5 Remedies for Sorrow or Pain from St. Thomas Aquinas

Feast day: 

January 28 - St. Thomas Aquinas

Patron saint of: 

students, universities, educators, teachers, philosophers, theologians, catholic colleges/universities

St. Thomas Aquinas was a brilliant philosopher, teacher, and student of life. 

His Summa Theologica created the basis for a lot of theology and Church teaching throughout history. It was meant to be an instructional guide for teachers and students and meant to be a compendium of all the approved teachings of the Catholic Church at the time (1265-1274).

In an effort to live liturgically, I am committed to diving deeper into the lives of the saints on their feast days. I decided to read Question #38 from the Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas because I've seen it come up a few times over the years, and wanted to read it for myself.

The following is what I've gleaned from my reading, and I hope it gives a helpful start to anyone who has been curious about St. Thomas Aquinas' writings!

Question #38: Can sorrow be assuaged by...

1. Every pleasure?

2. Weeping?

3. Sympathy of friends?

4. Contemplating truth?

5. Sleep and baths?

Simply put, what are possible remedies for sorrow and pain?

1. Do something that brings you joy

In his own words: "every pleasure brings relief by assuaging any kind of sorrow." (Summa Theologica, I-II q. 38 a. 1)⁠

Maybe this seems obvious, but sometimes when we are in the midst of deep suffering, it can feel almost impossible to enjoy the things we used to enjoy.

Especially when those were things that we used to enjoy with a person that is no longer with us, or from a strained or absent relationship.

Or maybe it's even harder because the things that used to bring you joy are now impossible in this season. Like going out with friends, but you can't because you can't find a babysitter for your kids. Or your health doesn't allow you to do certain things anymore.

But there's hope. St. Thomas Aquinas essentially suggests that anything that gives us joy, can help assuage our suffering. Even if it's maybe not ideal or what are used to being able to do.

It can be something as simple as going out in the sun. Listening to a song you like. Eating good food. 
It doesn't have to be extravagant to be healing.

On this day, I will do one thing that brings me joy.

2. let yourself cry

In his own words: "Tears and groans naturally assuage sorrow...because 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." (Summa Theologica, I-II q. 38 a. 2)⁠

Again, this might be obvious.

But I think about how many times I haven't let myself cry because I felt ashamed to feel what I was feeling. Or because I was trying to be strong for someone else, or for myself. Or I was trying to act like I didn't care. Or I had experienced so much hurt, that I was too numb to cry, even if I wanted to.

Crying is cathartic.

So, if you are going through a loss of any kind, whether a miscarriage, divorce, death of a loved one, loss of employment, infertility, loss of a friendship or close relationship, breakup, sickness of yourself or a loved one, etc...try to let yourself feel all the things.

Wade into the grief instead of running away from it and packing your schedule full, working a lot, binging TV, or whatever else you do to cope.

Only when you start to let yourself feel, can you truly begin the path of healing.

On this day, I will allow myself to feel whatever emotions come up. I will not judge them or myself. I will let them wash over me as long as I need to feel them.

3. talk to a friend

In his own words: "When one is in pain, it is natural that the sympathy of a friend should afford consolation...the load of sorrow becomes lighter for him." (Summa Theologica, I-II q. 38 a. 3)⁠

Three traps I can easily fall into when I'm hurting or suffering is that I don't want to talk to anyone about it because 1) They don't understand 2) I don't have time 3) I don't want to burden someone else with my mess.

It's important, of course, to only be vulnerable with safe people. 
But when you are suffering, remember that your friends and the people who love you WANT to be there for you, no matter how busy their lives may seem.

If you don't feel like you can talk about your suffering with anyone in your life, I highly recommend talking to a therapist or joining a group related to whatever you're going through.

Here are some resources if you're looking for a therapist or group of people to journey with.

On this day I will talk to someone about what I'm struggling with.


4. contemplate truth

In his own words: "...the greatest of all pleasures consists in the contemplation of truth. ...in the midst of tribulations men rejoice in the contemplation of Divine things and of future Happiness." (Summa Theologica, I-II q. 38 a. 4)⁠

Ground yourself in truth.

What is true about yourself? What is true what you see? What is true about God? 

One of the best things to do in times of sorrow is to read scripture. I love praying with the Liturgy of the Hours, but opening up the Bible is also extremely healing. My favorite books to read in times of sorrow are the Psalms and Isaiah.

Here are some affirmations of truth I speak over myself when I'm really struggling:

1. I am here. I am alive.

2. God is good, even when I don't see it, even when I don't understand.

3. This, too, shall be redeemed.

4. I am in my body. I am safe.

5. My family is deeply loved and is under the loving care of God.

6. I am capable of making wise decisions and setting the proper boundaries.

7. There is joy to be found all around me.

On this day, I will ground myself in truth.


5. take a bath and have a good sleep

In his own words: "...sorrow, by reason of its specific nature, is repugnant to the vital movement of the body; and consequently whatever restores the bodily nature to its due state of vital movement, is opposed to sorrow and assuages it...sorrow is assuaged by such like bodily remedies." (Summa Theologica, I-II q. 38 a. 5)⁠

Don't mind if I do, St .Thomas!

Our bodies were created beautifully, and when we do things (even small things) that are restorative to our bodies, it has a positive neurological impact on our hearts and mind.

When you are suffering deeply, take EXTRA good care of yourself. It can be tempting to neglect yourself, fill your schedule, take care of other people and/or finding other ways to numb the pain.

Try these things: 

1. Go to bed early

2. Eat a yummy, nutritious meal

3. Take a long, hot bath (or even just a decent shower!)

4. Get a massage

5. Drink plenty of water

6. Eat a dessert you enjoy

On this day, I will do something to take care of myself. My body is sacred and deserves loving care and enjoyment.

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