Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Job spoke, saying:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?
He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?”
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle;
they come to an end without hope.
Remember that my life is like the wind;
I shall not see happiness again.
Are your feelings about your life ever like Job’s in this Old Testament lesson? Or do you know someone who could speak as Job is speaking? If you’ve lived long enough, the answer is likely to be yes to both questions.
What do you tell yourself or someone else burdened with this experience of sadness? Job had some friends who had plenty to tell him, and God vindicated Job against their shortsighted wisdom. So when dealing with oneself or another who is depressed, let’s take God and Job’s side, and give some good advice.
First off, don’t say, “Others have it worse; what is there to complain about?” This may be true in the abstract, but mental comparisons don’t cancel out your lived experiences! My feelings are my own. Instead of a minimizing inner comment, it is better to say, “I am not alone.” And then seek out real human company. You may be by yourself, but you’re better off with others around you. Just go out the front door and sit down somewhere for a coffee if you can think of nothing else. Call a friend, even one you haven’t called in a while.
Secondly, don’t say, “If I had more faith, I wouldn’t be so miserable.” Again, this may be true in the abstract, but Job had plenty of faith—and so did the saints who suffered from depression, like Peter Damian, Jane de Chantal, Elizabeth Seton, John Vianney, and many more. Rather than making negative judgments about your weak faith, simply turn to God and practice it. Say, “I am going to pray, no matter what.” Pick up your rosary, and pray even if you are distracted and uninspired, and keep it up, day to day. Visit the Blessed Sacrament, go to Mass on weekdays. St. James in his epistle tells us, “Is anyone sad among you? Let him pray.” Remember it was Jesus who said, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death, wait here and watch with me.” He himself used the remedy of prayer and he foresaw your sadness. Far from being harsh with you, he welcomes and cherishes your least effort to pray.
Thirdly, never say, “I just think about myself too much.” No one thinks about himself too much; in fact it is impossible to think at all without being aware of oneself. The fact is that you are having unpleasant and sad thoughts, and that is why you notice them more. When things are going fine, or when they are going especially well, we tend to take them for granted; happiness is what we are supposed to have or are striving for. But we are always, on some level, thinking of ourselves.
What you might say to yourself instead is, “I am loved by a God who is always thinking of me, otherwise I wouldn’t exist at all. I am truly and deeply loved.” God’s love is the proof we are worth thinking about, and he is with us, even when we do not feel his presence. Then notice that this must be true of others as well, and think of how you might reach out in some simple way to show that we see that they are worthy of love.
Fourthly, do not assume that any of this advice is simply enough to beat deep depression or melancholy. That’s a battle that requires constant help from others, and many means. That’s why the traditional rendering of Job's first line of today’s reading says, “The life of man on earth is warfare.”
In his commentary on this passage, St. Thomas Aquinas points out that the end of struggle, of drudgery, of fighting a war is victory. Of course, this earthly life has many pains and does not possess all that will make us perfectly happy. The story of God’s dealings with Job show us who believe in the Savior how it all ends: in the triumph of the resurrection. The night will truly be over, and we will see happiness, not again, but really and truly for the first time after the restless night of our present struggles.
For further reading and a more complete treatment of this topic, Fr. Hugh recommends The Catholic Guide to Depression by Aaron Kheriaty, M.D., professor of psychiatry at UC Irvine.