Sign Up for our Free Daily Email Updates / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Battling Despair

July 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

Battling Despair

Book Club INTERNAL IMAGE (internal to post) 600x214


The Evil one even uses virtue to tempt us to sin, inflating our egos with exaggerated self-esteem and complacency to the point where we succumb to vainglory. Thus we must be ceaselessly vigilant, cognizant of our own nothingness, our sinfulness, our appalling inadequacy, and ever mindful that we deserve nothing but eternal perdition. Let this remembrance be to us as a sword with which we defend ourselves from the insidious attacks of presumption and vanity; and let us fight with the vigor of a man struggling for his very life. – Spiritual Combat (TAN version, pg. 103); in Sophia Press, the comparable passage is found on page 90-91)

Now that I’ve spent over a hundred pages reading about how absolutely vile and pathetic I am, and how Satan will tempt me even when – correction – especially when – I think I’m working for God’s glory, what exactly prevents me from falling into despair?

I don’t mean to be glib, but I must admit, I’ve had difficulty reading over the past week. I know that the information in this book is true. And bit by bit, it’s digestible and I can put it into practice. But all the warnings about this sin or that sin have made me feel like I’m in a virtual minefield and cannot take a step without doing serious damage. Every time I think, say or do anything, I hear Scupoli questioning my motives to the point that I am virtually paralyzed with fear because of the glaring danger presented by all my faults.

It occurred to me that perhaps I’m just not holy enough to read this book. On a scale from one to ten, with one being the world’s worst sinner, and ten being a saint, I think this book must be meant for at least a number six. Someone who can conceive of themselves monitoring their every move, despising themselves and conquering all the evil motives in their lives. Someone who can do good things while keeping themselves in check – recognizing their nothingness and humbly working through God’s grace to make the world a better place.

Me? On a scale from one to ten, I’m probably more along the lines of a two or three. Then again, according to the book itself, perhaps I’m the type that should be reading it. After all, if I thought I were a six, I’d be much too prideful. The fact that I consider myself a measly two or three probably means I’m more holy than those who consider themselves a four or above, but maybe less holy than those who consider themselves a one. Then again, the very fact that I would compare my holiness to that of someone else takes me out of the running and I’m back to square one – perhaps I shouldn’t be reading this book. See how this Scupoli is running me in circles?

Truly, this week, I felt like I was constantly gasping for air, only to be shoved back underwater with every word I read. Apparently I’m not the only one who’s had trouble staying afloat. I actually confessed my “unworthiness” for this book to my priest, who was very familiar with Spiritual Combat. He suggested that I set it aside for awhile, in favor of a book that is more “hopeful.” He mentioned that, while this is a very good and holy book, he’s had a number of people tell him they battled despair while reading it. (Of course, I didn’t tell him I am reading it with four hundred and fifty other people, and the notion of setting it aside probably wouldn’t go over very well.)

Since putting it down was not an option for me, I went back to the beginning of the book, in effort to get my bearings straight. I’m glad I did. I found that despite page after page about distrust of self, Scupoli himself acknowledges that Trust in God is key and that without it, I will be in the exact position I’ve found myself this week.

On page 13 of the TAN version (Sophia Press, pg. 19), he states “Although distrust of self is absolutely necessary in the spiritual combat, nevertheless, if this is all we have to rely on, we will soon be routed, plundered, and subdued by the enemy. To it, therefore, we must join firm confidence in God, the Author of all good, from Whom alone the victory must be expected.”

Of course, God will achieve victory for me. At this point, this reminder is a great relief. Keeping this in mind will certainly help me to finish this book.

Additionally, it occurred to me that all this focus on how I absolutely cannot trust myself or my motives might have an ulterior motive of its own. Perhaps Scupoli is a platoon leader of sorts. Isn’t it a PL’s job to tear down a soldier and then to build him back up to be the best Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine soldier he can be?

As an Air Force brat with two veteran parents (each having over 25 years of service), I can certainly make sense of that idea. This is Scupoli’s version of Spiritual Boot Camp. In other words, he plans to tear me down to my own nothingness, so that he can build me back up in Christ, so to speak. After all, this is a battle. And I am a soldier. If he convinces me that I’m nothing (without Christ), he can make me a better soldier for Christ. And I can be better equipped for the battle. It’s all beginning to make sense…

Discussion Questions:

1. Have you had similar difficulties with the reading thus far? If so, how have you dealt with them?

2. Has Scupoli made any points that stand out for you? Please share them with the rest of us.


Schedule for This Week (Keep in mind that this is approximate – if you read somewhere around that range, we’ll still be reading together):

TAN:  pg. 113-142 (to Ch. 45 Mental Prayer)

Sophia Press: pg. 101-125 (to Lift Your Heart to God in Mental Prayer)

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

please consider supporting our mission with a donation!