In St Catherine of Siena’s biography by Blessed Raymond of Capua, Blessed Raymond outlines how St Catherine was gifted with the grace of being able to see the health of people’s souls. He explains how St Catherine was able to see past exterior appearances and obtain vivid insights into the interior life of the people she met. This was an extraordinary grace that God had given to St Catherine due to her extraordinary sanctity. Other saints, such as St John Vianney, were also blessed with this grace as shown by his ability to see what sins were lingering in people’s soul before they disclosed them to him. These two saints, who were fountains of charity and who existed in far more Christian times than our own, were well aware of the darkness of people’s souls due to sin and they dedicated their lives to saving souls from this darkness.
About two weeks ago, a priest gave a graphic and hard hitting description of the state of people’s souls in Ireland today. He explained how ‘many of those around us are physically alive but spiritually dead, morally rotten or at least infected’ going on to use the analogy of zombies to describe some of the behaviour he is seeing. He went on to propose solutions, which some of the congregation found offensive. For trying to wake people up from this spiritual ‘zombieness’, he was shut down and his bishop and his Order apologised for his remarks. These apologies were given as the remarks that Fr Forde made may have ‘hurt the feelings’ of some people. Now, it can be argued that some of what he said may have been imprudent but the real questions are: How accurate was Fr Forde’s description? and was he charitable in saying what he said?
Was he accurate?
If St Catherine or St John Vianney were meeting individuals who are committing all types of sinful behavior in our modern society , what would they see? In all probability they would see what Fr Forde referred to, i.e. people going around like zombies. When looking at the souls of people today, they would probably see even darker and more disturbing images than this. They would be able to penetrate exterior facades and see the walking dead who have lost the light of God’s grace as they grope about in the darkness and misery of their lives. They would be able to see how much damage these people are doing to their souls. Due to their love of God, they would probably weep bitterly over this as St John Vianney did in his time, confiding to a friend -‘When one thinks of the ingratitude of man towards the good God, one is tempted to escape to the other side of the world so as not to see it any more. It is dreadful! And would be dreadful in any case, even if the good God were not so good! But He is so good!’ And whilst speaking thus, his face was bathed in tears.’ (From ‘Blessed John Vianney’ by Joseph Vianney)
Fr Forde seemed to want to wake his congregation up to this reality but a vocal minority in the congregation could not bear to hear how corrupt, blind and zombie-like people in Ireland had become or they could not bear to look at their own reflection. Instead of reflecting on and considering the words he spoke, they decided to shoot the messenger. The bishop and his Order, by apologizing, added more bullets. The messenger was shot and his message was discarded.
It is rare that people are given the grace to be able to see spiritual realities. We can not normally see the spiritual warfare that is happening around us. Fr Forde had a certain glimpse of this and he decided to share this with his congregation. For warning souls of the peril they are in he was silenced and lambasted. For speaking the truth and explaining the current situation in Ireland accurately, Fr Forde was given a taste of what it means to be hated by the world. Hopefully he will take solace in St John’s advice, ‘Marvel, not brethren, if the world hate you.’ (1 John 3:13)
Was he charitable?
There are people like Fr Forde who are trying to wake people up to the truth and the reality of life. For this, they are being silenced, persecuted and ridiculed. (Israel Folau’s experience with Rugby Australia is just another recent example of this). In Fr Forde’s case, this silencing was done by the very people who are meant to defend the Truth, i.e. Catholic bishops. Due to bishops and priests abandoning the divine mission they have been given by Christ, people are not hearing the message about how toxic sin is and how damaging it is. In his masterpiece, Summa Theologica, St Thomas Aquinas outlines how sin leads to loss of human dignity and liberty: ‘1) that by sinning, man departs from the order of right reason and thereby falls away from his human dignity; and that 2) he thus loses his right to a certain liberty’ or as Pope Leo XIII explains in his encyclical, Immortale Dei, ‘If the mind assents to false opinions, and the will chooses and follows after what is wrong, neither can attain its native fullness, but both must fall from their native dignity into an abyss of corruption.’
In our current age, individuals are slipping more and more into sinful behavior and rotting their souls. This is leading to increased cases of psychological distress, anguish and despair as sin has a devastating impact on people’s psychological health. Sin is an enemy of mental well being and it leads to zombie like behavior. As Fr Ripperger states, ‘No psychological theory which condones sin can ever be one that contributes to the mental health of individuals or a society.’ (‘Introduction to the Science of Mental Health’). One of the most serious consequences of sin is its ability to blind people to their behavior and bind them to the urging of their passions rather than reason. As Professor Charles A. Dubray outlines, ‘[Passions] race towards their goal so furiously that they are exclusively led by lust and pleasure without seeking the advice of reason.’ (‘Introductory Philosophy’). Once engaged in mortal sin and once you have removed yourself from the grace of God, a person’s intellect becomes darkened, his will becomes weak and his passions and lusts take control. One is unable to see clearly. One is unable to control one’s actions as easily as one can do when living a life of grace. Like zombies, one stumbles around as one’s mind is darkened and damaged. If one only chases after carnal pleasures, e.g. fornication, homosexual acts, one will die spiritually, as St Paul tells us, ‘For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.’ (Romans 9:13).
Sinful behavior also carries a threat of contamination. Just as the alcoholic needs to avoid certain places or people to avoid relapsing, if one is truly determined to avoid sinning one must avoid certain places or people who are committing grave sins. St Paul warns us about the need to be careful and to separate ourselves out from those who persist in immorality: ‘Bear not the yoke with unbelievers. For what participation hath justice with injustice? Or what fellowship hath light with darkness?… Wherefore, Go out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing.’ (2 Cor 6: 14-17). In many ways, Fr Forde was only repeating the words of St Paul and attempting to give an example to a modern-day audience who are familiar with the concept of zombies. The advice he gives is not only essential for one’s salvation but has a direct impact on one’s mental health as well.
Fr Forde’s remarks about ‘shooting or stabbing zombies in the brain’ seems to have caused most of the uproar and accusations of hate speech. However, even the Irish Independent, atheist journalist, Ian O’Doherty, (who is no fan of the Catholic Church) recognized that it is ridiculous to interpret these words literally. Fr Forde went on to assert that the only cure for spiritual death and zombie-like behavior was to be obedient to Christ. This remains the only cure when one is hooked on sin, i.e. obedience to Christ and His Church. Highlighting the problem accurately and offering effective solutions is an excellent form of charity. It is one that psychologists and any other mental health professionals should be giving when one sees zombie-like behavior in people as a result of sinful behavior.
May those who are groping around irrationally in the dark be led by the grace of God into the light and may God bless Fr Forde in his charitable efforts to save people’s souls!