It’s OK to be sad. Sorrow is a part of everyone’s life. It’s a normal thing. Some have more and some have less. Some have sorrow earlier in their lives and some have it later. Some go long periods without it and some experience it daily. Remember that much sorrow is hidden – that people that seem not to have any might be suffering enormously from sorrow. Yes, we all have to live with sorrow sometimes. How should a Catholic handle sorrow?
1. Remember that Jesus lived sorrow
Certainly, the Cross and the agony in the garden were moments of intense sorrow for him, but maybe we can identify more with him in the sorrow he felt for his friend Lazarus when he died. Coming to the tomb of Lazarus only a few days after his death and even knowing that he would raise him from the dead in only a few moments, the Gospel simply tells us, ‘Jesus wept.’ (John 11:35) If we feel somehow that a Christian should never be sad, that somehow we aren’t trusting the goodness of God if we are sad, this verse tells us that we are wrong. If Jesus grieves for his dead friend, who will soon be alive again, how much more do we have a right to grieve over those we have lost?
2. Live your sorrow close to Mary
One of the titles of Mary is Mother of Sorrows. There is a chaplet and a devotion to the Seven Sorrows of Mary, many of which are centered around her experience of the Passion of her Son. Having to stand there and watch her Son be tortured and killed had to provoke the deepest sorrow. Her mother’s heart was broken, and what love is deeper than a mother’s love? Sometimes people try to comfort us in our sorrow and perhaps we have found that the more someone has suffered themselves, the more their attempts to comfort us help – they have experienced what I am experiencing. That is why we should pray to Mary in our sorrows. Our sorrows may not go away, but her closeness in our suffering is a great consolation because she has suffered everything that we are suffering.
3. Express your sorrow to God in prayer
When we pray, we are supposed to express those thoughts that fill our hearts (see Francois Fenelon, Talking with God, Chapter 1). If my heart is filled with sorrow, I try to express this to God as well as I can. If that sorrow turns to anger, it’s alright to express that to God, “Lord, I hate this situation. Why did you let it happen? I want you to end this as soon as possible!”
Even though God already knows all of this, he wants to hear you say it to him. And often you need to say it – it helps you understand better what you are feeling. How can I justify praying something so negative to God? I just look at Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Olives, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” Jesus expresses the depth of his sadness at having to embrace the Cross, and of course, Jesus never sinned, so it must be OK to pray like this. What is even more remarkable is how he concludes the prayer, “yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus expresses his sadness, but also his openness to the Father’s will.
We might feel sorrow and even anger in some of the difficult situations of our lives. That’s fine. Maybe we aren’t ready to open our hearts to accepting God’s will right now. That’s OK. But, talking to God in prayer every day, especially when we express how we really feel is important when we feel sorrow. However, St. John Paul II reminds us of something really important. When we are expressing how sad we are, how unhappy, maybe even how angry we are at what has happened to us or to a loved one, we should remember that we are speaking to a man who is hanging on a cross. As he puts it:
‘ … the individual enters suffering with a typically human protest and with the question “why”. He asks the meaning of his suffering and seeks an answer to this question on the human level. Certainly he often puts this question to God, and to Christ. Furthermore, he cannot help noticing that the one to whom he puts the question is himself suffering and wishes to answer him from the Cross, from the heart of his own suffering. Nevertheless, it often takes time, even a long time, for this answer to begin to be interiorly perceived. For Christ does not answer directly and he does not answer in the abstract this human questioning about the meaning of suffering. Man hears Christ’s saving answer as he himself gradually becomes a sharer in the sufferings of Christ.’ (St. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Salvifici Doloris, 1984, 26.)
Of course, this question is much deeper than can be easily dealt with in a page. There are other spiritual considerations beyond those I have mentioned. There are also many psychological considerations. In this page, we have barely scratched the surface of how to deal with sorrow. To go deeper, there are many books on this subject, but some that might help include:
Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR, Tears of God
Francis de Sales, Consoling Thoughts on Sickness and Death
John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Salvifici Doloris