You might be surprised by some of the names on the list!
Even saints of the moral stature of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, admired by believers and non-believers alike, bear witness to having suffered trials that seem surprising, maybe even shocking. To anyone who thinks the saints lived in a bubble of perfection, removed from the daily circumstances that affect “ordinary” human beings, there’s this: the “dark night of the soul.”
The most famous treatise on the subject is probably written by Spanish mystic and Doctor of the Church, St. John of the Cross. He describes that profound kind of spiritual crisis on the road towards a union with God in his famous poem from the 16th century titled “The Dark Night of the Soul.”
The fact is, with certain frequency God allows an intense trial of spiritual aridity, of complete lack of sensible fervor, of doubts regarding His existence, of outrage at the injustices of life, of despair in the face of tragedy, or desperation with the routine which, day after day, month after month, takes on an insufferable and amorphous lack of meaning…
If Christ Himself experienced the drama of the silence of the Father during the darkest of nights, to the point of begging His Father to take that chalice away from Him during His prayer in the Garden of Olives in preparation for the Passion, why should we assume that God would spare us from experiencing radical doubt? Why should we imagine that he would deny us the opportunity of choosing, freely and voluntarily, to embrace the faith or reject it, to trust in Him or reject Him, to purify our love or keep it tepid, fragile, compromised by comfort or by weak incentives?
Not even the vocation to the religious life exempts a Christian from spiritual trials.
It’s clear that these trials aren’t always the physical and psychological suffering that today we know as depression. Nonetheless, there are saints who, based on the symptoms they themselves or their biographers describe, very probably faced this syndrome, which today is seen as “the disease of the century.”
Here are some of the saints who may have suffered some degree of depression during their earthly lives …
1. St. Augustine
One of the most iconic and sublime figures representing the intensity of Christian conversion and the extraordinary power of sanctifying grace — one of the most admired personalities in the history of Western civilization, even by non-Catholics and non-Christians — faced, very probably, the ups and downs of neurotransmitters and the psychological and physical instability which today’s medical world calls depression.
His mother, St. Monica, supported with almost unbelievable patience the unpredictability of her son, who was brilliant but had a challenging temperament. Augustine searched for the truth and for the meaning of existence with intense sincerity. However, in his disoriented journeys (as he describes them in his own words), he sought them in the appearances of created things, in lust and the pleasures of the senses, far from God and farther and farther from himself. “You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created,” he declared in his Confessions, a masterpiece not just of Christian spirituality, but of universal spiritual literature.
The stubbornness of grace, however, was even more persistent than Augustine’s own. That grace, finding a channel in the indefatigable prayers of his mother and the admirable influence of the great bishop St. Ambrose, carried the rebellious and angst-ridden Augustine to finally surrender to God and choose baptism. And not only that: he consecrated himself to God, and was eventually made a bishop.
After his mother died, and during the more than 40 years that followed, Augustine’s powerful personality would still manifest itself frequently in a propensity to implacable anger and to … severe depression. He lifted himself up from those abysses by means of prayer, sacrifice, and work. Keeping himself busy was a great remedy, both in his many responsibilities as a bishop and in his many hours of reflection, study, and prayer that transformed him into a great defender of Church doctrine.
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