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Can a Neurotic Person Be a Saint?

From an interview with Fr. Jim Martin, SJ, on ABC Radio in Australia.  (Transcript and podcast available here.)Rachael Kohn: Well saints’ lives are examined medically, but what about psychologically?

James Martin: Well the question is can a neurotic person be holy?

Rachael Kohn: Yes, that is –

James Martin: And I would say yes. It’s why people say, Well you know, if they were neurotic or sort of obsessive-compulsive, well then I say, Well so God can’t work through that? I think God can work through anything. I think you have someone like Mother Teresa who I’m not saying is neurotic, but there’s someone who’s a very strong-willed, forceful, some might even say not intransigent, but just determined woman. And some might say Oh, you know, you’re not open to self-doubt, you’re not open to criticism, and you see the person in her life. But then you read her journals that came out, that she had lots of struggles with her faith and with her prayer, and you realise that she was struggling that whole time. So a lot of times we look from the outside in, and we might not really know what’s going on inside. So I think you can say that God can work through all sorts of personalities, even neurotic personalities.

Rachael Kohn: So it really then does depend on the actions, on the holy actions. It almost doesn’t matter that Mother Teresa had doubts about her faith?

James Martin: Well I say I think it makes her a greater saint because frequently we look at people like Mother Teresa and we say Oh, you know, she never had doubts, she never struggled with her prayer, things were easier for her. But you read her journals and you realise that she was doing all of these actions, working with the poorest of the poor, with very little in prayer. She had a very intense prayer experience early in her life that sort of was the engine of all of this, and she was faithful to that. So here’s this woman , has this one experience in the late 1940s, has very dry prayer for the rest of her life and continues on.

So there’s this great sense of fidelity. So in that case I think it’s both, and I really think in all cases with the saints, it’s not only their actions but their personal prayer life. But Mother Teresa, there’s another example of someone who I think is a great saint, perhaps one of the greatest because of the difficulties she had to endure.

Jim Manney
Jim Manneyhttps://www.jimmanneybooks.com/
Jim Manney is the author of highly praised popular books on Ignatian spirituality, including A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer (about the Daily Examen) and God Finds Us (about the Spiritual Exercises). He is the compiler/editor of An Ignatian Book of Days. His latest book is What Matters Most and Why. He and his wife live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


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