How easy it is in this mad world of ours to forget God and His Truth! It is one thing to confess our belief in the God of Jesus Christ on Sundays. Quite another to really know from moment to moment that God alone IS—that God is more real and important than anything that might befall us, or anything that we might do. In the busy-ness and complexity of life it can seem that everything conspires to make us forget! We forget the divine presence inviting us to “be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). We fall away from the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7, ESV). We forget the sovereignty of God. Gradually we fall into the illusion that we are the ones holding everything together, that everything depends on us. A terrible lie silently creeps into the mind. The lie grows. We sense that some absolute disaster will inevitably befall us unless we stay vigilant, busy, occupied, alert to the world, “on the go”. So often our busy-ness is our ongoing effort to hold back some vaguely impending disaster. This is not how God wants us to live!
We must take authority over the lie and renounce it. How sad that the forgetting of God, and the madness that follows, have become normalised. So many of us—believers and non-believers alike—have simply accepted feverish busy-ness, incessant worry, and deep insecurity as our lot in life. Without thinking, we accept this atmosphere of angst as our native habitat, as the “element” or “place” where we must live and work from day to day. Did God free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt in order that they might live in a foreign nation, adopt their customs and worship their idols? Did God free us from sin in order that we might live in the land of worldly angst?
Why then do we worship the world? Why do we go madly from one task to the next, taking everything in our lives with absolute seriousness—as if there were no God, no eternal Life, no Christ who has saved us and befriended us? We must remember to relativise everything that happens to us in the world, and to relativise everything that we do in the world. In other words, we need to regain the proper, divine perspective on our lives. As soon as God is removed from the equation, everything becomes radically distorted. We lose God’s true perspective—we no longer think with the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16)—and things are no longer seen in their correct proportions. Less significant things seem more significant, while more significant things seem less significant. Unimportant things become important to us, while truly important things are neglected.
The great distortion that comes with the loss of faith (and hope) would not be so dangerous if it were evident to us as a false distortion (as when we recognise an optical illusion as an illusion). For then we might be led instinctively to return to a true perspective—to remove whatever “glasses” were creating the obvious illusion. However, once the removal of God from society becomes normal practice—indeed, the very foundation of “normal practice” in modern society—then the distortion is collectively believed as if it were the Truth. The deception is achieved. The distortion passes itself off as genuine reality, and no-one knows any better. Then we all labour as slaves under The Illusion. We worship the idols offered by the world. Some of these idols offer pleasure, while others demand our worship out of fear (and we bounce from one idol which gives anxiety, to another idol which falsely promises relief). But they are idols, all the same.
The Illusion is that there is no God, no eternal Life, no divine perspective that would put all the happenings of life in their place as having only relative importance, only finite significance (relative to the Absolute). From within the divine perspective, however, the events and actions of our life in time are given boundaries. Their significance, however weighty, is limited. It is understood, by faith, that God alone calls for our absolute and unending attention. If we abide in this perspective, the things and events of temporal life no longer have the power to rule us spiritually—to crush us, to engross us, to consume us, to destroy us, to turn us into madmen. They no longer become bloated with too much significance. At the same time, their genuine (yet limited) significance is preserved. For whatever is meaningful—whatever is true, good and beautiful—participates in the all-encompassing divine Reality.
How many people—I falter at the thought—how many people are weighed down so severely with the sense that what occupies them in life is oh-so-significant! Everything becomes too much, too heavy. Everything weighs down with inescapable tyranny. Things crowd around and dominate the attention. Everything is too close. There is no God in sight, so all these things are to be feared and continually thought about, constantly worried about. They demand our incessant pre-occupation, at least in the background of our attention, where so much of our emotion and behaviour arises from. In this state of anxiety, which is the situation of atheism, there is no transcendent perspective to release us from the cruel grip of things. Since (supposedly) there is nothing higher than the concerns that we take to be significant, these concerns are taken to be infinitely significant.
To be drawn like this into the ambit of some (finite) object in the belief that it is of infinite significance—that, my friends, is the beginning of madness. It is no wonder that, as a transcendent perspective on life becomes less common (since by definition it is rejected from modern culture), mental illness becomes more prevalent and more severe.
As I was saying: It is one thing to confess belief in God. It is another to live every moment in God’s Truth. “Abide in me, as I abide in you” (Jn 15:4). How, then, might Christians live every moment “in” the ever-maddening world without being “of” the ever-maddening world? In the first place, I would say this: It is absolutely necessary for us to create and preserve a Christian culture. Christians are able to see the Illusion as an illusion, by re-creating and inhabiting a distinctive culture—through prayer, through contemplation, and above all, through collective worship or liturgy. In light of the Truth who is Christ, we are able to escape from the vortex of that Illusion, and help to release others from “the madness of the world”.
Everything depends on magnifying God always—as the One Who Is, as the One from Whom all things have come, and the One to Whom all things are ordered. Everything depends on one’s fundamental orientation, the deep intentionality of the spirit. If we do not take the time to re-orient our attention toward God in Himself—the Holy Trinity, Who while providing for our needs is still infinitely more than just our Provider—and if we do not constantly re-align our spirit with the Holy Spirit, then our spiritual attention will inevitably become entangled in the worries of the world, even while doing externally “the things of God”. Eventually we will become accustomed to the “brambles” or “tentacles” of worldly life, embracing them as our native habitat. Without time in prayer, contemplation and worship, we are reduced to being inhabitants of the visible world. We become strangers to eternity.
The whole point of a Christian culture is to re-orient the human spirit, both individually and collectively, and turn us all into inhabitants of eternity. So that, abiding in Christ, we might redeem time and sanctify the whole world. True, the primary agent who turns us into inhabitants of eternity is the Father Himself—the Father Who has adopted us for life in Christ, and Who has sent the Holy Spirit for this purpose. But without the creation (and re-creation) of an alternative, Christian culture—a culture focused primarily on the eternal God, and not on the world as such—the Father’s goal of transforming us all into inhabitants of heaven will not be fully achieved. Many of the seeds of the Word, by which the Father draws people up into eternal life, will fall amongst the thorns and die (Luke 8:14).
This, then is my exhortation (and it is directed to myself as much as to the reader!): Abide in Christ—never stray from your secure place in Him. Let your spirit become accustomed again to the ambience of eternity, the inconquerable peace of God, through individual prayer and participation in Church. What could be of more value to you than your knowing silently, deep down, through everything, your secure place in the eternal heart of God? “I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Is 49:15-16). This deep knowing is the pearl of great price (Mt 13:46). Until you “sell everything” to secure that pearl (or at least begin the process), you will remain a stranger to eternity—even if, outwardly, you would confess that you belong to Christ. Like the city-dweller who has decided he has had enough of the mad pace of city life, and who sells his home to live in a more sane and wholesome environment, Christians, if they would be true Christians--Christians to the very core—must “sell” everything that would keep them entangled viciously in worldly madness (The Illusion).
Sometimes that calls for a physical re-location. Often it calls for a renunciation of certain life-objectives (a higher-paying job, for example). But not necessarily. For “selling everything” is essentially an interior change. It is a matter of spiritual alignment and acclimatisation. “Selling everything” is interior detachment from all that is not God, in order to make space for unconditional attachment to God. This changes the “interior pace” of the human spirit; the inner person is turned into a serene reflection of eternity. Inwardly, the person now has, because he has been “transformed into”, the pearl of great price. By grace, God’s eternal perspective on things now becomes a connatural expression of the soul. With such wisdom—a wisdom which is a way of being, more than anything else—it is then possible to discern which external changes must be made in one’s life.
Take this eternal perspective into everything—your mortgage payments, your job applications, your commuting to work. Into all the “nuisances” and “inconveniences” of life. Into all the worries and struggles of life. So much of what you take as being oh-so-important (and scary) is not that important (or scary) at all. And those things which are important, are not important in just the same way as you might think. For the context of their real importance is not the limited, purely-worldly context that we moderns are so used to.
You are destined for joy. You are destined for abundant life (Jn 10:10). Let the illusion fall.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”
My view is that, generally speaking, a deep spiritual life based on the Truth revealed in Christ, and lived in common with others in the Church, is the best protection against pathological anxiety, and indeed against mental illness in general. But that is not to say that holiness and “spiritual sanity” form an absolute guarantee against all forms of mental illness. For the human being is a complex entity subject to influences of many types: biochemical, social, psychological, spiritual (and so on). On one hand, then, I would recommend the message above for anyone who is experiencing mental illness and is in a position to hear the Christian message favourably—with the caveat that pastoral sensitivity to the particularities of someone’s situation is especially required in more extreme cases such as psychosis. On the other hand, it is important to remember that mental illness should not be reduced to a theological/spiritual matter or treated in a purely “spiritualistic” way.
I am a cradle Catholic, husband, and father of three girls. My wife and I have long been convinced of the truth of the "new and divine holiness" as revealed to the Italian mystic, Luisa Piccarreta (1865-1947). I began reading Luisa's writings in the early 2000s. I hold a PhD in philosophy and specialise in metaphysics as applied to theological topics (Trinity, creation, grace and freedom).