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Depression and St. Therese of Lisieux

Today is the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, a woman who writes in her autobiography that her life was divided into three stages: the happiest (birth to 4-1/2), “the most unhappy” (4-1/2 to 14), and her life at Carmel.  During these times she experienced many of the risk factors for depression and struggled with symptoms of the illness itself.

When Therese was four and a half, her mother died.  Shortly after, Therese’s older sisters, who had become nurturing mother figures for Therese, left for the cloistered convent.  These kinds of early childhood catastrophic losses make one automatically vulnerable to depression.

At the age of ten Therese suffered what appeared to be a nervous breakdown. She thrashed around in her bed, banged her head against the post, and had hallucinations.  At twelve she became scrupulous, a mental health problem that she never overcame. Today we know scrupulosity to be symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  All of these symptoms are often found co-existing with depression.

St. Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, describes herself as having extreme doubts of God’s existence.  She called the atheists of the time her brothers and sisters.  After years of suffering tuberculosis, these doubts and “a depressed spirit” became worse and she was tempted to suicide.  90% or more of the thoughts to end one’s life come from depression and chronic illness and pain puts one at risk for depression.

The important thing here is that St. Therese stubbornly held on to her faith. She did this not because of health, good spirits, comforting assurances, miraculous healings, or religious experiences but by the tenacity of her choice to believe.  She writes:

 “While I do not have the joy of faith, I am trying to carry out its works at least. I believe that I have made more acts of faith in this past year than all through my whole life.”

Depression, nervous breakdown, suicidal thoughts, scruples, and doubts did not define St. Therese of Lisieux. It need not define us. We are more than our illnesses.  Thanks be to God.
This is a re-post  (on

Picture on Wikimedia Commons, public domain in the United States due to age of photo

Resource: O’Malley, Vincent J., Ordinary Suffering of Extraordinary Saints. Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.

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Anguished Job, and Us!

Job opened his mouth and cursed his day. Job spoke out and said: “Perish the day on which I was born, the night when they said, ‘The child is a boy!’ Why did I not perish at birth,…” Job 3:1-3

Has anyone ever felt that way? Has anyone ever cried to God that way? Do you think it was a sin to do so?

Whatever you think one thing is for sure, such a prayer is honest. God appreciates honesty. Besides, why would you try to fake it before God? It won’t do any good anyway. He knows all so you might as well be honest.

So pour it all out in a full long pained tirade. Then do the following: Wait for the LORD, take courage. Be stouthearted, wait for the LORD! Psalm 27:14

Later on in the story of Job, God answers. He doesn’t answer exactly as Job wanted but He answered just the same. And after all was said and done, God won and all was well. So it will be with us!

picture by Bethal AG Church, Wikimedia Commons

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Faith in YET

What is faith? We are told it is belief in things unseen. That’s true to a point but these days some things unseen don’t need to be believed. We have proof they exist, molecules for example.

These days, unseen means not evidenced yet, yet being the place where belief exists. “No one has seen God,” said St. John (1 John 4:10) but that’s because we simply haven’t seen God “face-to-face” (1 Cor.13:12), yet. We are told every tear will be wiped away, there will be cures for assorted illnesses including mental ones, and perhaps one day there will be relative peace on earth. All these things aren’t a reality, yet. We have faith they will be a reality some day, after someone with that same faith works to help make it happen.

So when you are down and out with little faith that you will feel better call to mind molecules found, blood tests developed, medicines created, peace worked for, and multiple past respites from your pain that have occurred. All these things come from faith in possibility, hard work, and ideas that arrive through deduction but still out of nowhere. We who say we believe in God choose to believe that God is in the nowhere.

The future of yet always comes and in the world of Jesus good wine comes after the bad (John 2:1-10). Have faith in that, and then be sure to work for it. Wedding guests don’t taste good wine if someone doesn’t cooperate and hoist the jug. In your case, that someone might as well be you. Hang in there!

Picture taken on Mt. Carmel, Israel, Feb 28, 2013. Found on database of free usable media files, Wikimedia Commons.

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St. Padre Pio & Our Wounds

St. Pius of Pietreicina, better known as Padre Pio is quite popular in Catholic circles, particularly in Italy. Monk, doctor of souls, and compassionate lover of the poor he died in modern times, 1968. That no doubt has added to his popularity; so have the visible wounds of Christ on his body that are immortalized in photographs.

We must always remember that Saints aren’t Saints because of outward signs. Even St. Padre Pio would agree. Saints are Saints, a word that simply means people in heaven, by the grace of God and the soul’s response to that grace in love.

Many Saints carried the wounds of Christ in other forms. They accepted those wounds and lived with them in union with our Lord for the good of themselves in terms of pruning and others in terms of holy compassion. They did this even as they sought human as well as divine remedies for their conditions.

The Church says we are to follow Saints’ examples about how to suffer, not make them different, separate, or higher than us because of outward manifestations of God’s love for each of us.

Those with mental or emotional illnesses, indeed any illness also bear the wounds of Christ. We can choose to respond in love that allows for pruning and a developing sense of compassion or we can become bitter. Acceptance of course includes in humble submission to medical, psychological, and spiritual examination and treatment. It also includes submitting peacefully to others’ judgments, persecution, being treated as different from the rest of humans when symptoms are more pronounced. For those of us who remember, St. Pio was banned from celebrating mass for those kinds of reasons.

So following the example of St. Padre Pio let us, “Carry in our bodies the death of our Lord in hopes that, in a small way, the life of Christ might be revealed in us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9 adapted)

St. Padre Pio, pray for us.

Picture by Aldiaz, Wikimedia Commons, uploaded free domain, 2012

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When Times are Difficult

“I know that God is with me. In God, in whose promise I glory, in God I trust without fear; what can flesh do against me?” Psalm 56:10c–12

Things can get pretty bad in life, personally and globally. Sometimes all we can do is sit back helplessly and watch. Heart breaking and trying to be strong we can become quite anxious about our inability to effect a change in the situation.

During these times there is something we can do. First, we can know we are human. The psalmist uses the word, “Flesh,” in some translations, “Man.” Second, we can call to mind that even when all seems lost we have the promise that God will never leave, ever. This God who spins the universe and knows the mysteries of the oceans and our hearts takes it upon Himself to stay right there. All we have to do during these difficult times is hang on to that truth, even if it only feels like a nice thought. So pray the psalm, and do so over and over again. Memorize it and recall it during the worst of times.

“I know that God is with me. In God, in whose promise I glory, in God I trust without fear; what can flesh do against me?”

Picture is mine. Psalm is Responsorial psalm for Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014.