THE STRUGGLE OF SAINTS
As a Catholic Counseling Center, Caritas’ main focus is not only to guide you with the love of God to a place of peace and contentment, but also to remind you that you are not alone on your journey there. Many others have walked similar roads before you and have triumphed by the Grace of God - and we’re here to tell you that you can, too. Below is a list of Saints who have experienced and worked through similar and common struggles many of us face today.
ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION
After his mother died, and during the 40 years that followed, Augustine’s powerful personality would manifest itself frequently in a propensity to implacable anger and severe depression. He lifted himself up from those abysses by means of prayer, sacrifice, and work. Keeping himself busy with healthy activities 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. Saint Augustine made a choice to allow his depression and inordinate anger to lead down the path to a deeper understanding of himself and his reliance upon God. Though he continued to struggle long after his conversion, he did not give into the temptations to believing he was not worthy of Gods love and to being a great member of the Body of Christ.
Julian of Norwich
She was a lay Christian Mystic, who received many visions from God throughout her life. She struggled in her life with visions that gave her great anxiety and was tempted to believing that her anxious feelings were a sign that she was not Holy or close to God. She was able to recognize this faulty thinking and the pitfalls of using emotions/feelings as an indicator of her journey on in the spiritual life. In our modern day lives we also can fall prey to feelings that “we are bad,” that something is wrong with us, or that we are not close to God because we have anxiety. Let us take strength from Julian of Norwich’s example that feelings are not facts - that our love of Christ goes far deeper!
St. Ignatius of Loyola
He suffered from anxious scrupulosity and perfectionism. He would fall into a state of great unrest, irritability, discomfort, insecurity regarding himself and his own decisions - frightening doubts, great depression and difficulty persevering in good intentions. Deep depressions befell him when he fell short of perfection. So severe he even considered suicide! He allowed this suffering to turn into insight and light regarding his reliance upon God, not himself, for strength. He made a choice to learn from his struggles which fueled a wonderful dialogue with God. He ended up writing one of the greatest books on Catholic meditation.
St. Elizibeth Ann Seton
She suffered from a constant feeling of loneliness and melancholy, so profound that she thought several times of suicide. She faced many problems during her life, especially regarding her family; her beloved husband died young. In financial ruin when she converted to the Catholic faith, many of her family and friends rejected her. Reading, music, and the sea helped her feel happier. After her conversion, the Eucharist and charity became her source of daily strength. She used her depression as an avenue to a deeper connection with God, herself, and others.
St. John Maria Vianney
Despite all the good he did, he couldn’t manage to see his own relevance before God, and lived constantly with an intense inferiority complex, considering himself to be useless—a symptom of depression which would accompany him throughout his entire life. During times of difficulty, he would turn to the Lord and, despite his suffering, would renew his determination to persevere in his work with trust, faith, and love for God and neighbor. Many of us today struggle today with a faulty belief that we do not measure up to others and that our faith is irrelevant. St John Vianny is a great example of how we need to respond to such faulty beliefs - By accepting that these beliefs are faulty and having as much faith, hope, and love as we can.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)
Edith suffered intense depression, starting before her conversion, principally on the many occasions when she was scorned and humiliated because she was of Jewish origin and a woman. An intellectual, a philosopher, a disciple and assistant of renowned philosopher Edmund Husserl (founder of the philosophical school of phenomenology), she finally found in God the Truth she sought so earnestly, thanks to reading the works of St. Teresa of Jesus. She then embraced God’s grace with such totality that it gave her the strength to deal not only with her intense interior sufferings, but also with the deadly darkness of Nazism. She is an example of someone who persevered through the scorn of others and doubt to find the truth. She could have easily gave into the prejudice against her or used it as an excuse to stay stuck, but she made a conscious choice not to. This is a great example of looking beyond the short term feelings to make choices rooted in the truth!
ADDITION AND CO-DEPENDENCY
St. Jane Francis de Chantal
After St. Janes husband died, her and her three children were forced to live with her dysfunctional father-in-law. There was much chaos and as a result she struggled with depressed and anxious moods. She chose to respond to these feelings and her father-in-laws cruelty with a strength of charity and compassion. Do not mistake this with “being a door mat.” For she stood straight up to her father-in-law with an interior focus on God as her source of strength. This is not to say that she was not frustrated, discouraged, and even doubted God during this period of time, but that she answered these sentiments with love and surrender to God.
The Venerable Matt Talbot
He was a severe alcoholic for nearly 15 years. Then one day he was inspired to take a pledge to not drink for three months. He struggled mightily during this time. Everyday on his way home from work he avoid the places he used to drink, instead going to a church on his way home from work. He turned this three months into 41 years! Matt supported his sobriety with traditional Catholic disciplines such as prayer, frequent communion, weekly confession, spiritual reading, fasting, and service. He also seems to have taken guidance from a wise spiritual director. Eventually Matt found community support by joining the Franciscan Third Order. Let us take example from Matt that know matter how far the scale we seem to have fallen, we can still choose the next right thing!
St. Mark Ji Tianxiang
He struggled with an Opiate addiction until the day he died. He never even recovered from his addiction - so why is he a Saint you may ask? Though he struggled with his addiction, he kept trying and praying to recover. He remained faithful to the Church and Gods Mercy even in the face of being banned from taking the Eucharist and chastisement from the community around him. Many addicts have a tremendous amount of toxic shame which tells them they don’t deserve Gods mercy and should just leave the Church. St. Mark could have easily taken this route, but chose not to despite his struggles. Even when he was given a chance to avoid execution if he renounced his faith, he refused and died singing the Litany of Mary. Unfortunately many of us do face judgment and alienation from other church members do to our struggles and imperfections. This Saint is a great example of how important it is to look past the sinful chastisements of fellow church members and realize they, like us, are simply fallen human persons and that their behavior comes from their own fear and lack of faith, hope, and love. He is an example to struggling addicts everywhere!
St. Noel Chabanel
As a missionary and wanting to have empathy for those he was a missioner to, St. Noel found himself in a situation where he was consistently irritated and judgmental of those he was helping. This caused him to feel suffocated. He did not want to feel this way toward those he worked with and helped, but he did. This is a workplace issue many of us face in today;s world. The question is not whether we have this struggle, but how we respond to it. An example to all of us, St. Noel responded to it by making a vow never to abandon his mission. He persevered in prayer for God to show him how to love those he struggles to love and vowed to remain faithful to his mission. This is not to say if we struggle in the workplace we should always stay in our present situation, but that things like irritation with co-workers can be worked through or at least attempted. That by accepting that which bothers us in others, we can come to a greater acceptance and of love of God and our authentic selves - and in turn, others.
St. Wlater of Pontoise
Walter was appointed Abbot of a Monistary - a position he did not desire. On top of this the monastery was corrupt and discipline was severely lacking. The stress of the situation overwhelmed St. Walter. At first, he struggled with how he responded to the workplace stress, as he actually tried to flee the situation many times. But after a period of time he learned that it was an opportunity to devote himself to more prayer so as to obtain the strength to persevere in this situation and fighting the corruption. Often in our modern workplaces we may get frustrated with a lack of morals with the Company we work for or employees we work with. Let us take strength from the example of St. Walter to let us uncover the hidden opportunities to increase our faith, hope, and love of God and that of others in our own workplace situations. We can turn the struggle into a devoted strength to stand firm in the truth!
St. Eugene de Mazenod
Grew up with parents who fought constantly amid interference from his grandmother and a neurotic maternal aunt, who never let his father forget that they brought the money to the family. His parents' eventual divorce – very unusual for the late 18th century – and exile from the French Revolution. This left him mostly on his own growing up amid the idle rich. He had a mystical experience at the foot of a cross on Good Friday 1807, became a priest, ministered to the sick, prisoners, the poor and the overlooked young, and went on to found the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. St. Eugene had a serious lack of guidance growing up. He made a choice to fill this void with surrender to and devotion to the Lord. Let this be an example to us who had tumultuous childhoods that we can make a choice to fill the void with healthy things.
St. Clare of and Agnes of Assisi
St. Clare’s parents thought in more secular ways and thus insisted that she marry, despite her having felt a calling from God to serve as a Religious. Like many in that day her parents intent in having her marry was partially for financial reasons. When Clare wanted to devote herself to God she was forced to flee her fathers house and take refuge in the Benedictine Convent. St Francis of Assisi helped to conceal her. Clare clung tightly to the altar as her uncle tried to force her to come home. Clare’s sister Agnes fled to the convent shortly thereafter due to the dysfunctional dynamics in her relationship with her father due to his anger and rage. Both sisters chose to put serving the Lord and living with healthy relational dynamics above family ties. The reality is that many of our families have dysfunctional dynamics. This does not mean we have to stop loving them, but we certainly must set appropriate boundaries to protect our own growth in healthy relationship with Christ and others. Let us take strength from the two sisters and St Francis of Assisi who assisted them in fleeing the family dysfunction.
ABUSE AND TRAUMA
When she was 11 years old her Father became widowed and began making sexual advances toward her. She was steadfast in her refusal saying that “It is not what God wants.” After many times being refused, her Father (attempted abuser) in a fit of rage stabbed her many times. On her death bed she forgave him and felt sorry for him that he was so very troubled. Her actions of refusal flowed from a strong inner conviction of what was right and that she didn’t deserve to be treated that way. This is an important example as many abuse victims believe they deserve no better than the abuse they receive. The act of forgiveness flowed from her strength in relationship with God, not from condoning of his actions or a weakness. She is a great example of finding our inner strength and guidance from God in the midst and after abuse. This is important as many abuse victims tend to blame themselves in some way.
Agatha was a consecrated virgin who often had to fight off unwelcome advances from men who sought to marry her. One such man she refused turned her over to the judge for being a Christian- he was the judge. He sentenced her to a month in a brothel with the intent of forcing her to lose her virtue, but she didn’t. Then he had her tortured and left without food or medical care, but the Lord healed her. During this time she saw a vision of St. Peter who healed her wounds in four days. Unfortunately after this, the judge then had her breasts cut off and rolled her naked over hot coals. Despite this, she made a conscious choice to consecrate herself to the Lord and along the way made many choices to remain faithful to the dignity of this decision. Even though St. Agatha was put into tough exterior situations, within her heart she remained faithful to her own dignity and Christ. Let us learn from the example of not giving into the manipulative advances of authority figures and finding strength in Christ in order to do so.
St. Mary of Egypt
She was a prostitute at age 12 and engaged in such behavior for 17 years. She joined a pilgrimage merely to seek out more customers but decided that she wanted to see the relic of the cross the pilgrims were venerating. She tried to enter the church but a mysterious force kept her from crossing the threshold. Seeing a statue of the Virgin Mary, she begged for forgiveness and promised to renounce her sinful life if she could enter the church. She was able to do so and in turn walked away from prostitution. She became a desert hermit - fasting, praying and living alone for 47 years. Many women feel that if they have engaged in such behavior that they are permanently defiled and are thus discouraged at any thought of returning to God. Let St. Mary of Egypt be an example for all women who have struggled with sexual temptation.
St. John the long suffering
From the time of his youth, St. John was tormented by sexual desires. No ascetical feat seemed to be a match for the passion that raged in him. Even when he became a recluse, still he struggled greatly with lust, and the devil did his best to shake St. John’s determination to overcome this passion–so much so that he sent a serpent to terrify him and frighten him into forsaking his seclusion. On Pascha night, in the midst of these torments and his own temptations, St. John cried out to Christ, “O Lord my God and my Savior! Why have You forsaken me? Have mercy upon me, only Lover of Mankind; deliver me from my lustful desires, so that I am not trapped in the snares of the Evil one. Deliver me from the mouth of my enemy: send down a flash of lightning and drive it away.” Many men who struggle with sexual desires believe they are fundamentally bad and dirty, and thus fall into a cycle of toxic shame. Let St. John be an example of humbly accepting that he had a problem and thus needed to step into the light of surrender to trusting in the Lords mercy. As St. John knew giving into the toxic shame is what was truly WRONG and kept the cycle going!
St. Moses the Ethiopian
St. Moses narrative is that of a bandit who became an Abba of the desert. He was the leader of a band of murderers and robbers who rampaged through Egypt in the early fifth century. When he was turned to repentance by St. Isidore, he struggled for many years with the lingering passions from his former life, especially lustful and violent thoughts. In his struggle, he became incredibly humble, never deigning to judge a brother for his struggle knowing the pervasiveness of his own lustful desires and the destructive consequences they had in his past. St. Moses is a great example of the adage that “know matter how far down the scale we have gone, our experience can benefit others.”
DIVORCE AND SINGLE PARENTING
Helena of Constantinople
She was the Mother of Emperor Constantine and married to Constantius Chlorus - he had called her his “soulmate.” Then Constantius got caught up in his rise up the political ladder and divorced her after 15 years of marriage for a more politically advantageous marriage. Her Son remained very close to her and his strong faith rubbed off on her. St. Helena was renowned for helping not only individuals, but entire communities through her works of charity. She often sought out to help the poor and destitute. She would visit churches and leave them with rich donations. St. Helena was a very devout servant of God, so much so that one would easily believe her to have been a follower of Jesus Christ from birth. Through her influence and work, Christianity continued to spread throughout the known world. She must have been devastated by the divorce, but through internal reflection and surrender to Gods grace she made a new and fruitful life for herself.
St. Margaret of Cortona
For single moms, she became the mistress of a nobleman when she was a teenager. Margaret remained with the nobleman for ten years and even bore him a son, despite his refusal to marry her as she desired. When she returned home to her father's house with her son, her stepmother refused to let her stay. So she took refuge with the Church of Saint Francis in Cortona, eventually joining the Third Order of St. Francis - although her past led to resistance by some members of the order. When she was a part of the Third Order she could have let the shame she felt about her situation lead to leaving the Church, but she remained faithful realizing whoever was judging her harshly or shunning her, it was their own sinful problem. We see so many today wrongly judged by members of a Parish because of their past, which leads the person to throw away their whole Catholic faith, as if the Church itself condones this kind of harsh judgement. Like St. Margaret let us realize that once we make mistakes or go down an unhealthy path all we can do is be accountable, in a loving way, to ourselves, God, and Christ through the Sacrament of Penance and seek to amend our path through surrender to Christ. This is vital to breaking cycles of unhealthy behavior!
St. Adelaide of Burgundy
Adelaide was married at the age of sixteen to Lothair, who was then king of Italy. A daughter, Emma, was born of this marriage. Lothair soon died, after which she remarried to the German king Otto. Otto and Adelaide two sons named Otta and Otho. Therefore for 22 years Adelaide, Otto, her daughter, and son Otto lived within a blended family. After Otto died, Adelaide later found herself in Political trouble. The bishop of Mainz, St. Willigis, came to her aid. After Young Otto came of age, Adelaide was able to devote herself to works of generosity to the poor, to help in evangelizing the Slavs and in founding and restoring monasteries and convents. Often as Catholics we are afraid we may be judged or talked about because we are remarried. Yet, despite having been remarried the people loved Adelaide because of her devotion to God and goodness which followed. She is example for all of us who may find ourselves judging others for being remarried. A memoir was written of her, calling her ‘a marvel of beauty and goodness’.
St. Thomas More
After the death of his first wife, he soon remarried in order to have a Step Mother to his 4 children. He also took on the responsibilities of being a Father to his new wife’s daughter. Thomas worked and lived in the secular world, and was rather wealthy. But he took his strength from a thriving interior life, where he lived simply and participated in many of the spiritual exercises of the nearby Monastery. He was dedicated to his 4 children and step daughter. He made sure she received the same love and education which his children received. This is to show us that even when working and living in the secular world we can dedicate our lives to Christ. It also teaches us that with the interior flame generating by his relationship to God he is able to give that love to his step daughter. The love of God allowed his love to transcend the bounds of biological ties.
Though The Holy Family is not what we typically think of as a step family, St. Joseph shared similar struggles to those who find themselves in the role of step parents. Like other fathers who are not the biological father of the kids they are raising/semi-raising, he may have felt a lack of connection with the child. Thus, he was presented a choice to love the child in narrow sense only as an extension of me or in a transcendent way as a child of God or God Himself in this case. At the time St. Joseph did not have certitude that Jesus was the son of God and may have doubted sometimes. Yet he chose to love Jesus as if he was the Son of or an adopted child of God.
CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENCE
St. Ignatius of Loyola
With money from begging, at the age of 30, he enrolled in a Catholic university. University classes proved difficult for Ignatius, who lacked study skills. The students, some of whom were half his age, teased him. The professors noted his slowness in learning, and told him that his ongoing begging made his academic life even harder. Sometimes Ignatius was criticized by university leaders for promoting the Faith while dressed in very poor clothes which were given to him while begging. He was also criticized because he would spend so much time at the local hospital helping the sick and the dying, and on the streets begging for the poor. Nevertheless, Ignatius trusted that God would give him direction as to whom he should meet, where he should go, what he should teach, and what he should learn. He developed his own thirty-day program of Spiritual Exercises, of Bible readings, prayers, reflections, and good works for the sick and the poor. He was not discouraged by pain, hunger, sickness, or criticism. He did not give up begging for the poor, in spite of the constant difficulties of learning his lessons. St. Ignatius of Loyola can inspire our children to realize that God will provide the help needed to be successful in their studies, but in His time frame. St. Ignatius should inspire students to understand that it is not important how much time it takes to learn, but rather that, with prayer, we must continue to try.
St. Angela Merici
St. Angela found that around her hometown there were many young girls who had no education and no hope. Her heart was moved. She also became distressed by their ignorance and upset at the parents who had not educated them.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Angela became convinced there was great need for a better way of teaching these young girls. So, she opened her own home to them and began to teach them herself. She devotedly taught them the Catholic Christian faith. By her example and instruction, she taught them how to pray and participate in the sacramental life of the Church. She evangelized and catechized these young girls, opening them up to the life of grace. Angela's goal was to elevate family life through Christian education for women - the future wives and mothers of the Church. The community she founded was different than many of the religious orders of women which existed in her day. She believed it was important to teach the girls in their own homes with their own families. One of her favorite sayings was, "Disorder in society is the result of disorder in the family."
As an infant, shortly after her mother died, her father remarried into a family that treated her with horrible abuse. Boiling water was poured on her, she was made to eat with the dogs, she was left in the barn for days with the animals. Her Father had a weak character and turned a blind eye to the abuse. She then came down with a disease like Tuberculosis, which left parts of her body deformed. This made the father resent her more than before. Her half sisters learned to treat her poorly as well. She had no human refuge! Instead she chose to find refuge in a relationship with God. While overworked in the fields with no shoes she would pray to God, she attended Mass daily.
St. Theresa of Lisiuex (The little flower)
She suffered from tremendous anxiety, a wide range of emotions, social anxiety, separation anxiety and scrupulosity plagued her during her youth. We often do not think of this famous and very popular Saint in this light, but it is true. This little Saint used the issues she struggled with as a means to connecting in a deeper and more profound way to our Lord and Savior. It also shows the importance to be very careful with mental illness labels and not judging people that have them, as being “less than” or “those people.” These judgments are highly toxic and serve no good end.
Jerome was somewhat of an out of control youth. He left his parents to study at the age of 12, where he was not a Christian and engaged in many sexual relationships with women. Jerome converted to Christianity and then became a priest after a friend influenced him positively. Jerome had an abrasive personality and was one to be easily upset, as he had trouble controlling his anger. As a result he had many Christian and non-Christian enemies who attempted to oust him of his position. Jerome is known to have felt a fair amount of remorse for when he did lose his temper leading him to repent of his outbursts and to make amends to those he offended. Jerome is an example that we can still be saints even though we have a temper and even a hard time getting along with others. This teaches us that Sainthood is not necessarily about “being nice” and getting every ones approval.
St. Francis de Sales
St Francis de Sales struggled with anger when certain jokes were made about him. He, like many of us, had the fault of tending to take things personally. He battled his anger for over 19 years until he had it under control. He took the problem and learned as much as he could about himself and human nature. As a result he wrote Introduction to the Devout Life, which is one of the most popular books for guiding people through the spiritual journey! His goal in writing this book was to say that people from all walks of life, including being a soldier, tradesman, prince, or married can all work toward a devout life and become saints. He eventually became so meek, calm, and humble that he is know as the “gentleman saint.” This shows us that we can take our faults and use them as a guide to help others who struggle with similar things.
ATTACHMENT TO MATERIAL THINGS
St. Angela of Foligno
St. Angela was recently canonized by Pope Francis, but she spent most of her life seeking wealth, material possessions and pleasure. Angela was born into a wealthy Italian family and married a man of high social standing. She had several children but was more interested in acquiring wealth and status than caring for her family. At around age 40, she experienced a conversion and realized how empty and shallow her life had become. Sadly, just three years later, Angela’s mother, husband and children died. She sold all her worldly possessions and joined a secular Franciscan order, founding a women’s religious group to serve the poor. Like many of us she was caught up in the materialism. Through grace she was able to see that true happiness consisted in interior, not exterior wealth.
STRUGGLED WITH DOUBT
St. Theresa of Calcutta
St. Theresa didn’t feel the presence of God the last 15 years of her life and thus struggled with doubt. This is a quote from Mother Theresa herself: “Where is my faith? – even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness & darkness. – My God – how painful is this unknown pain. It pains without ceasing – I have no faith. – I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart - & make me suffer untold agony. So many unanswered questions live within me – I am afraid to uncover them – because of the blasphemy – If there be God, - please forgive me.” Like many of us, she struggled with believing in God, the presence of God, and whether she had favor with God. What makes Theresa special is that she answered her doubt with humble surrender to God, which in turn allowed her to engage with Christ with greater intimacy than if she hadn’t even had the initial doubt!
St. Paul of the Cross
St. Paul of the Cross struggled through a spiritual darkness for over 45 years. This is a direct quote from St. Paul: “I experienced interior desolation, depression and doubts. It seemed to me that I would never be able to persevere in my vocation. The devil suggested to me that I was deceived, but I could serve God in some other way, but this was no kind of life for me, etc, and other such things, but I pass over in silence. To crown my misfortune, all devotion had vanished. I felt dry, and was tried in every way. Even the sound of church bells disturbed me. Everyone seemed happy except me. I can never hope to explain these fierce assaults, and I was more strongly attacked by them. When I was about to be vested in the habit and to leave my poor home. " Even in the midst of such heavy doubts St. Paul was able to persevere and stay the course. He was able to work through his doubt, which allowed him to know himself, others, and God in more profound ways.
Pope Francis said that struggling with doubt has been a part of his life journey, and that it was important for him to remind himself not to believe he is condemned due to his doubt, as doubt is part of being human. He said, “We must trust God during difficult times with prayer and find the courage to ask for help.” Pope Francis reminded us not to panic. “Who among us has not experienced insecurity, loss and even doubts on their journey of faith? Everyone! We've all experienced this, me too. Everyone. It is part of the journey of faith, it is part of our lives. This should not surprise us, because we are human beings, marked by fragility and limitations.” This is a great modern day example of persevering through doubt. His strength came from accepting that he is imperfect and in need of Gods help.
STRUGGLED WITH THIEVERY
He is mentioned in the Bible as one of the two men crucified with Jesus who asked him, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) He was a multiple offense thief. When St. Dismas turned to the Lord and acknowledged his sinfulness, Jesus forgave him and promised that he would be in paradise that very day. That’s the kind of Lord we have–one who is more than willing to accept our acknowledgement of sin and our repentance.
CAUGHT UP IN THE OCCULT
Blessed Bartolo Longo
Raised in a devout Catholic family, Bartolo Longo prayed the Rosary every night with his family. Yet, like many young Catholics today, he strayed from his faith during his college years. He became interested in the occult, going so far as to become a satanic priest. Bartolo’s family and friends continued to pray for him and finally convinced him to return to his faith. To make amends for his sinful lifestyle, he became a Dominican tertiary and helped college students learn about the evils of the occult and how to avoid it. He built orphanages, schools and other charitable institutions. He was also commissioned to build the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in Pompeii, which still stands today.