Saturday, May 22, 2010

Saints who were nuts...

Or, God must have a sense of humor.
I'm convinced some saints were actually nuts, while many of the others were anything but normal.  I posted the photo of Mary of Jesus Crucified the other day precisely because the photo looks nuts - the habit causes her to resemble a hot air balloon.  Blessed Mary was at times photographed in ecstasy, which makes for a peculiar photo in and of itself.  Although after reading her life, you realize just how extraordinary things were.  That said - she wasn't at all crazy, but the world would surely think so.
Other saints often did very crazy things - St. Francis of Assisi went through some very funny stages in his spiritual life - Teresa of Avila remarks about this in her Autobiography.  He wasn't crazy however. 
One saint who always cracked up a friend of mine was the former prostitute, St. Thais, who made a public bonfire of her wardrobe and jewels.  St. Paphnutius is credited with inspiring her to commit such a crazy act, after which she was admitted into a house of nuns.  She did penance there for three years, after which she was finally readmitted to the communion of the Church.  She died two weeks later.  (And some people want to go to communion without confession.)
I'll be posting about crazy saints every once in awhile as we go forward on this blog.  I think it was John of the Cross in rebuking a deluded nun who once wrote something to the effect; "It would go better for her if she wasn't so spiritual."  So anyway - just pray your rosary and don't get too involved with religious people and you should be fine.
Art:  St. Jerome Penitent, El Greco.  Some saints had problems keeping their clothes on, some had problems with anger and insulting their friends too.  Let's all lighten up now.


  1. Yes darling--habits and vestments ALWAYS make you look fat...and if you're fat you just look fatter...

    I think I've only seen one priest in my entire life that actually looked thin in vestments...he was a military chaplain, at least 6'6", a runner,all legs, and so skinny you could practically see through him..vestments just hung on him, I forget what religious order he belonged to, but he had this white cotton habit that just hung on him, and for Daily Mass he would wear a colored stole for the color of the Liturgical calendar that would hang to the floor, which made him look that much taller and thinner.. he was always so full of joy though, and whenever he said Mass he did so reverently, never hurried or duistracted. be so blessed to be a size 00 :)


  2. Austringer3:14 PM

    Ooooops...if this was prompted by my comment that you were totally nutzoid for liking contemporary art, then I do apologize -- I really was just kidding!

  3. Hey I resemble that!

  4. Maria3:42 PM

    Terry--You are too funny...When did joining religious life stop being a form of penance for one's sins. It seems that many women who become nuns now are so saintly BEFORE they enter. It seems wildly improbable that former drunks or women with loose morals, women who have guilty of grave sin would even be considered now...This somehow seems wrong...Now one must be a certain age, pass psy tests, be free of debt, be without medical problems--the list goes on.

    Convents were, at one time, hospitals for sinners. Now they seem like towers of virtue for the sinless...

  5. Austringer3:53 PM

    By the way, the photo of Mary of Jesus Cricified reminded me of some comments made by our parish's Carmel prayer group co-leader: she was showing us some photos of a particular Carmelite saint (forget who, now), and talking about her life story. The woman was not attractive. "Blimp" might be an apt description. But our leader insisted that she was physically very beautiful; that before she entered the Carmelites she had been the life of the party, much loved for her beauty and charm -- despite the evidence of the photos. Wha-a-a-a??

    Maybe the leader couldn't acknowledge that a saint wasn't beautiful physically as well as spiritually. Or maybe she felt that she had to show that it was a great sacrifice to leave the world of partying and dancing...or maybe she wanted us to know that she hadn't gone into the convent as a last resort. At any rate, I do think she was unable to recognize that a saint could have some less desirable characteristics, physical or otherwise.

    It was odd, and happened more than once, now that I think of it. Why couldn't the saints be like us, just as ugly, overweight, or prone to personality faults??

  6. Austringer--St Teresa of Avila, the founder of the Discalced Carmelites, was very much as you described...she was a very popular, talented, attractive young lady from a family of some means. However she suffered greatly from various forms of illness throughout her life, and there is some thought that she eventually died of stomach of pancreatic cancer. She probably also didn't eat right, either due to illness or poverty of the order..which also leads to problems. so the paintings of her in her later years may reflect her illness and malnutrition. In addition people really didn't smile much for portraits. Although Bernini does portray her rather erotically in his sculpture The Ecstasy of St Teresa...I wonder what the good saint thought of the sculpture although I think she would have got a chuckle out of it..she has an interesting sense of humor.

    Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross was also an attractive educated young lady before she entered Carmel, but she did not live very long due to martydom by the Nazis.

    Carmelites--nuns and friars--do tend to wear habits with many layers to them. You often see the Carmelite nuns with the big flowing white capes in addition to the habit..lots of fabric to "billow" out, especially when sitting like poor Mary of Jesus Crucified..


  7. +JMJ+

    I miss Mother Angelica. I remember laughing out loud when she was discussing St. Jerome's penance for losing his temper; he would hit himself in the chest with a stone, and Mother remarked, "If I did that . . . I wouldn't have a rib left."

    Perfect delivery!

    And I know that even by much lighter standards than St. Jerome's or Mother Angelica's, I wouldn't have a rib left, either.

  8. "Perfect delivery!"

    Mother's hilarious. I love how she quickly and effortlessly transitions from making us crack up, to being completely serious. A great teacher.

  9. I presently do not have a problem keeping my clothes on (unless it is horridly hot and humid...but I am not tempted to disrobe...not in public, anway!)...
    As for the anger got me.
    As for crazy...history will be the test of this;
    the Saints are so wonderful, different, wacky and just plain weird sometimes...but ain't we all??

  10. Fr. - LOL! The fact that the saints were sometimes odd or did weird things gives hope to us all - hence the post.

    Austringer - I bet your Carmel lady showed photos of Elizabeth of the Trinity - she was a beauty before entering, not at all fat - though not as thin as we like them today. Anyway - most early photos of her in the habit make her appear huge. The habits back then were wool and big and they wore under tunics as well I think. Later, when she was sick - she looks emaciated in the habit - very anorexic.

  11. "Tequila Makes His/Her Clothes Fall Off"? (Probably not, a vow of poverty wouldn't include Jose Cuervo.)
    I read something about St. Teresa of Avila, that she really wasn't that attractive, but had such a vivacious personality that everyone thought she was beautiful. I have known people like that, too.
    Another Carmelite, St. Teresa of the Andes, appears in her photos to be very pretty. She was quite young, just a novice, but they allowed her to profess on her deathbed.

  12. Anonymous8:16 PM

    "Just pray your rosary and don't get too involved with religious people and you should be fine"--LOL!

    Sometimes I find those who "claim" to be religious are just sometimes self-absorbed people who tell everyone else how they should live--while inside they are just miserable creatures--trying to control the world--it can drive one crazy!

    I'm glad your going to post about crazy saints--because from the worlds point of view--things Christians do are crazy. But if your a true saint--who the heck cares--all we need to do is please our Lord!

  13. God does indeed have a sense of humor. Maybe the examples of the crazy saints means they're the "normal" ones, while the folks who appear normal - straight-laced, erudite and highly intellectual (not that there's anything wrong with that) - are the truly crazy ones. They sometimes appear to keep their love of Christ constrained and ordered, while the loony saints just loved with abandon. I'm not trying to be stereotypical here - just an observation. We all know those who "take themselves so seriously" - how crazy is that??

    I bet St Thomas Aquinas, Augustine and the deep thinkers of our faith had their moments of insanity as well.

    Although Luther was just plain nuts. LOL!

  14. Terry--you bring up a good point..makes me wonder how many of our blessed saints were actually mentally ill, perhaps with schisophrenia, bipolar, PTSD, post-partum depression, even demensia and Alzhieimers...

    i know when I was in Turkey the mentally ill roamed the streets at Muslim landlady told me they were "beloved by Allah", and not to be teased, tormented, taken advantage of, etc. They were there to teach you how to be charitable as well as many other lessons. Early Christians could have picked up the practice from the Muslims, or vice versa.....

    Although it did get a bit irritating when this one crazy old lady kept breaking out the headlights of my pickup truck with a rock, meaning that I had to keep asking my parents to send me new ones...not cheap considering cost of new headlight and shipping..and of course her family didn't offer to pay for the replacements, as I was being "blessed" by her actions...grumble grumble

    You don't have to worry about me running around nekked as a jaybird...still too dang cold :)


  15. Anonymous10:10 AM

    I heard someone say once that "Sanctity is sanity". I get what they mean, I think. It's like the Chesterton standing on our heads/world upsidedown kind of thing. We're all "nuts", from a certain angle if we're missing the mark with God, out of touch with His love and will, etc.

    But, I do like hearing that some saints were nuts in the other sense--that they really had some mental problems. As you say, it gives hope!

    Do you know of any specific examples, Terry? Maybe your upcoming posts will cover some such saints.

  16. Maria2:54 PM

    Terry: You never answered my question: When did joining religious life stop being a form of penance for one's sins?

  17. Maria - sorry I forgot to respond. Interesting point you raise however. I don't know when or how that came about - although I have heard of contemporary sinners entering monastic life - a former hippie comes to mind - she entered Carmel in India - she died quite young - can't recall her name at the moment. Carmel was a good place for penitents.

    But yes - the early monastics considered the monastery to be a hospital or penitentiary for sinners. Many men became Trappists to do penance.

    Now they seem to be more like graduate schools, monks and nuns perpetually studying for degrees and all of that, immune to criticism, looking only for the brightest and the best to join their ranks. Quite a difference.

    How did you know I would have such a low opinion of the situation? LOL!

    Today many monasteries seem to have become more akin to university clubs, providing a rather comfortable retreat in contemporary society. The Holy Father expresses hope to reform that however.

    (Just my personal opinion here of course - I'm not judging the necessities to obtain a phd in liturgy for monks and nuns.)

  18. Terry, et. al.
    As to this poor broken-down, pitiful excuse of a "monastery" way are we a "university club" is "humiliations galore" as well as an effort to get up in the I hear an "AMEN"! (Just like every other household of Catholics trying to just be good!)
    We is just stupid eedjits here (but we try to love God and one another...very unsuccessfully, I'd say, but that's why there are the Sacraments!).
    God is so completely wondrous.
    His Son is the Bridegroom of our souls.
    Our Holy Mother is such a beautiful loving advocate.
    We just try to take the "next best step" and pray it will not land us into Hell.
    "It is a frightening thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
    We're with all of you; every moment; every day.
    It's tough to be faithful to Jesus.
    We try to do what we can and we bring all of you with us.

  19. Oh dear Father - I know that - I'm talking about the big houses, or small ones with rich endowments. I shouldn't say anything really!

    I'm bad - I can't defend myself however.

  20. No, Terry, you are right on.
    It's part of the reason I refused to join any of "the big houses", so to speak...worldliness, even if "orthodox"...
    The monastic life is about "oblation"...I'm not feeling superior to any of this, but when you have "it all" while giving up "nothing" it's just piffle.
    That's my take on it.
    Part of our "solidarity" with our lay and priestly members is that we don't have "the comforts" of being popular, subsidized, "in the news"...
    for whatever it's worth, I hope Jesus is praised, blessed and glorified by the pittance we offer Him (with gritted teeth, at times, I might add).
    Oh, it's great to be a "nobody"!

  21. You should do a post on St. Philip Neri. If you want craziness, he's your patron saint of it!

  22. Maria9:11 PM

    Terry-Man, I am I ever w/ you on the subject of the well heeled, well educated nuns and monks. I'd love joining, but they would never let me in the club. Come to think of it, signing up now is like qualifying for the Chevy Chase Club in DC. The bar is just too high to pass for this gal.

    Padre--no way are we a "university club" is "humiliations galore" as well as an effort to get up in the morning
    I knew there was a reason I liked you

  23. Padre: Who said " it is frightening to fall into the hands of the living God"? Sounds like something Annie Dillard would say...

  24. Maria: I think that is in the Prophet Isaiah,...have to look it up (sorry!)...I'm a horrible former Protestant (I can't give you chapter and verse!)...someone out there, can you help??
    And yeah, Annie Dillard probably said it...she was a favorite of a former theology prof I had (Bishop John Sheets, SJ, God rest his soul...what a loving, wonderful, saintly priest/man of God)! He really loved her writings. Thanks for the reminder!

  25. I have absolutely NO idea who said it, but I love it...Annie Dillard is one of my very, very favorite writers.


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