Five Remedies for Sadness: The Wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas

As I write this, it’s rainy, gray, and far too cool for late summer—the kind of day that drives a person indoors and under covers.  I did try a walk this morning, umbrella in hand, but the rain was coming down faster than I could dodge it, so I turned on my heel and made a run back to the car.  I looked ahead to something so rare and precious that I hardly knew what to do with it:  an empty day.  No work, no tasks, no people demanding an immediate response—I couldn’t wait to get started doing…nothing.  

Olive and I spent the day together.  I settled into my reading nook with Lucy Worsley’s book, The Art of the English Murder.  (I have a stack of her books from the library.  I’m a new fan since having seen some of her documentaries on PBS).    Olive brought along a bully stick, which she gnawed for at least a solid hour at my feet.   The clock ticked and the time flew.  I baked a sheet of cookies, I vacuumed out my car.  My schedule comprised pleasant little tasks that I didn’t really have  to do, and therefore even the vacuuming project yielded some therapeutic value.  Then, as the day wound down and the light began to fade, I put on some music, pulled out my old ephemera box, and sorted the pieces in my collection.

What is it about a collection of anything —dishes, bracelets, postcards—that calls you back again and again to sort and arrange its individual pieces?  Collections are usually built one item at a time, so you first fall in love with the beauty of each piece as found in isolation.  Each of my cards, for example, is a self-contained little artifact that’s fully capable of captivating me.  But  when viewed within the context of the rest of my collection, well, wow!  The whole is prettier than the sum of its parts!

St. Thomas Aquinas
Part of my ephemera collection. This lace card in the foreground is a very delicate prayer card featuring a prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas.

A recent addition to my collection is a prayer card that features, on the back, the daily prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas before the image of Jesus Christ.   Aquinas was a Dominican Friar who was canonized as a saint in 1323,  fifty years after his death.  He’s best known as one of the Catholic Church’s greatest theologians and philosophers.  Prolific and influential, one of his teachings that can have immediate application in our own lives is that of the goal of human existence, which he identified as union and eternal fellowship with God. From Wikipedia:  “The goal of union with God has implications for each individual’s life on earth.  Thomas stated that an individual’s will must be ordered toward right things, such as charity, peace, and holiness.  He saw this orientation as also the way to happiness.  Indeed, Thomas ordered his treatment of the moral life around the idea of happiness…Those who truly seek to understand and see God will necessarily love what God loves.  Such love requires morality and bears fruit in everyday human choices.”

 

The front and back of the prayer card. This prayer is on the back: Grant me grace, O merciful God, to desire ardently all that is pleasing to thee, to examine it prudently, to acknowledge it truthfully, and to accomplish it perfectly, for the praise and glory of thy name. Amen.

Naturally, you can’t really contemplate happiness without considering its antithesis—sadness.   In his Summa Theologiae Aquinas offers the following “remedies.”

Five Remedies for Sadness

  1. Grant yourself something you like.  Of course, for this to be effective, you have to use your head.  A shopping spree, for example, will likely result in a feeling of emptiness.    Moderation is key.  A long walk, a decadent dessert shared with a friend, a little treat for yourself, are all good ideas.
  2. Have a good cry.  Aquinas said this about the need to weep:  “A hurtful thing hurts yet more if we keep it shut up, because the soul is more intent on it; whereas if it be allowed to escape, the soul’s intention is dispersed as it were on outward things so that the inward sorrow is lessened.”  Speaking as someone who has never had an unexpressed feeling, I can confirm that this is so true!!
  3. Share your sorrow with a good friend.  Sadness is a heavy weight to bear, and its heft is better managed by two, than by one.  
  4. Contemplate the truth.  Wow, is this a good one.  I suspect Aquinas was primarily speaking about the truth of God’s promises and providence, but I think this bit of advice could also direct us to study the reality of the situation in which we find ourselves.  Things are never as bad as we think they are, and if we were to see things clearly, as they really are, we would probably recognize the goodness all around us.
  5. Take a bath and a nap.  Huh?  Could this really have been advice from a medieval theologian?  It sounds like something prescribed by a daytime talk show host.   But it’s true.  Even Jesus rested, after all.  

See where a collection can take you?  When I first sat down to “play” with my old cards, I didn’t know I would wind up traveling down a philosophical and theological path.  Incidentally, I just glanced out the window; the clouds and the gloom are gone.  A beautiful evening is on the way.  Life is good, isn’t it?

Until next time…

Jennifer Passariello

 

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