Catholic Theologian Takes Own Life. My essay from T&C

man-1394395_640-300x199My latest from the Truth and Charity Forum: Mourning Stephen Webb.

Depression and faith have a complicated relationship.

Original posted here. 

“I mourn for Stephen Webb even though I did not know him personally. His work in First Things, particularly, “Saving Punishment,” affected me deeply. He was also brave enough to write about Christians and depression, and still, it claimed his life. As a people who exalt life, I can only hope that we can exalt his life and offer consolation to others because our faith has seen depression and suffering and there can be light on the other side of darkness.”

“Mental illness is full of contradictions and difficulties, and no one is immune. It’s not something we like to talk about because it can be embarrassing for a faith tradition that promises hope. Webb even commented that, “church leaders and theologians talk so little of this befuddling malady.” Deep friends are sometimes able to venture into these murky waters. And pray we do and do it often because no one needs to feel ashamed of depressive thoughts”

“Although depression claimed him, I believe Webb was right when he wrote above that theology can be a form of therapy, if by that he means a way to understand ourselves and give suffering meaning. As Catholics, we understand suffering not as injustice but as part of life, the cross on the way to the Resurrection.”

“Despite little present day mention from bishops or theologians, the Catholic tradition is peppered with saints who struggled with darkness, dryness and downright depression. St. Dymphna, an early medieval saint, is the patroness of those who experience mental illness. Belgium was founded under her patronage. Modern saints too such as Mother Theresa of Calcutta and Venerable Francis Libermann have written about their experiences of darkness and distance from God. The latter wrote: “I never cross a bridge without the thought of throwing myself over the parapet, to put an end to these afflictions. But the sight of my Jesus sustains me and gives me patience.” Granted, these are not thoughts we want to have or encourage. But often, they are with us, and denying their reality can be counter-productive.”

“Sometimes all we can do is pray. Sometimes there is more. When more is in order, may we always be there to listen to others and to ourselves, finding no cause for shame in this affliction which is with so many people from saints to theologians and the ordinary lay faithful. If we can understand it, may the light of faith reveal that suffering comes with hope.

And when, for others, the illness still wins, we weep and pray. May we find joy in their lives, and hope in God’s providence and that other sufferers of depression will come to better days because so many do. No matter the darkness, we are a people of hope. Jesus said, “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).”

So, say a prayer for those who struggle against the darkness, for those of us who struggle,  and for those who have succumbed. May the light of Christ fill all.


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