The crisis of our time has moved as of now from the cultural and moral field to the psychological, meaning psychology in its etymological sense, which is that of “science of the soul.” If morality establishes the laws of human behavior, psychology investigates the cognitive and affective life of man. Man is a composite of soul and body, and the soul, which is the vital principle of the body, has two main faculties, intellect and will. As a corporeal being, man is also endowed with internal and external senses that participate in his cognitive process. When man’s primary and secondary faculties are well ordered, his personality develops harmoniously. But when, in the obscure meeting place between sense impressions and the spiritual faculties disordered passions develop, the soul experiences a situation of imbalance that can lead to moral and psychological ruin. Man risks psychological breakdown when he becomes unaware of the one true end of his life, which is our sanctification and the glory of God.
One could object that many individuals, in spite of having lost sight of man’s primary end, seem psychologically untroubled and at ease. And yet the psychological stability that health, money, and the affections themselves give is only apparent. Individuals who are apparently strong, but devoid of God, are like the houses built on sand of which the Gospel speaks. All it takes is the loss of one of the false goods on which they rely to unleash a psychological crisis in them. But what happens when the risk to their lives does not come from the loss of individual goods but from social disasters like a war or a pandemic that disrupts society? Then more than ever the words of the Gospel come true: “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it” (Mt 7:27).
In the stormy epochs of history we must understand that it is only within ourselves that we can find the solution to the problems that afflict us. We are not fighting a political, social, or medical battle, but we are soldiers of a long war against the flesh, the devil, and the world that goes back to the origins of creation. In this battle, as Fr. Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange (1877-1974) explains: “an interior life is for each of us the only thing necessary” (The three ages of the spiritual life, It. tr. Fede e Cultura, Verona 2020, p. 21). The true life of man is not in fact the superficial and external life of the body, destined for decay and death, but the immortal life of the soul, which orders its powers in the right direction.
God does not ask us to save society, but asks us to save our souls and to give him glory, socially as well, through public witness to the truth of the Gospel. It is God alone who saves society, and He does so through the Church, which never loses its distinctive features, starting with the holiness that is intrinsic to it. For this reason, in times of general confusion and malaise, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange again writes, “there is the need for each of us to think about the only thing necessary and to ask the Lord for saints who live by this thought alone and can be the great exemplars that the world needs. In the most turbulent times, such as in the era of the Albigensians and later with the rise of Protestantism, the Lord sent multitudes of saints. The need is making itself felt no less today” (The three ages of the spiritual life, op. cit., pp. 23-24).
Dom Prosper Guéranger (1805-1875) does not put it any differently: “In his infinite justice and mercy, God bestows saints upon the various epochs, or decides not to grant them, in such a way that, if one may use the expression, the thermometer of holiness is needed to determine the condition of normality of an era or a society” (Le sens de l’histoire, in Essai sur le naturalisme contemporain, Editions Delacroix, 2004, p. 377).
This means that there are stingier centuries and others more generous, in terms of correspondence to the graces that God bestows in the call to holiness. One century poor in saints was the fifteenth, and one generous century was the sixteenth; one stingy century was the twentieth, with a few dazzling exceptions; will the twenty-first be a century of generous correspondence to grace? What is the temperature that the spiritual thermometer of our time indicates?
If we look around us we do not see the great saints we would like to have rising up beside us to sustain us. Perhaps, however, we forget that the criterion of holiness is not sensational miracles, but the capacity of souls to live in abandonment to Divine Providence day by day, as did Saint Joseph, model of holiness, silent and faithful warrior, active and contemplative soul, perfect example of the balance of all the natural and supernatural virtues.
No one knew better than St. Joseph how fragile the Roman Empire was behind the veil of appearances, and no one was more aware than he of the Sanhedrin’s treachery, yet he complied with the Roman law of the census and the Jewish prescriptions for the circumcision of Jesus, without ever inciting violent rebellion against authority. There was no anger, only stillness in his heart, and the only hatred he knew was that of sin. The year of St. Joseph announced by Pope Francis is now over, but devotion to St. Joseph must continue to inspire faithful Catholics and drive them in the search for holiness, which however has its culmination in Jesus Christ. It is He alone who has the absolute and universal fullness of grace and it is He and He alone who makes great saints.
And today, more than ever, we need saints, just and balanced men, who live according to their reason and their faith, never becoming discouraged, but only trusting in the help of Divine Providence and of the Blessed Virgin Mary.