Sanity and Sanctity

I’m convinced that I am a little bit insane. (“Only a little bit?” I hear you say)

Not only that, I’m really convinced that almost everybody else is. However, let me define my terms. By ‘insane’ I don’t mean bat-shit crazy, eye rolling drooling insane. Instead I mean that we do not have a total grip on reality. We see things askew. We have a blind spot or two or three.

Because of this we mis-judge people. We jump to negative conclusions. We gossip. We assume the worst. Our insecurities produce in us a twinge or paranoia. Our ambition and ego result in a flicker of delusions of grandeur. Our fear surfaces as suspicion of others and accusation. We blame others and accuse and suspect when they probably aren’t to blame–or at least they are not totally to blame. However, we can’t see it. We really are blind to the problem.

The core of the problem is the contagion of ego and ambition. By ‘ambition’ I mean the underlying, unshakeable conviction that we are the center of the universe and everything really does revolve around us. This is not necessarily exhibited by megalomania or obscene displays of ambition and power grabs. It may be exhibited just as much by a kind of quietly self centered attitude that is never absurdly egotistical, but also never pays attention to other people at all.

This blinds us to the needs and perspectives of others and when problems arise it leads us by a twisted kind of logic, to blame others for our problems. So convinced are we of our own goodness and rightness, that if there is a problem of any sort it must be caused by someone else. This is the root of all our negativities and ugliness to other people and about other people. They are to blame. It is their fault, because it can’t possibly be our fault. That is literally beyond our comprehension.

This results, according to my theory, in a kind of insanity–a detachment from reality.

The antidote is the simple prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, Have Mercy on Me a Sinner.” The attitude of repentance is the direct, simple and strong contradiction of the innate self righteousness, ambition and ego that is our default setting. This is why repentance is such a healthy and powerful habit.

Repentance at the heart level is therefore the path to sanity, and the path to sanity is also the path to sanctity. A saint is a person who has replaced the default setting of ego and ambition which leads to insanity with what we call humility–a simply and direct apprehension of reality: reality about oneself, reality about God, reality about others.

If you want to glimpse what this looks like in a real human person read and re-read the lives of the saints. There we see sanity and sanctity in the human person radiantly alive and radiantly real.

In the face of this sane sanctity our ego, ambition and insanity seems frighteningly small and sickeningly twisted.

Read: Sin and Sanctity and Nietzsche meets Therese.

  • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

    It is interesting that when the Desert Fathers began to live ascetic lives for the sake of sanctification, and people began to notice them, there grew to be a real fashion for visiting them and asking for their guidance. It turned out that these ascetics who had fled the world had the most amazingly realistic, practical, and down-to-earth view of the problems of ordinary people, and their advice was more often than not the right word at the right time. The same turned out to be the case a millennium and a half later with St.Jean-Baptiste Vianney. Truly, sanctity is sanity. Even that very irascible Doctor of the Church, St.Jerome: his anger was not saintly, but it was always in response to a real and grave problem that less perspicuous minds could not perceive in time. He was pretty nearly always right except in the way he expressed it – so you might say that his sanity extended as far as his sanity did.

  • Rune

    This reminds me of the Gustave Doré illustration of Satan. When Dante encounters him the devil is not revealed as some flaming wrathful force. He doesn’t come out belching fire like the Balrog. Instead he is locked and frozen in his own thoughts. He is centered on his own narcissism and oblivious to what is around him. St. Augustine expressed that God made us for himself and that our hearts are restless until resting with him. To turn inward and look to ourselves to quell a restless heart leaves us with a thirst that cannot be quenched.


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