Interview on the book Psychological and Spiritual Maturity, Wenceslao Vial, Living one's faith with consistency produces joy and improves psychological and spiritual health, prayer and mental health, integrated sexuality, stopping pornography, personality disorders, responsibility in addictions, addictive behavior

Faith Lived with Coherence Improves Health

Faith is not medicine, but there are many reasons why it is useful for health: more precisely, for the unity of the different dimensions of the person. Faith gives light to intelligence, to grasp more easily what is good and bad, what is virtue or vice, the value of temperance.

Interview with Wenceslao Vial, author of Madurez psicológica y espiritual (Psychological and Spiritual Maturity).

Original Article in Spanish

The author highlights the value of the Christian life for serenity and equilibrium, with practical suggestions for understanding, treating and preventing psychological problems, and knowing how to distinguish them from spiritual difficulties. He clarifies the significance of symptoms and guides the reader towards options that seem more appropriate. The mature personality is presented as an attractive challenge and the unconscious is not considered as an impenetrable space.

The book Madurez psicológica y espiritual presents a practical approach to experiencing life as a joyful and serene adventure

The Spirit fills and propels the sails of our free souls. The Christian is never alone in his mission. “He who owns nothing, can share nothing: he who is going nowhere, can have no fellow travellers” (C.S. Lewis).

Am I responsible for my own being? Can I get out of depression? How can I overcome anxiety? Are there existing means for overcoming addiction to drugs or the internet? Am I responsible for the way I am? Is it possible to get out of depression? How can the family of persons with mental disorders support them? When is a doctor, a psychologist or a priest needed? Is sex an old-fashioned invention, a game or a taboo?

This book offers answers to these and other questions that address an undeniable reality.

Question topics

Faith and psychological pathology

Faith opens the eyes of the soul in its search for meaning

Sickness as a lack of faith

Psychological alarms that enable us to recognize dangers

Preventing psychological pathology through coherence

Faith as a factor of stability

Faith and the development of personality

Mature personality in the absence of faith

Faith lived in a pathological way

Proper attitudes in the spiritual life

In what sense does lack of faith lead to pathology?

Lack of faith does not necessarily lead to medical pathology. However, an incoherent life, between one’s values and personal behavior, or an a priori denial of any meaning in one’s existence, can disturb a person.

Faith is a fruit of divine grace and, at the same time, an act of the human will. Every person is endowed with a religious aspiration that moves him to seek God. When a person receives the gratuitous gift “of believing”, the author of that gift seeks to relate to him and love him. If this gift has not been received, this same religious aspiration - which is in the depth of the heart of every person - pushes him, at least, to seek the meaning of all that exists. The dark immensity of the universe becomes more transparent with faith.

He who only believes in himself, in what his eyes can see and his hands can feel, or is moved only by what he fully understands, can become ill, because he is unable to distance himself from the immediate and in order to elevate himself to higher realities. He can come to doubt - obsessively - everything: the electricity that he does not see, the arrival of a man on the moon...

There are those who claim to have faith but are only responding to their own consciences.

The human person is essentially called to responsibility, that is, to the capacity to respond. This demands that there be someone outside of us who receives that response. Absolute autonomy is not compatible with the belief in a superior being, nor with the observations of reason. Those who privilege autonomy are perhaps afraid of being responsible: of being accountable and answerable for one's actions to another person or to God.

Frequently, people exclude from faith that which they find uncomfortable. They are able to believe in God but not in His loving way of demanding and guiding them towards goodness, truth, love, virtue - aspects that require effort, change of life, to stop seeking only immediate pleasures. They sense that there is a superior truth for which some things are good and others bad but they do not wish to recognize it so as not to have to respond decisively.

A second century saint wisely said that God is seen by those who are capable of looking at him, if they open the eyes of the soul. Everyone’s soul has eyes. But there are those who have them darkened or voluntarily close them and do not see the sunlight.

In what way can pathology lead to a lack of faith?

Health is physical, psychological and social well-being. If we add the spiritual dimension, we have before us the admirable unity of a human being. A crack in any of these dimensions can compromise the whole building, where there will be more or less deep flaws. A physical or psychological alteration can affect the spiritual dimension that sustains faith.

Disease itself does not lead to lack of faith. Some ailments, however, can hinder the exercise of intelligence and will. In severe mental deterioration, the external manifestations of the spirit can be impeded. Properly speaking, it is not loss of faith but a process of corporeal degeneration.

Suffering is also always a challenge to faith. It is possible, without hope, to reject it or to see it, with grace, as a path of growth. Suffering makes us aware of our limited and finite nature that cries out for a sense of meaning.

What are the warning signs of a psychological problem?

In the book I try to describe various warning signs, and how to recognize and cope with them. Anxiety, obsession, discouragement sustained over time, impulsivity and disproportionate reactions are some signs. Many times, when we hear the alarm of a car or a house, we do not go to see what is happening, but we may think, "the usual annoying person is there". This should not happen when we notice in ourselves or in others a sign of suffering. It is necessary to look for what has detonated the alarm: is it a physical, psychological or spiritual problem?

If these psycho-physical alarms or symptoms are not stopped, they cease to be useful and can even paralyze the spiritual life with physical and emotional exhaustion. The term “burnout” has been coined to define a state of low mood, associated with the stress of some service professions, e.g. nurses, housewives, doctors, educators, policemen, priests etc., in which a person feels undervalued and worn out. It influences their previous way of being, and makes it difficult to perform tasks with order and measure. Many times, these people are perfectionists and insecure, too self-demanding, with low tolerance to frustration or without the capacity to humbly manage success, and tend to overextend themselves beyond what is prudent.

Does living the faith correctly prevent pathology?

Scientific studies show that faith prevents some diseases and improves the prognosis of others. Faith is not medicine but there are many reasons why it is useful for health, precisely because of the unity between the various dimensions of the human person. Faith gives light to intelligence, enabling one to grasp more easily what is good and bad, what is virtue or vice, the value of temperance: to drink alcohol in moderation, to use sexuality only when there is love, in marriage and with one's spouse, and so on. The Bible contains many millennia of guidelines, such as the following: "Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is when it glistens in the glass; how smoothly it goes down. For in the end, it bites like a serpent, it stings like an adder" (Pr 23:31-32).

How many things today represent this "wine": drug addiction, pornography, the internet, or the increase of family breakdown. If we were more attentive to the spiritual alarms, to the first sparks that faith helps us to discover, the fire would not spread.

In other words, faith favors stability.

Faith possesses great preventive efficacy by its very definition: "...the foundation of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb 11:1). The great hope of living forever with God is based on our identity as God's beloved creatures: to reach heaven. Through faith we hope for what we do not see and we hope to reach a goal that awakens a desire to live with enthusiasm, passion and personal effort. Christian existence is not a static search for stability, but a serene tension to move toward the good.

Does faith help in the full development of personality?

Faith in God contributes, as I said, a solid basis for growth and strengthens our sense of identity: knowing that we are loved as creatures, admirable as men and women. Christianity adds the conviction that we are all children of God, which fills us with pride. However, believing is not enough. We need a living faith, with hope and charity. Only those who are able to transcend themselves, giving themselves to others, respond to them and also to God.

The purely human process of maturity leads to transcending oneself. Babies, after a few months, no longer care only about their fingers: they recognize their mothers and smile. Little by little, babies discover that they are not the only “kings” of the world. They stop claiming everything as their own, saying, “Mine, mine…” A thirteen-year-old boy no longer demands that his parents buy him a bicycle, but waits and perhaps he behaves better before his birthday with the hope of receiving it. A path to hope and good humor is opened up.

Supernatural convictions pervade this reality and give them a new impulse to take a step back from events, to confront them with less drama, to overcome setbacks and to start again. I recently tasted Kaiserschmarrn: pieces of dough with a fruit compote. They say that Austrian Emperor (Kaiser) Franz Joseph I’s cook wanted to prepare an elegant and majestic pastry, but something went wrong. Without despairing, he used his creativity and served the dough, which at first seemed unappetizing. The dessert was highly praised.

People who live with their eyes on God give little importance to what people say; if they commit a mistake, they admit their fault and ask for pardon. Humiliation is replaced by repentance and they begin again. They also have access to the sacrament of mercy, or confession. They are capable of making big decisions in their lives, like marriage or a religious vocation, and they are able to stay faithful to that decision in moments of difficulty. They know that there is someone to whom they can turn, someone who loves them, to whom they can relate.

Is it possible to have a fully developed personality without faith?

A doctor friend of mine said, “How lucky you are to have faith in God.” He has not yet received faith, but he is faithful to his wife, and together they work to raise their children well; he tries to do his work well, and he cares for his patients. He is on the road to maturity because he acts with responsibility. I say “on the road” because the development of personality is a lifelong process. Only at the end will we be able to say whether we have reached maturity or not.

The characteristics of a mature personality can be found in any person, and they are not different from Christian maturity. Since Greek antiquity, development has been seen as being based on good self-knowledge. Christians, however, possess an advantage: they have Christ, who loves them, as their model. They are not left with the image they see in the mirror; rather, they look at the person of Christ and try to resemble Him. In Christ, they encounter the key to deciphering the meaning of their existence, which includes suffering.

Without faith in an eternal future, it is easy to allow ourselves to go after apparent goods, sparked by pleasure, but to fall into despair.

It is possible to live our faith in a pathological way?

There are various anomalous forms of living one’s faith. The first and most obvious one is to impose one's own belief with violence. The second, more widespread and mysterious, is to look at God as if He were a kind of room spray - an expression of Pope Francis - that is to say, as if God were an air freshener that helps in specific moments: perhaps at weddings and funerals but otherwise absent in everyday realities - absent from honest work, from certain ways of having fun, from helping those in need. Thus begins the path to living a double life...the little egoisms that later grow large. This provides the context for another danger: those who think that their faith, their religion, is so intimate and personal, that they never talk about it to anyone.

The third pathological way of living one’s faith, which is more united to the psychological aspect, alters people in their way of being. I am not referring to normal defects, which we all have, but rather to pathologies that are formed over the course of years. One example is the defect of perfectionism, which not only makes a person desire to do things well, but actually too well. For perfectionists, there is only one way to remove the weeds, only one way to make a dessert and serve it...only one way to pray. There is a remedy, if they want to avail themselves of it, although it will cost them and the results are not immediate.

Another frequent pathology is that of those who transform faith into superstition. At times, they seek gods to their measure - the sacred bulls of the past , dolls, witches - in order not to respond to a personal God.

How would you summarize the proper attitude to spiritual life?

A healthy spiritual life leads one to self-transcendence. People who create a distance from what is happening in and around them, people who climb on the balcony of their lives to see with perspective, are happier and more effective. Events acquire their real importance, solutions are easier to find...there is serenity. The need to find meaning resonates with everyone; there is a desire for transcendence and a desire to fly, to reach high.

Many times, I have seen people thirsting for faith, for hope, people looking for transcendence, longing to see from above with more light to understand the dilemmas of their lives, as reflected in these verses of Neruda:

The world is a crystal sphere,

If he does not fly man loses his way

cannot understand transparency.

That is why I profess

Unconfined clarity

And from the birds I learned

Passionate hope,

The certainty and truth of flight.