talk about it; people would say you just want attention, or you’re weak, and besides, it doesn’t make me feel grief. It makes me feel peaceful. Still, turning over thoughts of death in your mind does not seem Christian even if it gives me peace. It gets rid of fear, boredom, stress, shame, and regret. It helps me to explore my emotions and gives me insight into my sexual self. I realize that many of my childhood fears were just masking a fear of death and that I have always been attracted to old run-down places because they remind me of death. I used to think to myself, “why do I get a sense of peace when I see a house that is boarded up after it has been burnt down?” but now I know it is because I associate it with death and finality and inactivity. I also used to like watching videos of Chernobyl, which is deserted and “dead”. This doesn’t mean I am going to kill myself because to talk about death and to bring it about are different. The level of thought I put into this probably shows a desire for activity. Besides, if I was truly going to die, would I even contact you? I just need help. I am kind of lonely and tired. Is it possible that God would want someone to die if they have felt this way for such a long time?

Outline of the Answer
• Getting it Wrong
• Burying Talents
• The Allure of Death
• A Gift from God
• Sadness

 
If God wanted you to die, He would kill you outright. So if He hasn’t killed you yet, then your life still has a purpose.

Now, as for what those priests told you, both priests, in subtle ways, are wrong.

 
Getting it Wrong

The second priest essentially told you that you can do anything you want and expect to get away with it simply because God is merciful. Well, that’s wrong—and to understand why it’s wrong, let’s look at why the first priest is wrong.

The act of suicide, in itself, won’t necessarily send you to hell because there is always some chance that, just before you die, you might experience repentance. Keep in mind that murder—even self-murder—is a sin and that every sin must be paid for. If you repent your sins, however, the price, even if huge, can be paid in Purgatory. If you don’t repent your sins, well, the price will be infinite and eternal.

Now, I don’t know precisely what the second priest actually said to you, but, from what you tell me, he has neglected to emphasize the concept of repentance, and his advice about God’s mercy puts you at risk for making an unforgivable sin—the sin of not repenting your sins. That’s why his advice is wrong.

Having understood this much, let’s look at what makes an obsession with death such a sad mistake.

 
Burying Talents

Consider the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the similar Parable of the Ten Gold Coins (Luke 19:11-27). In each of these parables, the servant who buried the coin—i.e., the talent—given to him is shown to have been at fault. His offense was not simply in burying the talent and in earning no interest on its investment. His real offense was in fearing and resenting the nobleman for being unjust and in wanting to hurt him by denying him the growth of his money. Or, in psychological language, the offense was in hating the nobleman and taking revenge on him.

So what does this have to do with your dwelling on thoughts of death?

Well, notice that in English the word talent refers not only to a type of coin, as in the parable, but also to a personal psychological gift: an aptitude, a capacity, an endowment. Thus, in the full spiritual sense, to bury a talent is to bury a personal gift that God has given you. That’s what suicide is, isn’t it? Suicide is a burying of your talents, and, as such, it’s an act of hatred of God.

Dwelling on thoughts of death, therefore, comes from blaming God for your misfortunes—blaming Him for being unfair and unjust—and in wanting to hurt Him by denying Him a return on the talents He has given to you.

Note here that, in the parables, the nobleman rewarded the servants who earned a return on their investments; they shared in his joy. The spiritual meaning of this is that those of us who earn a return on the talents given to us will share in God’s joy; that is, we will earn a share in love itself. But to bury your talents is to bury the hope of love.

 
The Allure of Death

Consider here what someone once wrote to me about death:

  

I know the pull of death. I understand that there are times when death seems so attractive that nothing else can distract us from obsessing over it. I understand how comforting the sad words of a song and the rhythm of a dark melody can be. I know how much sadness is relieved when visualizing dying. I even understand how we would want our death to be slow so that we could really appreciate the pain seeping from our souls. I also know that as inviting as death seems, it is a known liar. Suicide is trading one kind of pain for another. If you land in hell, then what kind of pain will you be in for all of eternity? Yikes.

  

Nevertheless, refraining from killing yourself out of fear of hell won’t necessarily cause you to love God.

 
A Gift from God

Therefore, if you really want to know what to do, and if you have any desire for love in your heart, then endeavor to accept your pain, your sadness, and your helplessness as a gift from God in its own right. Rather than complain about your misfortune, and rather than blame God for it, and rather than dread it, see all of your misfortune as an opportunity to grow in love.

There is nothing harder for a Christian than to break the last tie that binds him to the world or his own self. . . . Generally speaking, one day of adversity can be of more profit to us for our eternal salvation than years of untroubled living. . . . The misfortune which has befallen you will soon do what all your exercises of piety would never have been able to do.

—Saint Claude de la Colombière
Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence
TAN Books and Publishers

Learn to endure everything—mistreatment, insults, injustice, misfortune—with humble trust in God’s providence. Be patient. Pray constantly by telling God what you are feeling. Pour out your heart to Him. Ask Him for courage and patience.

When you have time apart from work, read spiritual books and when you tire of reading, take a walk for exercise and pray while walking.

Pray—and in all the prayer detach yourself from the world. Seek not the illusory satisfactions of the body (entertainment, erotic pleasure, food, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, etc.) but seek only the Kingdom of Heaven. If you do, then all else that you need will be given to you as well.

And as you go about your constant prayer, use your talents for inspiring others to do good—to love—rather than to bury their talents in hatred.

Sow the seeds of love. Let your “self” die as a seed must die: not to cease existing, but to shed its fears and resentments so as to grow in love and be fruitful.

 
Sadness

If your pain were to be thought of as a child within you, then your obsession with death as a means to escape your pain would be like a mother rejecting her own child. What greater sadness than this can there be?

Maybe your mother rejected you, and maybe that is the cause of your despair and sadness.

But God is giving you a gift—the gift of gracefully accepting your helplessness—as the means to find what has been lost and to share in God’s joy.

Though father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.

—Psalm 27:10

 


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