Worldly Melancholy is Defeated by Spiritual Joy

Worldly Melancholy then arrives. She is dressed in black with black polish upon her fingernails, matching her raven-black hair, but contrasting dramatically with the deathly pallor of her skin. Her manner is languid and depressed. She speaks to the soul in tones of infinite weariness:

O Soul, what do you have to rejoice about since you see so very many unspeakably terrible things going on all around you? Look at the world you live in; look at what our society has become! There are so many causes for sorrow and heartbreak, which cannot be denied.

Also, think about all the people who are speaking and plotting against you and all the adversities which you con­tinue to encounter and endure, all for the sake of your be­liefs. Are these not a genuine and justified cause for the bit­terest grief? Are they not a cause for an ocean of tears; shall they not summon forth from your poor heart innumerable sighs of desolation and melancholy? For this life is nothing but a badly-written tragedy, where every rose hides a thorn, and every ending is sad.

But Spiritual Joy soon follows. She appears to be related to Worldly Melancholy, for they are of similar appearance and stature. But Spiritual Joy, in contrast to the sable garments of Melancholy, wears a dress of bright blue. Her complexion has a healthy glow, and her hair is of the beautiful gold of the rising sun. Her face bears a radiant smile, and an aura of con­fident serenity surrounds her. Having listened patiently to the discourse of Worldly Melancholy, she responds thus to the soul:

My friend, through long experience, I know well that there are two possible causes for sorrow, or, rather, there are two types of sorrow, both quite distinct from each other. One form of sorrow is beneficial and healthy and leads the soul to penitence, reformation, and improvement. But the other form is pernicious and harmful, for it leads not to repentance or improvement but rather only to the dreadful dead end of despair! One form of sorrow, holy sorrow, leads to life, but the other only brings death.

Now, it is the second form of sorrow—Worldly Melan­choly—which has just been speaking to you now and is trying to tempt you. For the reasons for being sad it offers should, if considered more properly, be causes of rejoicing to you rather than sorrow! It is true that there are many difficulties which you must undergo in this life, and many apparent tragedies and misfortunes take place, the reasons for which exceed our current understanding. No one can honestly deny this. But these should be a cause for awe and joyful expectation of what lies in the future, not of despair over the things of the present moment. For did not Christ, who is the Giver of all good gifts and the munificent Bestow­er of all joys, exhort us thus: “When people persecute you and speak all kind of calumny against you, then rejoice and be glad; for, behold, your reward shall be great in heaven!”

Call to mind also the example of the apostles, which we find recounted in the book of Acts: “And the apostles left the council rejoicing, because they had been found worthy to suffer disgrace for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ.”

O Soul, don’t let yourself be saddened by anything in this world, for it is all passing, and shall very soon vanish away like an insubstantial dream, a fleeting vision of the night. Set your heart, rather, on the things which are eternal, and direct your immortal soul to those realities which endure forever. Let your joy be grounded in the golden hope of heaven, and let your only real sadness be in the dread of losing that ineffable delight and glory!

This article is taken from a chapter in The Battle of the Virtues and Vices by Pope St. Leo IX, which is available from TAN Books.



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