How the Language of Mercy Speaks to Sadness

This is an illustrative photo of sadness, loss or depression. Sometimes we meet others in whom the darkness, the sadness almost seems to have taken on a life of its own. Finding ways to accompany these people is an act of mercy. (CNS Photo/Lukas Rychvalsky via Wikimedia Commons)

This is the third in a four-part series on emotions. This issue is about sadness.

If only spring fever carried us more often – seen spring fever, that is, as a heightened sense that life is good. Energized by the bright light of spring, life deserves to be shared with others.

Many claim that “spring fever”, as the inhabitants of our northern hemisphere call it, is caused by the increase in the number of hours of daily sunshine in the season. Fortunately, for so many people, spring fever invites us to come out of the darkness and into the light, helping to keep the sadness at bay.

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

The church’s annual Easter Vigil celebration makes clear, through striking signs and symbols, that Christians are called to bring the light of Christ to others. Of course, sometimes it’s not easy.

Sometimes we meet others in whom the darkness, the sadness almost seems to have taken on a life of its own. For Pope Francis, finding ways to accompany these people is an act of mercy. In fact, “accompaniment” became a theme of his papacy.

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

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

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

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

A sense of loss or defeat can also do it, as can fears, betrayals, abandonment, or mean and insensitive remarks. The death of a loved one is often particularly painful.

“By helping others, we help ourselves out of difficulties,” the pope advised. In addition, 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 seems to have clinical depression in mind. Notably, it causes some to withdraw quite strongly from others, perhaps fearing that no one will understand them.

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

This does not mean that they reject any accompaniment by others. But Pope Francis suggests there are times when “we should just listen in silence, because we can’t go and tell someone, ‘No life isn’t like that. Listen to me, I will give you the solution.

Yet everyone needs consolation, the pope wrote in his apostolic letter at the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy 2015-2016 (“Misericordia et Misera”):

“A reassuring word, an embrace that makes us feel understood, a caress that makes us feel love, a prayer that makes us stronger, all this expresses the closeness of God through the consolation” offered by others.

Consolation is one of the faces of mercy, explains his apostolic letter. He said: “Drying tears is a way to break the vicious cycle of loneliness in which we often find ourselves trapped.”

But what about the times when “we find no words” to respond to “those who suffer”. Pope Francis believes that a compassionate accompaniment by “a person who stays by our side, who loves us and who reaches out to us” can compensate 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 the suffering” of another.

(Gibson served on the editorial staff of the Catholic News Service for 37 years.)


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