As the Plymouth Bay Colony was starting up, the scholar Robert Burton back in England published the philosophical reflection,“Anatomy of Melancholy,” analyzing his own tendency to depression which he attributed to “black bile.” It is not clear whether his death was by hanging, but he certainly made it fashionable for philosophers to be gloomy. Yet even he had his moments: He liked listening to the barge-men in Oxford swearing, “at which he would set his hands to his sides, and laugh most profusely.” In the next century, an old friend of Dr. Johnson said that he had tried to be a philosopher “but cheerfulness kept breaking through.”
Something more than cheerfulness keeps breaking through the dark patches of life: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)” The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary evidence the divine clarity lighting up the shadows: Christ’s Baptism, The Wedding at Cana, The Proclamation of the Gospel, the Transfiguration, the Last Supper. The Transfiguration is a singular instance of the joy of heaven bursting into this world blatantly. So some of the Fathers have said that the Transfiguration was not a miracle at all, because it revealed the glory of God which miracles hint at.
Christ showed this radiance to Peter, James and John, to sustain them as they were about to enter the dark whirlpool of the Passion. Whenever times seem dark, Christ keeps breaking through. The darkness makes the light ever more vivid. It is a principle in painting, called “chiarascuro,” that colors are brightest when they are contrasted with darker shades. One of countless examples of how this is lived out, was a 29 year old priest, Alois Andritzki, born in 1914 to a family of the minority Sorb people in eastern Germany. He was ordained in the diocese of Dresden-Meissen and ended up in the Dachau concentration camp on trumped-up charges. His real offense was to have preached against the eugenics policies of the Nazis. In a nearby “sanatorium,” doctors and nurses killed 16,000 handicapped and mentally ill people, including children, who were declared “unworthy of life.” On February 3, 1943 Father Andritzki was ill and his handsome and athletic body had become emaciated. He asked for Holy Communion and instead was given a lethal injection. Last year, he was beatified as a martyr. His dark cell was transfigured by the same light that keeps breaking through in the dark days of our own culture as morbid voices sound increasingly like the eugenicists of the past. Only the willfully blind can deny how dark it is getting. And only the melancholy can ignore the brightness that is enlightening many people who in less challenging days may have taken the Faith for granted. “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. (Matt. 13:43)”