Monday, December 21, 2015

Depression and the powerful role of confession to bring back joy

By Dr. Raul Nidoy

There are many factors behind depression. According to Mayo Clinic, causes include brain chemistry, hormones and inherited traits, while the risk factors include traumatic events, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, financial problems, low self-esteem and chronic illness.

However, what medical science does not see is a key factor behind depression, the most fundamental disorder at the root of all disorders: sin, our turning away from our design to love God above self. Thus, when we go to God through his channels of mercy and healing, he can bring about a transformation of our inner life by giving us new strength and a new mind.“A therapist tells the story about a patient who had been in a terrible cycle of depression and self-disgust ever since high school. Nothing seemed to help. One day, the therapist met the patient in front of a Catholic church. They ducked inside when it began raining, and witnessed people going to confession. 

‘Should I go too?’ asked the patient, who had received the sacrament as a child. ‘No!’ said the counselor. The patient went anyway, and emerged from the confessional with her first smile in years, and kept improving in the weeks to come. The therapist studied more about confession, eventually became Catholic and now counsels regular confession for all her Catholic patients.” 
This story is found in an article titled Seven Great Reasons to Go to Confession Tomorrow (and Often) and its author explains: “Sin leads to depression because it isn’t just an arbitrary violation of rules: It’s a violation of the purpose built into our being by God. Confession lifts the guilt and anxiety caused by sin and heals you.”

Interestingly, in the comments section, someone reacted and told his own story of transformation. “I had been suffering with depression for years before I walked into a church one day, and started attending Mass as a 'something to do' -- i.e. to get myself out of the house, at least once a week. I made the stupid mistake of taking communion just because it's something 'you do' (as I was wont to treat it) but was soon almost crushed by a sense of guilt. 

Then I went to confession. I told the priest everything, not only of my prior rejection of the church's teachings and of turning my back on Christ, but of the self-pity and negativity that had become my life's content. I received forgiveness and within a few weeks I realized suddenly how things had changed. The words which came to me were 'Surprised by Joy' (the title of C.S. Lewis's book): I suddenly realized that I was truly happy, more so than at any time I could remember in my life. 

One day someone asked me how I was and my answer was "Very well, miraculously well as it goes!" An old acquaintance even asked me recently if I'd won the lottery! Weekly (at least) confession is now a personal habit. Which reminds me, today's the day.” 

It is important to note that there is a difference between the professional work of a therapist who treats our bodily psychology and the spiritual work of a priest who acts in the person of Christ to heal our soul. Still it is important to know that since we are incarnate spirits, whatever happens to our spirit affects our body. 

John Paul II taught: “The confessional is not, and cannot be, an alternative to the psychoanalyst or psychotherapist’s office, nor can one expect the Sacrament of Penance to heal truly pathological conditions. The confessor is not a physician or a healer in the technical sense of the term; in fact, if the condition of the penitent seems to require medical care, the confessor should not deal with the matter himself, but should send the penitent to competent and honest professionals.” 

In How Catholics Can Conquer Depression, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, a Director of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, wrote: “While the sacraments alone were never meant to cure mental afflictions like depression, they can and do play a healing role in a plan of recovery. As creatures of both body and soul, we relate to God through our senses. If I’m burdened by guilt or by sins of the past (often the case in depressed persons), when I go to Confession I’m able, in a very tangible way, to hear words of absolution from the priest who is acting in the name of Christ and the Church."

Before Confession After Confession - Happy Confession Day“Many people who have gone to Confession describe this powerful experience of psychological healing. They are able to walk out knowing with total conviction that they have indeed been forgiven, that the burden they’ve been carrying has been lifted. The Catholic sacramental system is indeed consistent with our psychological make-up: we need to hear these words of absolution in order to more tangibly experience God’s mercy."

"We also know that sin not only harms our relationship with God but with others as well. In Confession there is the experience a sense of reintegration with a community: the priest represents the Church, the community of Christians, with whom the penitent is reconciled. All this is powerfully healing, and lifts a burden spiritually and psychologically.” 

Jesus told St. Faustina that "greatest miracles" happen in Confession. God our compassionate Father himself acts to transform us from a vessel emptied of God to a vessel that is full of God. And so Blessed Alvaro, when asked about the happiest moment of his life, quickly responded: "Each time I receive God’s forgiveness in confession."

Related articles:

Confession: Simple Reasons, Simple Steps
Putting Confession at the Center: the strong recommendation of the Church for frequent of confession 

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