Cardinal Danneels Offers Antidote to Depression and Despair

In Commentary for Launching of Evangelization Agency

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LONDON, MAY 3, 2004 ( There is no therapy like prayer, for those living in a depressing and desperate society, says Cardinal Godfried Danneels.

The archbishop of Malines-Brussels and president of the Belgian episcopal conference affirmed this in a written commentary for the recent launching of the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelization, a project of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales.

Entitled «Christ, Hope for a New Millennium,» the cardinal’s address will help to stimulate the launching of the agency, created to support and train Catholics to share and spread their faith, according to the Communications Service of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Cardinal Danneels writes that evangelization must be carried out in a context where «in every street there is someone who is depressed about our times, and no day passes without at least one newspaper headline containing discouragingly bad news,» reflecting «war and violence, genocide, unemployment, crime and terrorism, and great ethical confusion.»

The present picture is one of a society «that has lost confidence in itself: It is floating helplessly like an astronaut in his spaceship who grabs hold of anything solid he can find. The gravity that emerged from the great religious ideals in Europe has disappeared,» the Belgian cardinal contends.

To «the crisis of interiority» is added «the disappearance of ideals and projects,» which makes mankind «narcissistic and consuming,» he states.

«There is a great inner emptiness, loneliness and dejectedness,» and it is young people who are the first to suffer the effects of this, he adds. «Yet the question still persists: How can I be happy?»

In their journey, people are looking for «guiding lights,» Cardinal Danneels notes. But these are only «short-term therapies.»

Such therapies, he says, range from medication — which «has taken on alarming proportions in our time» — to alcohol and drugs; to publications that exclude any path to happiness «that might require reflection, self-control, effort, conversion or searching for a more spiritual and ethical life.»

«Or if there is an allusion to spirituality, then it is situated in the area of esotericism and techniques for automatic salvation,» he laments. «Conversion of the heart and of the inner person is not considered.»

Another «escape route» is the phenomenon of replacing the entire Christian legacy «with a parallel world of visions, divine warnings and apparitions … designed to make one happy,» an approach that is influenced by the New Age, he says.

But the key to this whole situation is hope, Cardinal Danneels stresses.

«The person is a being composed of desires who continually and eternally wants to realize himself or herself,» but feels himself or herself finite and «constantly encounters the borders of death,» he says.

People feel «trapped in the temporary and yet open to the infinite» and they «know that within the borders of earthly existence they will never be able to realize what they most desire,» the cardinal explains.

«Thus they can do nothing other than hope: That is the way the human person is made,» he says.

There is a way in which Christianity understands hope: a «bringer of hope will come: the Messiah. He will fulfill the promises and realize hope,» the Belgian cardinal adds.

«The alternative to utopia is the belief that God himself intervenes in human history,» he writes. «Hope is not made by us, it is granted it: There is a promise that we will live on after death.»

«In short: Christian hope rests not on people but on God’s promises and on God’s power,» something on which the Bible is very clear: «God fulfills all of his promises and he is cause of hope,» the cardinal adds. The final promise is fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ, where «Christian hope finds its definitive foundation.»

The cardinal says there is «only one way to exercise hope»: to pray and keep watch, in «an attitude of expectation.»

«Prayer is also patiently suspending oneself between the past and the future,» he says. It is also «to look forward with burning heart to the days to come, to the return of the Groom.»

«Prayer is expressing gratitude for all that is behind us but also delving into the promises that have yet to be fulfilled,» he continues. «For a culture (and a Church!) in depressive times, can there be a therapy as efficient as that of prayer?»

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