Home Catechetical Corner How the language of mercy speaks to sadness

How the language of mercy speaks to sadness

This is a photo illustration of sadness, loss or depression. At times we encounter others in whom darkness, sadness, almost appear to have assumed a life of their own. Finding ways to accompany these people is an act of mercy. (CNS photo/Lukas Rychvalsky via Wikimedia Commons)

If only spring fever swept over us more often – spring fever viewed, that is, as an increased sense that life is good. Energized by spring’s bright light, life feels well worth sharing with others.

Many claim that “spring fever,” as our Northern Hemisphere’s inhabitants label it, is caused by the season’s increased hours of daily sunlight. Happily, for so many, spring fever invites our best selves out of darkness and into the light, helping to hold sadnesses at bay.

Interestingly enough, light plays a prominent role in Christian worship. I write this shortly after Easter when, as always, the church celebrates Christ’s rejuvenating light and life.

The church’s annual Easter Vigil celebration makes plain, through vivid signs and symbols, that Christians are called to bear Christ’s light to others. Of course, sometimes this is not easy.

At times we encounter others in whom darkness, sadness, almost appear to have assumed a life of their own. For Pope Francis, finding ways to accompany these people is an act of mercy. In fact, “accompaniment” has become a theme of his papacy.

This theme was echoed in 2018 remarks by Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, to the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry, held in Grapevine, Texas. “Christian love accompanies, helps, listens, respects, encourages and above all perseveres,” he observed.

“Cry with those who mourn, and laugh with those who previously thought they had forgotten how to smile. This is to accompany,” said Bishop Flores. He commented:

“In a world where no one wants to stop to hear the weeping and to touch the wound, the Lord asks us for the testimony of closeness, respect, patience and of compassion.”

Sadness appears in numerous forms. Disappointments, difficulties, overwork and exhaustion leave some people feeling sad, Pope Francis suggests.

A sense of loss or defeat can do so also, as can fears, betrayals, abandonment or spiteful and insensitive remarks. A loved one’s death is often particularly painful.

“By helping others, we help ourselves to rise up from difficulties,” the pope has counseled. Furthermore, he advises, in the face of sadness it is good “to cultivate a healthy sense of humor.”

Because sadness can be like “quicksand” that traps us, he recommends connecting with others “who truly love us.”

Sometimes when Pope Francis mentions sadness he appears to have clinical depression in mind. Notably, that prompts some to withdraw rather greatly from others, fearing perhaps that no one will understand them.

Some of these individuals find it difficult to hear words of advice or hope offered by others.

That may not mean they reject all accompaniment by others. But Pope Francis suggests there are instances when “we should just simply listen in silence, because we cannot go and tell someone, ‘No life’s not like that. Listen to me, I’ll give you the solution.'”

Still, everyone needs consolation, the pope wrote in his apostolic letter at the conclusion of the church’s 2015-2016 Jubilee Year of Mercy (“Misericordia et Misera”):

“A reassuring word, an embrace that makes us feel understood, a caress that makes us experience love, a prayer that makes us stronger — all these things express God’s closeness through the consolation” that others offer.

Consolation is one of the faces of mercy, his apostolic letter explained. It said, “The drying of tears is one way to break the vicious circle of solitude in which we often find ourselves trapped.”

But what about the times when “we cannot find words” to respond to “those who suffer.” Pope Francis believes compassionate accompaniment by “a person who stays at our side, who loves us and who holds out a hand” can make up for this silence.

Is such silence “an act of surrender”? Not in the pope’s mind. He remarks in his apostolic letter that silence “belongs to our language of consolation.” Thus, “it becomes a concrete way of sharing in the suffering of” another.

Gibson served on Catholic News Service’s editorial staff for 37 years.