Finding hope in stressful times

By Richard Collyer

Project Manager | Mental Health Ministry

Department of Pastoral Ministry in the Archdiocese of San Francisco

The Christmas season can intensify the lows of our emotional and spiritual struggles.

So, how do we navigate if we are experiencing anxiety and despair in our lives? How can we move from feeling helpless to hopeful?

These are important questions that need to be addressed. Like most of you, I have suffered many ups and downs in life and struggled at times with the feeling of complete helplessness. The only thing, I believe, that got me through those times is the grace of God. Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has added significantly to our mental health challenges in simply dealing with everyday life.

Our faith is surely being tested; however, faith untested is unreliable. We don’t really know how strong we are until we face those challenges in our lives that push us to the limit.

So, let me ask you – Are you stuck in despair? Are you falling into addictions? Do you feel helpless? Are you overwhelmed by the impact of COVID? Don’t know where to turn for help? As we fast approach the end of 2021, you may be stuck in the mud. You just can’t make any progress and are feeling completely overwhelmed. Let’s explore some ways of getting us to a better place. Remember a new beginning is coming soon – the birth of Jesus.

Holy toolbox

We as Catholics have many tools available to us, tools other Christian denominations don’t have. In addition to the healing power of the Mass, I would like to focus on three others that you might think of as a “holy toolbox.”

The first is adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. When is the last time you just sat in front of Jesus with an open heart to listen and hear what the Holy Spirit has to say to you? During the Christmas season we are surrounded with so much activity and distractions. Try just being quiet with the Lord. There are no formulas; just bring a loving heart. You will not be disappointed.

The second tool is the sacrament of reconciliation. We are all sinners and need to cleanse the messiness and sin out of our lives. Wouldn’t it be great if we prepare for the birth of Christ by allowing God to heal our wounds and cleanse our hearts? Get a new start on life by taking advantage of this wonderful sacrament. There is no better time than right now.

The third tool is a most powerful weapon we have as Catholics, the rosary. As we face the “battles” in our daily lives, why not call on the Blessed Mother to pray for and with us. Remember, she saw her son die on the cross for us. She understands our anxiety, grief, struggles and despair better than anyone. Give yourself the gift of spending time with Our Lady, as she is waiting for us.

Christ in all seasons

In addition to these tools, we have a patron saint for those suffering with anxiety and depression – St. Dymphna. You might be interested in checking out her story and spending time in prayer with her. Her feast day is May 15. (

I don’t know about your current situation, but I hope this helps you prepare for the coming of Jesus. Remember, the birth of Jesus is just around the corner; hope is near. We can always count on the Christ Child to lead us to a better place.

I would like to end with a reflection on a homily that my wife and I heard from a priest many years ago. I reflect back on it from time to time to help me see the bigger picture in my own life. He described life as a puzzle full of many pieces and when we look at some they don’t seem to fit. Some pieces have ragged edges while others have smooth edges and fit easily into the picture. But there are some that just seem completely out of place.

If you have ever put a jigsaw puzzle together, you know what I mean. There are always a couple of pieces that you just want to throw away because you can’t see where they will ever fit. Don’t throw them away because you are going to need them someday. That one piece that makes no sense today will eventually complete the whole picture.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”