Of the Great Mischiefs That Follow from Sadness

by admin on December 31, 2010

PUT sadness far from thee, says the Wise Man, for there is no profit in it, and it hath been the death of many (Ecclus. xxx. 24). Cassian composed a book on the spirit of sadness, for, he says, to come and remedy this ail­ment and infirmity, no less care and diligence is necessary than for the other spiritual infirmities and temptations that present themselves in this life; this for the many great mis­chiefs that follow from it, which he proceeds there to enumerate, founding his enumeration well on Holy Scrip­ture. Beware, he says, of sadness. Let it not enter into your heart; for if you give way to it and it begins to take a hold upon you, thereupon it will make you lose all taste for meditation; you will think the hour long and not com­plete it entirely; and sometimes it will make you go alto­gether without meditation and drop spiritual reading; and into all your spiritual exercises it will infuse such a weari­ness and loathing that you will be unable to face them. My soul hath fallen asleep for weariness (Psalm cxviii. 28), a verse, says Cassian, in which the prophet well exposes the mischiefs which follow from sadness. He does not say that his body has fallen asleep, but his soul, for with sad­ness and spiritual sloth there comes over the soul such a weariness and disgust for all spiritual exercises and all works of virtue that she is, as it were, asleep, benumbed and incapable of any good. Sometimes even so great is the loathing that a man conceives for spiritual things, that he goes the length of molesting and insulting those who are on the way of virtue and perfection, endeavoring to stop them and withdraw them from their practices of piety.

There is another thing about sadness, says Cassian, that it makes a man disagreeable and rude to his brethren. St. Gregory says sadness moves to anger and peevishness; and so we find by experience that when we are sad we are easily irritated and have an outburst of temper at anything that comes in our way. Further, it makes a man impatient over the business he has in hand; it makes him suspicious and evil-minded: and sometimes sadness upsets a man so entirely that he seems to have lost his senses and be quite out of his mind, according to the saying of Ecclesiasticus: There is no sense where there is bitterness (xxi. 15), no judgment where there is bitterness and sadness. We often see that, when sadness and melancholy reign in a man, he gets such out-of-the-way apprehensions and such ground­less suspicions and fears, as to become an object of ridi­cule to people in their senses, and they talk of him as of a person out of his mind. We have seen grave personages, men of great learning and abilities, so overpowered by this passion that it was a pity to see them, some of them crying like babies, others heaving such deep groans as sounded nothing short of bellowing. And so, when they are in their senses and see that this fit of madness, for so it may well be called, is about to come over them, they shut themselves up in their room, that there they may weep and groan alone by themselves and so not lose credit and reputation with those who see them in that plight.

Sadness Preys on the Heart of a Man

If you would thoroughly know the mischievous effects that sadness works in the heart, Cassian tells us and the Holy Ghost declares them briefly by the Wise Man: As a moth in a garment, and as a worm in timber, so doth sad­ness prey on the heart of man (Prov. xxv. 20). A moth-eaten garment is worthless and can serve no purpose; and timber full of dry rot is no good for building—no weight can be laid upon it, for it immediately crumbles to pieces; so a man full of melancholy, sadness, and despondency becomes useless for any good works. And the evil does not stop there, but, what is worse, sadness in the heart is the cause and root of many temptations and many falls. Sad­ness hath killed many (Ecclus. xxx. 25); it has made them fall into sin. So some have called sadness a nest of rob­bers and a cave of devils, and with good reason. They quote to this effect what holy Job says of the devil: He sleepeth in the shade (xl. 16). In that shade and gloom, in the mist and darkness of that confusion which you are in when you are sad, there the devil sleeps and lurks; that is his nest and den; there he lays his bag nets, as they say: that is the attitude of mind that he is looking for, to assail you with all the temptations that he pleases. As snakes and wild beasts watch for the darkness of the night to come out of their holes: Thou hast brought on darkness, and it hath become night, in it all the wild creatures of the forest shall go about (Psalm ciii. 20), so the devil, the old serpent (Apoc. xii. 9), is awaiting the night and darkness of sadness, and then he assails you with all manner of temptations. They have their arrows ready, prepared in the quiver, to shoot in the darkness at the right of heart (Psalm x. 3).

Sadness Leads to Despair or Worldly Pleasures

The blessed St. Francis used to say that the devil rejoices much over a sad heart because he easily either plunges it in gloom and despair or turns it to worldly pleasures. Be careful note taken of this teaching, since it is of great importance. When a man is going about sad and melan­choly, sometimes the devil leads him on to excess of dis­couragement and despair, as he did to Cain and Judas. When that game does not seem to pay, he accosts him with worldly delights, or at times with carnal and sensual delights, under pretext that thereby he will get out of the grief and sadness which possesses him. Hence it is that in times of sadness there often come temptations against vocation. The devil represents to the man that there in the world he shall live cheerful and contented; and some­times sadness and melancholy has drawn men out of reli­gion. At other times the devil brings up carnal and impure thoughts, gratifying to sensuality, and gets the mind to rest on them under the notion that so the sadness will be cast off and the heart find relief. This is a thing much to fear in the case of sad and melancholy people, in whom such temptations are quite an ordinary thing. St. Greg­ory well observes that, as man naturally desires some delight and satisfaction, when he does not find it in God and spiritual things, the devil, who well knows our inclination, represents and puts before him sensual and impure objects and offers him gratification and satisfaction therein, think­ing that thereby his present sadness and melancholy will be mitigated and relieved. Understand, the saint says, that, if you find no satisfaction and relish in God and spiritual things, you are driven to seek it in vile and sensual things, because man cannot live without some gratification and rec­reation. He must seek it at the top of the tree or at the bottom.

Sadness Can Lead to the Loss of Ones Soul

To sum up, the evils and mischiefs that follow from sad­ness are so great that the Wise Man says: All evils come with sadness (Ecclus. xxv. 17). And again: Death comes with sadness (Ecclus. xxxviii. 19), even everlasting death, which is hell. So St. Augustine explains the saying of Jacob to his sons: Ye will bring my grey hairs ivith sorrow to hell (Gen. xlii. 38). He says that Jacob feared lest the sadness of the loss of his son Benjamin might make such an impression on him and do him so much harm as to put his salvation in danger and plunge him into the hell of the damned. For this reason, he says, St. Paul advises us to beware of sadness, lest perchance for excess of sadness we may come to shipwreck (II Cor. ii. 7). It is for the great mischiefs and dangers that follow from sadness, that Holy Writ and holy men so strongly advise and warn us to beware of it—not for your comfort and enjoyment, for if that were all it would matter little whether you were sad or cheerful. For the same reason the devil desires so much to see us sad and strives so much to make us so, because sadness is the root and cause of so many evils and sins.

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