Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Abiding Sorrow

Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J.

Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity)
(Vincent van Gogh)
I once did a great injury to a very dear friend. Something he had done had tried me, something he had said had roused me. I was bitter at the moment, reckless of consequences; at the same time, I knew within my heart that his friendship would bear the strain. I let myself go; I spoke the stinging word, did the wounding deed, turned on my heel and slighted him. He took the insult and said nothing; he was older, greater, than I, and could afford to forgo an apology. When we met again, it was as if nothing cruel had been done. Since then, we have gone on as before: our friendship has never diminished. But I know him too well to suppose that the memory of that day can ever fade from his mind. I know he has forgiven; in practical life he has forgotten; but the wound cannot be recalled, and the scar must always remain. I have never apologized; his manner has shown me clearly enough that to do so in any form of words would only be to hurt him the more. Yet could I forget? The older we grow together, the more I understand his delicate sympathy of heart, the more I realize what it is that I have done. It is a lasting shame to me, a lasting agony, which only increases with time. He has forgiven; all the more is it impossible for me to forgive myself. He has forgotten, at least so far as not to let it come between us; all the more can I not forget, but must be drawn the more to him on its account. Though all is past and done with, yet the sorrow abides; though love has increased, yet the pain is always there; though friendship has restored me to equality, yet the craving is greater now than ever it was before to make atonement and to show him that I am true. I know now of what I am capable; I know now how much his friendship can be trusted; and the fact that we both love each other the more because of what has happened, does but make me remember without ceasing the injury that I once did him. If he were to die, my sorrow would not cease; it is part of the friendship that exists between us, and with that friendship would overleap the grave. My efforts at atonement would not diminish; rather they would grow. For if death is what I take it to be, then I can show him better after death, than ever I can show him now, the longing that I have in my heart.

If this is true of a friend among men, what shall I say of the Friend of friends? Peccatum meum contra me est semper - "My sin is always before me." I have done Him an injustice. I have resented the strain of His friendship, sacrificed Him in the face of a trying circumstance, exchanged Him for others, whom I had neither the courage nor the character to despise. He has taken the insult and has said nothing; it was not His dignity that was lowered, but mine that was annihilated, by the condescension. He has forgiven, and has told me so, giving me His word as guarantee. He has said that so far as He is concerned the past shall be as if it had never happened. But am I on that account freed from the burden of consciousness of shame? The fact of the insult still remains - the fact of the wound, and the scar that marks its place, still stands. If I ever forgot that, the agony that I have caused, the creature in me that could sink so low, I should be a presuming, an arrogant knave. To make atonement is well-nigh useless. He needs no such thing. All the more can I never forget - no, not even though He has died, and has risen, and is in His glory. That does not alter me; it does not alter my action; it does but bring home to me the more Who it is whom I have offended, what it is that I have done.

This is abiding sorrow, that everlasting element of true contrition. It is consistent with great joy of heart, for it is the outcome of perfect forgiveness. It is consistent with a burning love; indeed, it is its necessary companion. None the less is it an agony, otherwise it would not be sorrow. "Lord, that I had never offended Thee!" Rightly understood, this is a strong heart's cry, and its note is combined of sorrow and gladness, of contrition and love, of the certainty of hope that has routed despair.


  1. This is wonderful. Thanks. It never ceases to amaze me how clear older writing is. I've tried to read many of the documents, letters, articles, even encyclicals written since Vatican II's revolution and it's tough going.

    You are doing such a service to Christ's Faithful. The Truth must be 'put out there' even if no one reads it - it just IS.

  2. You're among good company in your recognizing the outstanding clarity of thought present in older Catholic documents - particularly those immediately preceding the First World War. It's almost as if Our Blessed Lord, in His providential mercy, was giving us that wealth of such shining examples - the brightest of which being Pope St. Pius X - so that we could find our way through the dark times to come. It's a real pleasure to transcribe and republish these little gems of true Catholic spirituality, and doubly pleasant to know that someone is reading them. God bless.



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