The West could well be said to be experiencing its own collective "dark night of the soul" right now. The reasons for this are many, varied, and multifaceted, but at its core, the problem is a spiritual one. We have lost our moorings, and as such, have veered toward ruination. A faithless culture has no particular reason to struggle, grow, or thrive; it lacks any especial cause to value its own continuance.
This is not to say that all aspects of the West's current malaise are attributable to its current state of secularism, nor to claim that only believers can make positive contributions to the construction of a healthy and robust culture. The role of faith, however, can scarcely be ignored, as it offers a sort of transcendentally-grounded bulwark against despair, which in turn tends to arrest the advance of nihilism, thus holding decline at bay. With faith's erosion, however, this bulwark is broken, and all kinds of undesirable elements are free to surge in.
The "dark night"-- essentially, the sense of being separated from God-- is a condition of mind which has afflicted many a believer, including not a few men and women now widely regarded as saints. Suddenly and without any apparent reason, one feels shut off from divine sustenance; one strives, in vain, to regain one's previous sense of connectedness to one's Creator. In this past, God had steered him faithfully from victory to victory, from strength to strength; but now, He refuses to make Himself known in any way; the persistence of the thick darkness which now surrounds him causes man to doubt whether God had in fact, ever cared, or even existed, in the first place.
Such a perilous state of soul is certainly akin to despair, yet for the saint, it becomes a powerful test of endurance; painful as he finds it to be forsaken by God, he nevertheless manfully endures this heartbreaking circumstance without complaint; moreover, he goes about his daily activities with uber-stoic resolve, all along seeming so sanguine in their faith that people are shocked to find the extent of their interior misery.
When Mother Teresa of Calcutta died in September of 1997, the world at large believed her to have been a woman whose undying faith had moved her to do wonderful things. The world was, of course, quite right in this regard. But what the world didn't know was the extent of Mother Teresa's acute spiritual suffering, due to a "dark night of the soul" which had apparently persisted for decades on end, and which she never quite seemed able to shake until her dying day.
Yet even in the terrible state of darkness and indomitable conviction of God's hideous, horrible absence, Mother Teresa somehow kept her faith. She even willed that her suffering continue eternally, if it assisted others in their path towards salvation. Much as she yearned for relief from her agony, she embraced her cross with passionate tenacity.
"I beg of You only one thing," she wrote to her Beloved in one Confession, "please do not take the trouble to return soon. I am ready to wait for You for all eternity... I want to satiate your thirst with every single drop of blood that you can find in me..."
I here enclose an audio reading of the full text of St. Teresa's confessions, with the hope that even in these exceedingly dark days, we can find a kernel of her resolve, and may be blessed with her same capacity to do marvelous things even in an atmosphere increasingly choked with chaos and despair.