The Ignorant 19th Century Priest and The Enlightened 21st Century Editor


Catholic doctrine tells us that the primary duty of charity does not lie in the toleration of false ideas, however sincere they may be, not in theoretical or practical indifferent towards the errors and vices in which we see our brethren plunged, but in zeal for their intellectual and moral improvement as well as for their material well-being.‘ – Pope St. Pius X, ‘Letter of Pope St. Pius X to the French Bishops on the Sillon’

When it comes to psychological or emotional issues, such as depression, the world today likes to pretend it is more knowledgeable, enlightened and cultured than the ignorant fools of yesteryear. It forgets or rejects Catholic doctrine and guidance which provides answers to the perplexing and sorrowful difficulties people experience in this life. For this blog I have decided to imagine how a modern editor of a imaginary popular psychological magazine which offers ‘self-help’ tips might respond to an article on psychological advice offered for publication by a 19th century priest.  Let us imagine that he has just received the following article called ‘Means Against Sadness’, from ‘The Way of Interior Piece’, written by Fr De Lehen and published in English in 1888 (see endnote).  It has been submitted for publication in 2020. Here are the edits and comments I reasonably suspect this editor would make:  

Dear Fr De Lehen,

I appreciate the submission of your article, ‘Means Against Sadness’ to our magazine. You make some very reasonable and helpful points. However, I can not proceed with the publication of this article as it currently stands. It will require quite a substantial amount of editing before it is fit for publication in our magazine.   Please find below the edits I suggest before publication can be considered:

Means Against Sadness:

‘Here are two rules[MM1]  suggestions that seem to be of the utmost importance here.  The first is that you make use of the natural means offered you by Providence[MM2]  your life circumstances, in order to shake off sadness. Do not overburden yourself with laborious occupation, spare your corporal[MM3]  physical and spiritual[MM4]  psychological strength; reserve for yourself some leisure hours in which to pray[MM5]  meditate, to read, and to enjoy good conversation. Cheer your soul[MM6]  mind with thoughts of eternal[MM7]  happiness, and shake off depression by spiritual and physical diversion taken in the Lord[MM8] .

Comments: [MM1]‘Rules’ is too strong a word; [MM2]Too many religious connotations; [MM3]People don’t use this language anymore;  [MM4]Too religious in its connotations, ‘psychological’ is better;  [MM5]Meditation is popular today, prayer not so much;  [MM6]Too religious; [MM7]Many of our readers don’t believe in life after death so this would put them off;  [MM8]Too religious

           Seek also a discreet and trusty friend[MM9]  counsellor to whom you can pour out your heart. To such a one disclose everything that is not the secret of another[MM10] . Perfect confidence enlarges and enlightens the mind. A sorrow long concealed oppresses the heart. Speak out, and you will discover that you have made the matter over which you are grieving much more serious than it really is. Nothing so quickly dispels gloom as the simplicity and humility with which, at the sacrifice of self-esteem[MM11]  you reveal discouragement and dejection, and seek light and consolation in the holy[MM12]  healthy communication that ought to exist between the children of God you and your counsellor. Confine yourself to those of your acquaintances whose conversation is cheerful and recreative. It is not necessary that your circle should be large, nor must you be too fastidious[MM13] fussy. Be ready to converse with all peaceable and reasonable people. Again, whenever you feel sadness creeping over you, read, work, or take a walk. Change occupation, that weariness may not attack you. In short, do whatever your frame of mind may suggest provided there is nothing sinful in it [MM14] it works

Comments: [MM9]There are lots of great professionals out there today and friends are not trained to manage psychological difficulties; [MM10]Detraction is not really a big deal anymore; [MM11] This does not make sense. Pride in oneself is a good thing!; [MM12]Again, too religious!; [MM13]Might be a bit too complex a term for our readers; [MM14]Let’s avoid this type of moralising!

If you feel that, in spite of these helps and rules suggestions, sadness asserts its reign, then follow the second rule suggestion: Endure patiently. Interior desolation carries the soul more speedily forward on the way of pure faith than all exterior exercises could do. [MM15] Challenges in life can help to make our minds stronger in the end. But do not let yourself be held back by it them. Do not indulge in relaxation which will aim at usurping possession of your interior[MM16] . Keep battling and stay focused. One step when in this state is always a giant stride, and is of more value than thousands when the soul is in consolation the mind is more peaceful. Despise your dejection and go on quietly, for this state of soul is more useful, more meritorious to you than gigantic, heroic strength and courage[MM17] , for ‘life isn’t waiting for the storm to pass…it’s learning to dance in the rain.’

Comments: [MM15]Too negative and too many religious connotations – soul and faith are both mentioned;  [MM16]What’s wrong with indulging in relaxation?;  [MM17]Soul mentioned again!

                   O how deceitful is that sensible courage that finds everything easy, undertakes all, suffers everything, and unhesitatingly attributes all to self! Ah, it nourishes self-esteem and confidence! It pleases the world; but to the soul it is a refined person[MM18] . Challenges and trials give us a sense of our weakness and our dependence on each other.  Society is delighted if we are productive, robotic-like workers or joyous consumers. It does not value the interior trials that we go through as only we or those closest to us have a sense of the battles we have to face.

Comments: [MM18]Too negative in the language used and too much focus on the soul. It is better to talk about societal problems and interior struggles as, while we avoid mentioning the soul, this still appeals to our readership. 

                   A soul that, like Christ in the Garden of Olives, is sorrowful unto death, and with her crucified Lord, cries out: ‘My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken me? (Mark 15:34) is much more purified, much better fortified in humility than the valiant one who rejoices in peace over the fruits of her virtues.’[MM19]  Let us look to heroes from the past, such as Nelson Mandela who faced many battles but courageously overcame any fears to become the great leader that he was. Keep battling and as Mandela said, ‘The greatest glory in living is not in falling, but in rising every time we fall.’

Comments: [MM19]Christ is too divisive a figure.  Mandela appeals to a bigger audience and he is less divisive. (This is fine just as long as we don’t mention him being the leader of the terrorist Communist group, UmKhonto we Sizwe, (MK) that killed innocent women and children).

So, Fr De Lehen, if you can just change the article to reflect the edits suggested then your article would very likely be suitable for publication.  You will have noted my explanation for the edits above but my overall reason is that many people do not want to know about religion and Christ is an especially divisive figure today. However, they still need advice on how to deal with sadness. Now, no doubt, you have some good common-sense advice to offer, but psychological services have moved on from direct talk about the soul or religion. In these more enlightened times, we understand more about psychological problems than in the 19th century. Whilst admittedly your times did not have near as many suicides or the levels of addiction to prescription and illegal drugs compared to our times I am sure if you were able to see the progress we have made in our knowledge in the 21st century and the amount of psychological services we now have for all age categories and conditions then you would understand why I cannot accept the article as it is.  If you can polish it up as I have shown above then it would appeal to our readership which is far more educated, cultured, and enlightened than the credulous and ignorant audience you were writing to.  May the advice I share also help you to see things more clearly as well. 

Sincerely,

Editor of ‘Psychology Matters 2020’ (PhD)

Endnote:

Fr De Lehen’s excellent advice from ‘The Way of Interior Peace’, published in 1888 by Benzinger Brothers (without the ‘progressive’ edits):

Means Against Sadness:

‘Here are two rules that seem to be of the utmost importance here.  The first is that you make use of the natural means offered you by Providence, in order to shake off sadness. Do not overburden yourself with laborious occupation, spare your corporal and spiritual strength; reserve for yourself some leisure hours in which to pray, to read, and to enjoy good conversation. Cheer your soul with thoughts of eternal happiness, and shake off depression by spiritual and physical diversion taken in the Lord.

           Seek also a discreet and trusty friend to whom you can pour out your heart. To such a one disclose everything that is not the secret of another. Perfect confidence enlarges and enlightens the mind. A sorrow long concealed oppresses the heart. Speak out, and you will discover that you have made the matter over which you are grieving much more serious than it really is. Nothing so quickly dispels gloom as the simplicity and humility with which, at the sacrifice of self-esteem you reveal discouragement and dejection, and seek light and consolation in the holy communication that ought to exist between the children of God. Confine yourself to those of your acquaintances whose conversation is cheerful and recreative. It is not necessary that your circle should be large, nor must you be too fastidious. Be ready to converse with all peaceable and reasonable people. Again, whenever you feel sadness creeping over you, read, work, or take a walk. Change occupation, that weariness may not attack you. In short, do whatever your frame of mind may suggest provided there is nothing sinful in it.  If you feel that, in spite of these helps and rules, sadness asserts its reign, then follow the second rule: Endure patiently. Interior desolation carries the soul more speedily forward on the way of pure faith than all exterior exercises could do. But do not let yourself be held back by it. Do not indulge in relaxation which will aim at usurping possession of your interior. One step when in this state is always a giant stride, and is of more value than thousands when the soul is in consolation. Despise your dejection and go on quietly, for this state of soul is more useful, more meritorious to you than gigantic, heroic strength and courage.

                   O how deceitful is that sensible courage that finds everything easy, undertakes all, suffers everything, and unhesitatingly attributes all to self! Ah, it nourishes self-esteem and confidence! It pleases the world; but to the soul it is a refined person.

                  A soul that, like Christ in the Garden of Olives, is sorrowful unto death, and with her crucified Lord, cries out: ‘My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken me? (Mark 15:34) is much more purified, much better fortified in humility than the valiant one who rejoices in peace over the fruits of her virtues.’ – p. 250-1