Good news on the grave sin of despair

Wifey planted a pocket sized Catechism booklet in the toilet, which she does if she wishes me to read something, as I’m given to reading and pondering on the ‘throne’.

Anyway, a few days ago I felt a little rocked when I read the following:

What are the sins against hope?

The sins against hope are despair and presumption.

This was the first time I’d realised that despair was considered a grave sin and this ironically caused me no small amount of despair, as I am prone to the same.

Then today Fr Charles Tweeted:

Despair is self-importance turned inside out.

I asked Fr Charles to clarify this comment and he directed me to his blog post in which he said:

A long time ago I was taking a walk when I realized, just when I needed to hear it, why despair is a temptation and a sin:

Despair is like self-importance turned inside-out; it implies the belief that God ought to have given us more hope and faith than we have, and that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Despair is an indulgence in our frustrated greed for certainty.

I recalled this moment when I found a post-it note in an old breviary that said, “You can be grateful for the grace of poverty of spirit, or you can indulge in self-importance of despair.”

As you can imagine, this served to set me off again worrying about the fact I’m prone to despair and that this is considered gravely sinful.

But now for the good part.

Upon further investigation, it would seem that the despair I’m assaulted with is not necessarily the same as the despair noted in the Catechisms.

Let me quote Catechism 2091

The first commandment is also concerned with sins against hope, namely, despair and presumption:

By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to his justice – for the Lord is faithful to his promises – and to his mercy.

From this I believe we can deduce that the despair mentioned in the Catechism must be equal and opposite to the hope.

Now, as hope is related to God’s goodness, justice, mercy, faithfulness, and more specifically salvation; to despair and doubt these things would indeed constitute sin.

But what if you fall in to despair and yet do not reject the tenets of this hope?

I put this to Fr Charles who made this eminently wise response:

I think the distinction between emotional and theological despair may be helpful.

Absolutely brilliant. The distinction between theological and emotional despair. It is entirely possible to enter a period of emotional despair without entering into theological despair. In other words, I may despair over this world and my own place within it, whilst retaining my salvific hope based on God’s goodness, faithfulness, justice and mercy.

Further, Catechism 1501 adds this:

Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him.

This is an acknowledgement that many of us who suffer from a form of despair know only too well; namely, it can be the result of illness beyond our control. But even within the deep depths of despair I have plunged, God always holds me tight in respect of His ultimate hope.

I hope this makes sense and may even help others who have despaired over their despair.

I’m on a learning curve and am writing this as I discover it, so feel free to add anything or correct it.

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9 Responses to “Good news on the grave sin of despair”

  1. Roger Pearse Says:

    Medical depression is not the same as moral despair, nor vice versa. The two are not linked in any way. The former is a defect of the flesh, the latter of the soul. It is unlikely that someone affected with medical depression will ever get into the state of mind in which spiritual despair is possible, any more than a man with a wooden leg will get into a spirit of pride about his ability to do athletics. Some illnesses preclude certain sins.

  2. webmaster Says:

    Well said Roger that really encapsulates it perfectly.

  3. janice Says:

    I’ve been made to feel guilty so often about not “rejoicing in the Lord always” that it’s enough to make one depressed!!!!

  4. webmaster Says:

    Totally agree Janice.

    But isn’t it wonderful to note that this is not the same as the sin of despair!

  5. Goy Says:

    Despair is the reminder that you are human breaking haughtiness and conceit. To abandon all hope at not having been gifted preference and order is the negative despair, Fr Charles appears to have conflated the two – a thin line but a line none the less. :-)

  6. Be Sure to Put Despair, Not Spiritual Books, in the Toilet « Catholic Bandita Says:

    [...] really enjoyed Stuart’s┬ápost on despair. Now, I shall [...]

  7. Donald Willms Says:

    “Despair is an indulgence in our frustrated greed for certainty.” – Quoted from Fr. Charles

    The greed for certainty intrigues me, especially living in an age which assumes it knows so much.

  8. Sue Says:

    It is not a sin to be ill.

  9. webmaster Says:

    That’s right Sue.

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