Sanity and Sanctity

It is easy for us to assume that people are either insane or sane. In fact, the sane and the insane or only the extreme ends of a spectrum. Insane people are simply further gone than the rest of us. Saints are at the other end of the spectrum and are truly whole, truly human and truly completed works of the divine art.

One of the marks of true insanity is that the insane person doesn’t realize they are insane. That’s why they have to be carted off forcefully. Further down the spectrum are all those who are insane or deranged or imbalanced in some way in one area of their life or another. We can think of those poor souls who are perfectly okay in every other way, but they are obsessive about some conspiracy theory or they hold to some kooky perspective on something. Maybe they have an addiction or a secret perversion in their lives. Maybe through bitterness and unforgiveness their hearts and minds are poisoned and they bear a grudge and end up acting and speaking irrationally.
I thought of this the other day when attending a high school volleyball game and some parents were foaming at the mouth with rage over an umpire’s call. I admit that I am no athlete and I find the hysterics and dramatics and high passion of the devotee to be bizarre. I always bite my tongue when I’m tempted to say, “It’s only a game!” lest they turn their ire from the referee to me and I end up with a black eye. Suddenly I saw that there for a moment those people were crazy. Crazy as loons, and if their behavior continued unrestrained they would be locked up. They soon calmed down and were ‘normal’ again, but for a moment the beast was revealed.
This insanity I’m talking about is everywhere. Consider our greed. How crazy is it to live the affluent vulgar lives we lead in a world of starving children? Consider our anger. How crazy is it to be angry at all the people and events in the world that we are angry about when we can do nothing about it? Consider our narrow, religious fortress mentality. How crazy is it to huddle down with other people who believe like we do and get together and point our fingers at all the ‘sinners’ outside and imagine we’re good only because we’ve made them bad?
I could go on. We’re crazy. All of us. If insanity is a skewed perception of reality or losing a grip on reality, then all of us are at least partially looped at least some of the time. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not pointing fingers. I’m raising my hand. I’m a fruit loop too….
In contrast consider the saints. Their purity and humility and goodness and faith and humor and love and goodness and energy is simply sanity. It is an absolutely firm and unrelenting grip on reality. It is remorseless in it grip on reality. It is refreshing and beautiful and inspiring and true.
Is there a patron saint of the insane? Perhaps it could be dear sweet Therese if she is not already too busy converting England.
If it is possible most sane of little girls, make me sane before it’s too late.

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  • Agent Smith

    St. Dymphna is also known as "Dimpna" or "Dympna" and may be synonymous with the Irish saints Davets and Damhnait (Damhnade). Her feast day is May 15 and she is the patron saint of those who suffer from mental illnesses and nervous system disorders, epileptics, mental health professionals, incest victims, and runaways.Closest I can think of for patron of the insane.

  • shadowlands

    I removed all my posts from yesterday Father,as I was praying about them,and felt ill at ease,I also just watched a video about hell on youtube and sent myself half mad(only half, mind you).Step two of the A.A program "Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity".

  • Éstiel

    We use the term "insane" to refer to people we can't trust or don't understand. It has no meaning outside our subjective use of it. There is no medical definition. There is schizophrenia, dementia, etc., but there's no such thing as "insane." We made it up. We make up a lot of things, and once we give a name to them, we believe they have objective reality. They don't.The beginning of civilization and the beginning of history is the birth of language. It allowed us to distinguish ourselves from our environment. It was Adam's naming of the beasts that separated him from the beasts. They became "they" and, by logical extension, not him. Some people believe now that absence of language equates insanity. No. The us-and-them, subject-and-object code is not the sign of sanity.I think you're right. Saints have no need of language. Because they are sane. Holy. Whole. Not fractured.

  • doctoreric

    As Mark Shea says "Sin makes you stupid."

  • Nick

    The insane, in my opinion, are those who choose Hell by their sins. Those who by their actions choose to be eternally lost, to cast off God and live with themselves, even if in eternal torment. The reprobates are the insane. Pity the, Father, for they are lost forever. Let us console Jesus, anquished over them, by praying for the conversion of sinners. It is one reason why Mary continually asks us to pray for this intention. Would not the Mother of Sorrow wish to console her Son, the Fruit of Immortality, whom she held in her arms after He was removed from the Tree of Life?

  • Athos

    Jeff Hendrix here. Thank you, father. It seems to me that all of us have the scarring of our particular "sin sickness," our bent to particular concupiscence, and the Spirit deals with that particularity if and as we participate with God's grace through the sacraments and growth in sanctification.But we never fully lose our sin "fingerprint" as it were. Does that fly?

  • Steve

    Re St Therese and the conversion of England. (If I recall what I read years ago correctly) – an Anglican clergyman devotee of the Saint (Vernon Johnson) visited her convent not long after her death and was roundly accused of belonging to an heretical church by the Saint's sister, the superior. He converted soon thereafter and became a priest. She should have worked in the Vatican.

  • holsetyknight

    St. Therese's father, Bl. Louis Martin, suffered from mental illness. I think he should be joint patron along with Dymphna, if Blesseds can be patrons.

  • Bender

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  • Bender

    Father, just a couple of notes –"Insanity" is a legal term, not a term of psychology or psychiatry. But that is really neither here nor there.The one point of substance I would disagree on (or might like to tweak a bit) is "One of the marks of true insanity is that the insane person doesn't realize they are insane."Sadly, the truly "insane" (or mentally ill or whatever term you want to use) are those who are insane and they know that they are insane, yet can do nothing about it. The insane who do not know they are insane can still be medicated and perhaps that might help.But then there are those who know that they are delusional, and they want to be able to discern real from unreal, but they cannot. Even with medication, even when they might appear lucid, still there are times when they become detached from reality against their will.They do know that they have a problem, they do know that they are insane, but they do not know where the real ends and the delusions begin. Even when what they are experiencing is the real thing, still they have to ask themselves in terror if it is actually a delusion.They know they have a problem, but try as they might, they cannot control their thoughts, even if those thoughts are not delusional. They no longer have a will that is "free." They are like corks being tossed about by the waves of the sea against the rocks.I suppose Hell is a little bit like what they experience.It is quite a sad thing to see, someone who so emphatically wants to be mentally healthy, but is unable to be.

  • Anna A

    May I recommend the book, "Saints and Madmen" by Russell Shorto. It goes into very interesting history on psychiatry and religion. It also explores lightly the comparison between mystical experiences and psychotic experiences.

  • Catholic Mom of 10

    Of course her father was clinically insane at the end of his life. Insanity is no bar to saintliness. Actually in my own case I often feel that since I'm medicated for my bi-polar disorder i'm much saner than those alleged 'ordinaries! '.sorry for pun opn that word at present!!

  • Richard

    Bl. Louis Martin actually suffered from dementia, as distinct from mental illness, probably brought about by either arteriosclerosis or Alzheimer’s disease, although he no doubt suffered from situational depression as well.