I recently came across an amazing passage in Father Faber’s book, At the Foot of the Cross (found on pg. 357). Therein he explains how a Catholic should act during times of heartache, disappointment, and sorrow. It is something which I have always struggled with; however, I did not realize how bad its effects can be, until after reading this segment of his book. I heartily recommend reading the whole passage even though it is a bit long.
(From: Chapter VII-The Taking Down From the Cross)
“1 - Mary is also our model of behavior in grief. Grief may either be the solid foundation on which a vast supernatural edifice of sanctity is to be raised, or it may be the very thinnest and most diluted of all human affections, a mere clumsy ingenuity of selfishness, the most self-seeking of all the kinds of love; for there can be little doubt that sorrow is a kind of love. Thus, the very highest and at the same time the very lowest things may be predicated of grief. The reason of the difference is to be found in the way in which we bear it.
Grief is a difficult thing to manage. There is no time when our correspondence to grace requires us to be more active, more vigilant, or more self-denying than in seasons of affliction. If we once begin to indulge our grief, a great work of God is frustrated. Everything which happens in the world happens with reference to our own soul. But sorrow is the tool with which God finishes the statue and animates it with its beautiful expression. It is sad for us when we take it into our own hands. If God condescends to resume His work, and succeed us when we have done, He must disfigure us with suffering again before we shall be once more in a condition for Him to commence His gracious work anew.
Now, we have all of us a great temptation–and the more tender-hearted we are the greater the temptation–to indulge in grief as if it were a luxury. To endure, to hold fast by God, to do our duty, to supernaturalize our adversity, to carry our cross, to aspire heavenwards, –all these things are fatiguing. They give us the sensation of toiling up a steep. We have all the weariness of an ascent without the satisfaction of any visible elevation; for we seem to make no way at all. Whereas to indulge our grief, to give way unreservedly to the ready inundation of comfortable tear, to complain, –especially if we bring in a vein of religion, like a vein of poetry, into our complaining, –these things bring with them the relieving sensation of going down hill. Of a truth it is the most earthward process through which a heart can well go. Thus, a tender-hearted man ought to be as much on his guard against sorrow as an intemperate man should be against wine. There is a fascination in it which may easily become his ruin. What makes the temptation more dangerous is, that the world applauds the indulgence as if it were a moral loveliness, and looks shy at the restraint, as if it were hardness and insensibility; and to be suspected of coldness and indifference is almost more than a tender-hearted man can bear.
There is no need to do physical violence to ourselves to hinder tears. The effort will make us ill, without bringing any profit either to body or soul. God does not dislike to see His creatures weeping. We creatures even like to see those we love weeping sometimes. All which our Lady’s example counsels is moderation. Let us relieve our hearts. It will make us less selfish. But let us not foster, embrace, rekindle, and indulge our grief. For then our sorrow is a selfish and luxurious fiction, a ground in which the Holy Spirit will not dig; for He knows there is no gold underneath.
2 - Neither is the indulgence of grief content to stop in the mere luxury of sentiment. It goes on to do positive evil. It prompts us to dispense ourselves from the duties which our hand finds to do. It seems hard to work when we are grieving; but it is just this hardness which renders the work so heavenly. We think that sorrow makes us privileged persons, forgetting that our privileges are only an increase of our responsibilities. They think deepest and most truly of their responsibilities who most habitually regard them as privileges. The world’s work is not to stop for our sorrow. We are but units in a multitude. We must roll round from west to east with our fellows; we must meet life as life meets us; we must take joy and sorrow as they come; they mostly come both together; both are at work at once, both unresting, both unimportant but both lie upon our roan to the only thing which is of importance and that is God.
Self-importance is the canker-worm of Christian sorrow. We must not make too much of ourselves; yet this is what the world’s stupid consolations try to do with those who are in grief. Dispensations are always lowering, but there is nothing which they lower so much as suffering and sorrow. Our grief is part of the world’s rolling, because it is part of our own way to God. It is a going on, not a standing still, a quickening of life’s time, not a letting the clock run down and stop. For the great clock goes while ours stand, so that we gain nothing, but lose much.
We pull down the blinds, and tread lightly when sickness is in the housel but let us take care not to do so to sorrow in our own souls. For sorrow is by no means a sickness of the soul; it is its health, and strength, and vigor. Sins of omission may be more venial in times of sorrow, but they none the less unjewel our crown, and intercept the generosity of God.
3. - Sorrow is a sanctuary, so long as self is kept outside. Self is the desecrating principle. If a tie of sorrow is not the harvest-time of grace, it is sure to be the harvest-time of self. Hence, when we find people indulging in the sentimentality of their sorrow, we are almost certain to find them inconsiderate toward others. They are the centers round which every thing is to move. Every thing is to be subordinate to their mourning. Thus, they pay no attention to hours. They disturb the arrangements of the household. They make the servants carry part of the burden of their wretchedness. They diffuse an atmosphere of gloom around them. They accept the service of others ungracefully, sometimes as if it was their right, because they are in grief, sometimes as it the kindness were almost an intrusion, which politeness only constrains them to endure.
If this goes on, so rapid is the process of corruption when self has tainted sorrow, childhood works up again to the surface in middle life or age. We have ill-temper, peevishness, petulance, quick words, childish repartee, self-deploring, foolishness, grandiloquent exaggerations, attitudes and gestures of despair. In short, the long-banished ghosts of the nursery come back again, in proportion, as sorrow with literal truth is allowed to unman us.
A Christian mourner notes the least acts of thoughtfulness, and is full of gratitude for them. He feels more than ever that he deserves nothing, and is surprised at the kindness which he receives. He is forever thinking of the others in the house, and legislating for them, and contriving that the weight of his cross shall be concentered upon himself. He smiles through his tears, takes the sorrow carefully out of the tone of his voice, and makes others almost gay while his own heart is broken. A saint’s sorrow is never in the way. To others it is a softness, a sweetness, a gentleness, a beauty; it is a cross only to himself."