Monday, May 08, 2006

With the dawn!

People, rightly so, have asked for clarification about: accedie.

There are two particular dangers to be avoided in our daily lives of seeking to open wide the door of our being to the Holy Spirit: deception and presumption, which are both tricks we can play on ourselves and tricks of the great deceiver, the evil one.

Because accedie has within it the emotional components akin to clinical depression, it is crucial spiritual directors be discerning enough, and frankly humble enough, to know when it is NOT a matter of a spiritual trial permitted by the Holy Spirit –  as temptation to be struggled through as purification – and when it IS either a chosen sin, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1866 lists as one of the capital sins – OR clinical depression which needs appropriate medical intervention.

It is as dangerous to deny the spiritual component of experiences in our pilgrimage of faith as it is to deny medical conditions requiring professional intervention.

We do well to heed the word of the Lord Himself: Hold the physician in honour, for he is essential to you, and God it was who established his profession…..My son, when you are ill, delay not, but pray to God who will heal you….cleanse your heart of every sin….Then give the doctor his place…he too beseeches God that his diagnosis may be correct and his treatment bring about a cure. [ see Sirach 38:1-15]

The Catechism also notes, # 2733,  accedie results from presumption – for example presuming WE are solely or primarily responsible for our virtue, it is an ego thing –  and that this leads to the experience of accedie in all is heaviness, but adds a hopeful note in pointing out this experience is “ the reverse of presumption” and that if we are humble then this experience of distress will lead us “ to trust more, to hold fast to constancy”.

One of my treasured books, referred to constantly for meditation, is The Virtue of Trust by the Jesuit Fr. Paul De Jaegher. Mine is the 1932 edition.

Fr. De Jaegher, in chapter XIX of that edition, describes the early stages of the spiritual life where “ Grace breaks sweetly upon us, bringing to delightful blossom the flowers of God’s virtues.”

However Fr. De Jaegher notes further on that God, knowing how we tend to become attached more to gifts than to the Giver, must move to purify the soul, detach the soul, because “..the soul falls into self-illusion. It imagines itself strong and established in itself.”

This is when presumption begins to take hold,  so Fr. De Jaegher points out the necessity of the soul being brought to an awareness of its weakness, its true and absolute need of God.

It is told of the great Abba Anthony, the Friend of God, that he suffered accedie and that when He pleaded with God for help the Lord showed him a humble monk who alternated his labour [ what Catherine Doherty calls “the duty of the moment” ] and getting up to pray.

This is precisely what the Catechism means when it refers to holding fast in constancy.

Searching through the Desert Fathers, the Fathers of the Church, the Great Theologians [ like St. Thomas Aquinas who notes accedie, which he discusses as apathy, most afflicts us during ‘the heat of noon’ ] it is clear all see both great danger in the sin of accedie, that is choosing against love of the goodness of God, and that if struggled against it can be a means by which the Holy Spirit purifies us.

Though not specifically addressing the issue of accedie, frankly the clearest and wisest teaching on what I have struggled with for weeks is a letter written to the members of her apostolate by the Servant of God Catherine Doherty in the collection titled: DEARLY BELOVED – LETTERS TO THE CHILDREN OF MY SPIRIT.

{ The brief quotation to follow comes from Volume Two of the series which is available from Madonna House at:

In that volume Catherine has a letter titled: Paradoxes of the Spirit. }

Catherine is commenting on the Gospel passage: …whoever wishes to save his life will lose it…..[Mk.8:35]

It is one of her most brilliant assessments and insights into how we are purified by the Holy Spirit, but not just purified but taken up into this tremendous love affair with the Holy Trinity for which we have been created.

The passage I will quote may seem a bit odd at first, but then we are talking paradox here when we discuss accedie, the paradox that what is experienced with all the aspects of clinical depression is not that but what is described by the Psalmist: Do not let the floodwaters overwhelm me, nor the deep swallow me, nor the mouth of the pit close over me.  [ Ps. 69:16]

Catherine writes: Don’t wonder; with God, never wonder. Just stand still; just let the storms rage and the tops spin and everything just go. It isn’t easy; but it is essential to the inner struggle.

Now as mentioned at the beginning my intent here was not to write a complete essay on accedie and also to urge everyone feeling despondent, apathetic, depressed, down, lazy, sad, dark, - whatever term applies – NOT to presume it is the Holy Spirit permitted aspect of accedie which humbles, purifies, urges greater trust and surrender to Him – BUT – with proper discernment with one’s spiritual director/therapist/doctor – make sure this is neither the sin of accedie nor the clinical illness of depression.

I do this anytime I go through the experience, never presuming something is ‘spiritual’ that may in fact be either psychological or physical – or the weight of sin.

Once my doctor assured me some weeks ago this was not medical then it became a matter of embracing [rather poorly because I tend to complain a lot to God like Abba Anthony, but unlike him not so quick to accept God’s answer] the suffering until, in His time, the Spirit would grant relief – at least for a while!

Well He did that, literally today as the Psalmist rejoices: at dawn there is rejoicing.

In some small way I hope this helps people understand my use of the term accedie but that everyone will be prudent and check out exactly what it is that is being experienced and not presume anything!

Discernment of spirits, as the great St. Ignatius stresses in his Spiritual Exercises,  as do the Fathers of the Desert, and all the great spiritual writers such as St. John of the Cross, is essential if we are to be humble and trusting in the spiritual life, like St. Paul, never presuming on our strength, but crying out in our struggle, yet taking the Lord at His word: …that I might not become too proud, a thorn in the flesh was given to me….I begged the Lord about this…He said…My grace is sufficient for you…[ 2 Cor. 12:8ff. ]

This sufficiency of grace we will experience in the acceptance of the actual grace of a discerning spiritual director, therapist, doctor.

Of course I pray everyone be spared the affliction of depression, flee the sin of apathy – and not fear the purification of accedie and please pray for me.

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