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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

. . . The question came up, “What, then, is the purpose in suffering, and healing (or lack of it)?” . . . . I believe, especially in Job’s case, the point to which God was driving Job was to recognize the self-righteousness under which he was living and to drive Job to seek a righteousness outside himself—a foreshadowing of justification and redemption in Christ.

Outline of the Answer
• Job Wasn’t Self-righteous
• Beyond Our Comprehension
• A Dilemma—and a Mystery
• A Testament and a Penance
• Obedience Lets all Suffering End in Love
• A Deliberate Decision of Free Will
• The Subversion of Obedience
• The Defeat of Satan’s Bet
• Postscript: Wisdom

 
Actually, Job wasn’t a self-righteous man. He was a man of faith, innocent of guilt. Satan inflicted suffering upon him—with God’s permission—as a test of Job’s faith and loyalty to God.

Nevertheless, Job’s friends tried to convince him that he was at fault in some way. In fact, much of the suffering in this world is the result of personal behavior. Even Christ, after healing someone, often said, “Go, and sin no more.” In all of this, however, God does not allow us to suffer because He is being mean to us; He allows us to suffer in order that we might admit our ultimate helplessness in this world, recognize our sins, and turn back to Him in true devotion.

But Job remained adamant in his innocence. And throughout all the suffering heaped upon his head, he did not commit sin.

So, what was the purpose of it all?

 
Beyond Our Comprehension

Well, notice what God said in answer to Job’s demand for an explanation of what was happening to him. God made no attempt to defend Himself. He simply said that He could do what He wants.

Now, that kind of statement might sound arrogant—that is, if it came from anyone but God. So what was God getting at here? He meant that He could do what He wants because He has reasons for doing what He wants—working always in pure love for the good of all things—even if we cannot comprehend those reasons.

 
A Dilemma—and a Mystery

This, though, leaves us with a dilemma. How do we know for sure whether our suffering, which is usually the result of our own sin may be serving some other unfathomable purpose of God? To anyone but a Christian, the answer to this question remains a mystery. But every Christian has the answer hanging right before him: the divine Mystery of Christ crucified. In Christ on the cross, we comprehend perfect obedience to God’s deepest motives. On the cross, even innocent suffering glorifies God, for it leads us to persevere in love despite all the opposition the world can inflict on us.

 
A Testament and a Penance

So when Christians suffer, it doesn’t matter whether the suffering is the consequence of their personal sins or not. All that matters is that all suffering be accepted and carried as one’s cross—as one’s personal sacrifice in the service of love. Let it be a testament to God’s glory and a penance for all the sins that nailed Christ to the cross. Christ endured all suffering for our redemption, so, as we bear our suffering gracefully, we share the burden of the cross with Christ. Let all suffering cause us to be attentive to the presence of God. Let all suffering lead us to deep sorrow for sin. Let all suffering end in love.

Moreover, never forget that your tears are prayers. Although your suffering does not have any redemptive value—that is, it does not “make things right” between you and God, nor does it make you “special” in God’s eyes—your ability to suffer gracefully will lead to your spiritual growth. Let God, then, do what He will to transform your suffering into courage and perseverance and trust.

  

There is but one price at which souls are bought, and that is suffering united to My suffering on the cross. Pure love understands these words; carnal love will never understand them.

  

—told to St. Faustina by Jesus
(Diary, 324)

 
Obedience Lets all Suffering End in Love

Let all suffering end in love. That’s how the Book of Job ends. Job recognizes his mistake of falling into distress because of his suffering. He submits to God’s will in total obedience. He therein discovers love, because an essential aspect of love is obedience. Christ told His Apostles that, if they loved Him, they would keep His commandments (John 14:15). And, as He told Saint Margaret Mary, He loves obedience, and no one can please Him without it (Autobiography, 47). Love means to accept God’s will totally, without complaining that it is too difficult, or too inconvenient, or not “relevant” to the modern world.

 

  

Saint Francis of AssisiIf, when we shall arrive at St. Mary of the Angels, all drenched with rain and trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger; if, when we knock at the convent-gate, the porter . . . refuse to open to us, and leave us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold and hunger till nightfall—then, if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and such contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring . . . write down, O Brother Leo, that this is perfect joy. And if . . . taking a knotted stick, he seize us by the hood, throwing us on the ground, rolling us in the snow, and shall beat and wound us with the knots in the stick—if we bear all these injuries with patience and joy, thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, which we would share out of love for him, write, O Brother Leo, that here, finally, is perfect joy.

  

—Saint Francis of Assisi
The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi
Chapter VII

 
A Deliberate Decision of Free Will

Job was chosen by God to teach us an important lesson about suffering: suffering cannot end in love unless it begins as a deliberate decision of free will. Therefore—and pay attention here, because this is subtle, but important—unless you understand how much you don’t  want to do something, your doing it is not an act of love.

  

This fact was made evident by Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane when He stated to the Father that He did not want to take up the cup of His Passion, but that, if it were the Father’s will, He would do it anyway (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). 

  

Now, for most individuals who think they know how to love, and who think they live holy lives, they still resist [1] doing the will of God. Moreover, this resistance will be expressed unconsciously—that is, outside their conscious awareness. This is what makes the resistance so insidious; on the surface, everything seems perfectly “loving,” and yet grave impediments to charity lurk silently in the dark corners of their hearts.

  

These impediments can be uncovered only through careful psychological attention to the fantasies that run constantly through your mind. It’s hard work, because most of those fantasies seem so ugly that you would not want to confess them even to a confessor or psychotherapist. But if you face up to them, and if you do the work to overcome them, you are laying the foundations of real love.

  

 
The Subversion of Obedience: Quietism

It’s simply a psychological fact that no one enjoys suffering. Even masochists, who seem to enjoy pain, don’t really desire pain per se; they really desire the hope of being admired because of their willingness to allow themselves to be humiliated. Moreover, not only do we not enjoy suffering, we make heroes of those who seem to escape it. Our personal fantasies and social entertainments glamorize Eastern sages, fierce warriors, and mythical sorcerers. The psychological appeal of such figures is that they appear to possess an otherworldly power that transcends personal weakness.

When expressed spiritually, this desire to transcend personal limitations has been exemplified through the ages by a doctrine called Quietism. And, through the ages, the various forms of Quietism have been condemned by the Church as false doctrines.


   

On the one hand, Quietism is exemplified by non-Christian philosophies such as Buddhism and all other natural philosophies that attempt to avoid suffering as something evil and that teach an indifference to personal experience as a way to attain “enlightenment.”

On the other hand, Quietism is exemplified in so-called Christian thought by “mystics” who advocate self-abandonment to inner illumination, along with a passive acceptance of everything, considering the entire process to be a veiled “purification” of the soul.

Whatever its outward form, Quietism essentially teaches that a person can attain to identification with the divine by living totally in the moment with indifference to all worldly experiences—even with indifference to the responsibility for distinguishing right from wrong. 

  

Thus you can find even “Catholic” writers claiming that a person may be moved by feelings contrary to virtue—feelings such as obstinacy, disobedience, troublesomeness, contempt, and indignation—and yet be passively participating in God’s design for union with Him.[2]

  

Well, this sort of thinking only makes you a dupe of your unconscious such that you lie to yourself psychologically. All the while that you are praising yourself for being detached, obedient, and holy, you have a tempest of non-virtuous behaviors pouring from your heart, protesting God’s will.

Therefore, the error of Quietism should be apparent: indifference leads to ignorance, ignorance of your motivation makes love impossible, and, when love is impossible, “obedience” is obedience only to Satan.

 
The Defeat of Satan’s Bet

When suffering becomes love, however, then all of Satan’s tricks and temptations get thrown right back into his face. And that’s why God accepted Satan’s bet and allowed him to put Job to the test. Job wasn’t self-righteous—Satan was. Satan, in all his “roaming the earth and patrolling it,” sought nothing but his own glory. The defeat of Satan’s self-righteous wager by Job’s obedience was the perfect foreshadowing of Christ’s perfect obedience in His Passion and His final victory over sin and death and all the suffering they cause.

  

Yes, when you are obedient I take away your weakness and replace it with My strength. I am very surprised that souls do not want to make that exchange with Me.

  

—told to St. Faustina by Jesus
(Diary, 381)

   
Postscript: Wisdom

In the Gospels, Jesus spoke about willingly going two miles with a Roman soldier who commands you to carry his baggage for one mile. Christ is describing here an impossible circumstance; that is, in world of His time, an individual had no choice but to obey a Roman soldier.[3]

Nevertheless, there are circumstances other than impossible circumstances, circumstances in which we do have the power to change things. Consequently—especially in regard to our suffering—it is important to have the wisdom to know the difference between what you can change and what you cannot change.

For example, on the one hand, when another driver does something rude to you on the road, it is best to remain quiet and suffer (and pray for the repentance of the offender) in silence because you have no way of communicating politely with the other driver.

On the other hand, if you buy an item that turns out to be defective, you can return it and ask for a refund or exchange. You don’t have to be a “doormat” and let others walk all over you; such behavior is masochism, not humility.

  

When you accept suffering patiently and willingly for the sake of the salvation of others, that is love. When you bring suffering on yourself in order to win the approval of some other person, that is masochism.

  

Or, again, when someone next to you in church is speaking loudly, you can tell those persons to be quiet. If they apologize and quiet down, then all is well, and you have exercised your wisdom. If they tell you to go to hell, however, then a circumstance in which you originally had the power to do something has suddenly become an impossible circumstance, and it would be best now to suffer in silence and pray for the enlightenment and repentance of the others.

Therefore, in all things, pray for the wisdom to know the difference between what you can change and what you cannot change. When you find yourself in circumstances that you can change, go about the work with kindness and patience. And when you find yourself in circumstances that you cannot change, learn to suffer obediently, with love.

  

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

  

—James 1:2-4

 

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Notes.

1. “And here it ought to be pointed out why so few reach this high state of perfect union with God. It should be known that the reason is not that God wishes only a few of these spirits to be so elevated; he would rather want all to be perfect, but he finds few vessels that will endure so lofty and sublime a work. . . . There are many who desire to advance and persistently beseech God to bring them to this state of perfection. Yet when God wills to conduct them through the initial trials and mortifications, as is necessary, they are unwilling to suffer them and they shun them, flee from the narrow road of life [Mt. 7:14] and seek the broad road of their own consolation, which is that of their own perdition [Mt. 7:13]; thus they do not allow God to begin to grant their petition. They are like useless containers, for although they desire to reach the state of the perfect they do not want to be guided by the path of trials that leads to it. They hardly even begin to walk along this road by submitting to what is least, that is, to ordinary sufferings” (Saint John of the Cross: The Living Flame of Love, Stanza 2.27).

2. See Jean-Pierre de Caussade, The Joy of Full Surrender (Paraclete Press: 2008), p. 113. (Note that the original title of Caussade’s work had a Quietist sound: Abandonment to Divine Providence.)

3. Willingly carrying the soldier’s baggage for two miles, rather than the one mile demanded of you, gives you psychological command of the situation and thus saves you from falling into the trap of victimization.

 

Healing
Psychological Healing in the Catholic Mystic Tradition


by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.


A treasure of a resource for psychological and spiritual healing. Information gathered from my websites is now available at your fingertips in book form with a comprehensive index.
 
Psychological defenses help to protect us from emotional injury, but if you cling to the defense mechanisms that were created in your childhood and carry them on into adulthood—as most everyone does unconsciously—your quest for spiritual healing will be thwarted by overwhelming resentments and conflicts.
 
Still, God has been trying to show you that there is more to life than resentment and conflict, something so beautiful and desirable that only one thing can resist its pull: hate.
 
So now, and in every moment until you die, you will have a profound choice between your enslavement to old defenses and the beauty of God. That decision has to come from you. You will go where you desire.

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