There is a lot of panic about the coronavirus as it spreads its way across the world. Some of this fear is understandable and rational. One’s bodily health and one’s life are goods that one is naturally attached to. There is a natural desire to preserve one’s life and health. Adopting some precautions is reasonable.
Now, the coronavirus has made people more aware of the prospect of death. But has it made people aware of the reality of death? We all know that if we do not die of the coronavirus, eventually we will die of something else. We understand that death is inevitable. Yet, it appears that this crisis is leading few to a better understanding what death actually is, and what it means for us.
‘It is not death itself that is so feared. If it were, as it is meant to be for us, but a mere modification of the conditions of our actual existence, it would carry no terrors with it. But if a man knows perfectly well that his mode of living here and now, his thoughts, his ideals, aspirations, affections, pursuits, tastes, have nothing in common with what must be the tastes, ideals, aspirations – in a word – with the mental outlook characteristic of the blissful world beyond the tomb, then he is naturally filled with fear.’ – Fr Edward Leen, ‘Why the Cross?’
One’s existence does not end with death. We have an immortal soul which lives on into eternity. This is not just a Catholic belief. One can come to this realisation by purely using reason as philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato did. Most people have some vague sense of this reality. As Fr Leen points out, it is this fear of what happens after death that really terrifies us. The greatest result of the coronavirus would be to wake people up to the reality of eternal life so that they would really examine their current way of living.
In these modern times, we try our hardest to distract ourselves from the thought of death. We try to find numerous ways to fend it off. Yet, it is still there, and it won’t go away. We may leave a legacy and people may have memories of us but sooner or later, we must leave this life and enter the next. At some stage, in our lives, perhaps during some festivities it will make itself known to us. We are obliged to acknowledge it no matter how much it may shock or irritate us, and we should do what is reasonable to hang on to respond to its presence. But, as we were but pilgrims in this short existence, is it not more reasonable to prepare for the most important occasion in our lives, i.e. the time our soul leaves our body? This is the approach that any reasonable person should take. It is in direct contrast to the spirit of the world that tells us to focus on the here and now and forget about death. As Bishop Fulton Sheen points out, ‘The pagan tries to ignore death, but each tick of the clock brings him nearer to it through fear and anxiety. The Christian begins his life by contemplating his death; knowing that he will die, he plans his life accordingly, in order to enjoy eternal life…The Christian principle for conquering death is twofold: (1) Think about death. (2) Rehearse for it by mortification now.’ Many people in Ireland today act like the pagan throughout most of their lives. Death is ignored or brushed aside. Then, something like the coronavirus comes along and suddenly the potential of death springs into their awareness. Yet, this awareness is so superficial, and, for the majority, it does not lead to a contemplation of the reality of death or a preparation for eternal life. In our clamour to avoid death, we ignore what death actually is.
What Would The Saints Do?
‘Death and ill-health and accident and grief cannot be banished by any human formula, and the weaknesses attendant on human nature, sloth and self-indulgence, envy and hatred, can be eradicated only be each man taking up his cross and conquering himself.’ – Fr M C D’Arcy, ‘Mirage and Truth’
I have written in other places how the saints are great examples to us of how to live our lives. Now, many famous saints are depicted with skulls in their portraits. This includes St Jerome, St Aloysius, St Catherine of Siena and St Francis of Assisi. They kept these skulls as a vivid reminder of death. It was part of the Catholic practice of ‘memento mori’, a Latin term, meaning ‘remembrance of death’. The thought of death was ever before them so they could plan their earthly lives accordingly. It reminded them of the need to take up their cross and conquer themselves. The coronavirus is a stark reminder of death. It challenges us, especially Catholics, to respond.
But how should we respond? By following the example of the pagans around us and trying to avoid death while ignoring what it means? Or do we do what we reasonably can to mind our health while making sure most of our effort is focused on contemplating death and preparing for its inevitable arrival (whenever that might be)? How often do we think about our own death and all that will mean? How often do we pray for the grace of a holy death? How often do we think about the judgement that awaits us? If any good can come out of the coronavirus it will involve the sparking of these questions in people’s minds. The lockdowns that are happening all over the world give time for people to stop and think as they are not caught up in work or not able to get to the pub or social events. Hopefully, there is only so much 24/7 coronavirus news that people can stand before they switch it off and really think about the significance of all that is happening around them. Perhaps then, there may be a little light that gets in and instead of thinking about the various ways they will make sure they stay alive, they will start thinking about how prepared they are to meet their Creator.
‘To live to God we must die to sin, and this death to sin cannot be achieved without its own passion. It was through the Cross that the world was redeemed – it remains that by the Cross and the Cross only, personally borne and endured, each individual enters fully into the redemption and is sanctified. Self must die in order that God may reign in undisputed sway in us. In that lies the whole explanation of suffering in life. It is only over the hilltop of Calvary that we make our way into the brightness and splendour and glowing life of the Garden of the Resurrection.’ – Fr Edward Leen, ‘In the Likeness of Christ’
The Real Virus:
The real virus is the one that zaps the truth about life and death from our mind. It is the virus that makes us forget about the universal realities and our last end. It is one that encourages us on the path to self-destruction and blinds us. It is a virus that causes untold misery and unhappiness. It has its toxic allurements, its hedonistic distractions and its tempting false gods. This virus hates the truth and those that speak and live it. It has become so prevalent that the vast majority of people are infected by it. It has caused amnesia and the forgetting of the purpose of life. It is a virus of error, falsehoods and lies. It is more corruptive and destructive than the coronavirus or any other virus as it is a virus that affects our soul, not just our body. If we are cleansed of this virus before our death, we will truly live. If we are not cleansed, we would be better off if we had never existed.
‘Sin is un-love, and it is therefore dead and death-dealing like a corpse. The least sin is a more devastating agent of dissolution and corruption to the soul of man than ever plague in history has been to his body. The Church does not use exaggeration when she says that no material disaster can be compared in magnitude of evil to the effect of one deliberate venial sin.’ – Fr R. H. J. Steurt, ‘The World Intangible’
While the coronavirus is getting 24/7 coverage across the world, this virus, sin, which is far more deadly and more contagious than any plague, is barely heard about as it goes about infecting more and more people. There are no warnings about it from those who should be speaking about it, e.g. the pope, and the government is not closing businesses that promote it to protect us from it, e.g. many abortion facilities have stayed open. Neither are they implementing new laws to protect people from it or sending out guidelines telling us how to operate around those who have it. Yet, it is the most dangerous and contagious disease known to man. Over the last number of years the Irish government have given this virus free rein and promoted it so it will infect as many people as possible. God, have mercy on those that have encouraged so many on the road to perdition! It is this virus that will truly define our lives and it is this one that we should be constantly trying our hardest to avoid.
Now, there is a cure to this virus. It is one that is freely and lovingly given to those who desire it. Part of it involves becoming familiar, like the saints, with the true understanding of death. It involves reflecting on this regularly. So, let us do this and try to put things in their proper order. As Fr Boylan, in his excellent book, ‘This Tremendous Lover’, says, ‘Once the supernatural is admitted to be the one thing necessary, the natural must cede to it. Natural standards, ideals or purposes must be laid aside, and things must be judged and arranged from the supernatural point of view.’ Let us make sure that we do not die contaminated with the virus of sin. Remember that the health of your soul is far more important than the health of your body. So, in all of this madness, do what you reasonably can to take care of your health but make sure you do all you can to prepare yourself for death.
Please note:the following article examines the cultural and social attitudes that impact on our understanding of what has come to be referred to as ‘autism’. It questions whether ‘autism’ really captures disordered behaviour, whether it labels those who have a desire for accuracy and order as disordered, and whether it is being used to pathologise innate male behaviour. It also questions the validity and reliability of this term. It does not dismiss the reality that there are children who are diagnosed with ‘autism’ who display obvious signs of physiological and psychological issues nor those it deny the distress this causes the child and the family, but it does question whether the diagnosis of ‘autism’ is of any use in helping to treat individuals.
Our society is disordered. Those who are given responsibility to fix this disorder are fuelling this disorder further. Those who are designated as mental health experts are often more out of touch with reality than the individuals they are attempting to help. Their idea of what is right and what is ordered behaviour is often completely twisted. These ideas are often imposed on their clients and patients. Due to professionals’ lack of, or false, understanding of what man is, how he is designed and what he is designed for, they often label ordered, natural and healthy behaviour as disordered and label disordered, unnatural and unhealthy behaviour as ordered. An obvious example of this is the removal of homosexual behaviour as a disorder by psychiatrists and the affirmation of homosexuality as a positive behaviour by the Psychological Society of Ireland. However, a more subtle, a cleverer and a more pervasive example of this labelling of ordered behaviour as disordered and vice versa is the whole issue of autism in boys. Let me explain why this is so.
The Spiral Into Madness
Over the last sixty years in Western societies, there has been a rapid spiralling into disorder and chaos. This has eventually contributed to ‘transgenderism’ and a complete blurring of the distinctions between boys and girls and men and women. Sixty years ago, it was seen as common sense and obvious that boys and girls were different both physiologically and mentally. Boys and girls and men and women had different attributes and these innate attributes meant that they were naturally suited to different roles. In modern times, Western society has seen men and women attempt to break free from their innate dispositions, leading to mass confusion, societal disorder and decreased psychological freedom as people are wrapped and/or wrap themselves in webs of deceit and unrealities. The disciplines of psychiatry, psychology and social work became some of the main drivers in encouraging this ‘breaking free’. Throughout the last sixty years, these disciplines gradually abandoned accurate understandings of the distinctions between men and women in favour of their own distorted and false ideas. Because they distorted and de-emphasised the difference between the sexes, their model of what constituted a normal individual and ordered behaviour failed to take into account innate psychological differences between the sexes which were crucial to understanding male and female behaviour. This has had a disastrous effect on individuals and social care services.
First things first…
Though it seems crazy to have to say, there are some who do not seem to realise the following fact: boys and girls are inherently different – they think differently, they speak differently, and they behave differently. There is something wrong when a boy is thinking, speaking and behaving like a girl and when a girl is thinking, speaking and behaving like a boy. However, due to the distortion of these distinctions between the sexes, the new model for ordered or normal behaviour is a ‘gender fluid’ creation that is neither too boyish nor too girlish. When the new norm is ‘gender fluid’, any behaviours that are too masculine or too feminine are seen as abnormal and in need of correction or realignment. The consequences of this are dreadful. As Dr Willibald Demal, ‘Pastoral Psychology in Practice’, points out, ‘A denial of the sex character, accompanied by a tendency to assimilate to the particularity of the other sex, is unnatural and consequently disastrous.’ (This blurring of distinctions has had a disastrous effect on girls and women as well but as I have spoken specifically about the solutions to women’s psychological issues elsewhere, I will focus on boys and men in this blog). This is particularly true of autism.
Healthy Male Behaviour as Autistic
First, let us look at the supposed signs for autism, remembering that the standard clinical measurement for this diagnosis does not acknowledge innate psychological differences between the sexes. Rather, psychologists, psychiatrists and other ‘progressive’ professionals believe that the norm is a type of abstract ‘gender-fluid’ figure that is unconnected from what common sense and reality tell us. (See footnote). Today, statistics shows us that boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism. The following article outlines why this is the case. The following seven ‘signs of autism’ are taken from the NHS website under the heading, ‘Signs of autism in older children’. These are contrasted with traditional understandings of innate sex differences:
Signs of Autism:
Sign: ‘Not seeming to understand what others are thinking orfeeling’
The Innate Difference: ‘[Man] is not so easily swayed by sentiments, emotions, moods, and prejudices, and thus does not so easily become a victim to the stirrings of sympathy and antipathy as a woman.’ (Dr Willibald Demal, ‘Pastoral Psychology in Practice’)
Men are not moved as much by emotions as women. They have a certain detachment from them, compared to women. To eyes that do not understand masculine behaviour and who believe men should be more like women or more ‘gender neutral’, this behaviour can come across as lacking in understanding or empathy. Thus, this ‘lacking empathy’ sign is more likely to be seen in boys than girls.
Sign: ‘Finding it hard to say how they feel’
The Innate Difference: ‘If we try to delineate these specifically feminine and masculine features, we find in women a unity of personality by the fact that heart, intellect, and temperament are much more interwoven, whereas in man there is a specific capacity to emancipate himself with his intellect from the affective sphere.’ (Dietrich von Hildebrand, ‘Man and Woman: Love and the Meaning of Intimacy’)
Similar to point one, boys and men do not care as much about feelings as girls and women. In comparison to girls, boys do not spend as much time analysing or deciphering subjective feelings as girls do. This is partly explained by the fact that the feelings girls experience are generally more intense than boys so it is easier for them to identify and express these feelings. Common experience and recent psychological research also highlights how women show more emotionality or neuroticism than men (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3149680/). This difference in emotional expression is also because the thinking of boys is not as wrapped up in feelings as girl’s as von Hildebrand states above. This ‘finding it hard to say how you feel’ sign is more likely to be seen in boys than girls.
Sign: ‘Liking a strict daily routine and getting very upset if it changes’
The Innate Difference: ‘The specific, organic meld of heart and mind, of the affective and intellective centres in woman, the unity of her entire nature, the delicacy and receptivity of her whole being, the precedence of Being as a personality over objective accomplishments – versus man’s specific ability to emancipate the mind from all his vitality, the ability for pure objectivity which predestines him for official positions, his specific suitability for efficacy and the accomplishments of objective works, his clarity, his strength, and greatness, these differences mark the two sexes in their own peculiar nature.’ (Dietrich von Hildebrand, ‘Man and Woman: Love and the Meaning of Intimacy’)
Men are designed to be active workers and leaders in the home and/or in society. Women are designed to be the heart of the home. They are designed to respond to and embrace the variability that a busy family life with children running under your feet and acting spontaneously brings. They are designed to be more flexible than men as they operate in a different environment than men. Men are meant to establish and guard order and routine both within and outside the home. This makes it easier for women to operate freely and flexibly in these environments. It is natural for boys to like strict routine more and to be upset when this changes. It is natural for girls to like flexibility more and be upset when they can not have this. This ‘liking strict routine’ sign is another one that is more likely to be seen in boys than girls.
Sign: ‘Having a very keen interest in certain subjects or activities’
The Innate Difference: ‘What makes it difficult for the average man to be a universalist is that the average man has to be a specialist; he has not only to learn one trade, but to learn it so well as to uphold him in a more or less ruthless society. This is generally true of males from the first hunter to the last electrical engineer; each has not merely to act, but to excel. Nimrod has not only to be a mighty hunter before the Lord, but also a mighty hunter before the other hunters. The electrical engineer has to be a very electrical engineer, or he is outstripped by engineers yet more electrical…Shall all mankind be specialist surgeons or peculiar plumbers; shall all humanity be monomaniac? Tradition has decided that only half of humanity shall be monomaniac. It has decided that in every home there shall be a tradesman and a Jack-of-all-trades. But is has also decided, among other things, that the Jack-of-all-trades shall be a Gill-of-all-trades. It has decided, rightly or wrongly, that this specialism and this universalism shall be divided between the sexes.’ (G K Chesterton, ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’)
As Chesterton points out, men are designed to be specialists while women are designed to the ‘Gill-of-all-trades’. This distinction is buried within our nature. It is linked to our natural roles as outlined in the third point above. To rebel against it is rebel against the natural law. Even the car manufacturer, Volkswagen, knows that women want to be ‘Gill-of-all-trades’ and it cleverly sells women the fulfilment of this deep psychological yearning through the purchase of its new car with its ‘more than one thing’ tagline (See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLEF2JSM7Dc). This ‘keen interest’ sign is far more likely to be seen in boys than girls.
Sign: ‘Getting very upset if you ask them to do something’
The Innate Difference: ‘The upright man hates lies, deceit and all pretence.’ (Dr Willibald Demal, ‘Pastoral Psychology in Practice’)
As St Thomas explains in his masterpiece, Summa Theologica, an emotional reaction that is in accordance with the good, i.e. in accordance with the will of God, is a sign of moral perfection. For example, being upset, or even very upset, at blasphemy towards God or insults towards our Lady, are signs of moral perfection (I have spoken about this here giving examples of saintly reactions to blasphemy). Today, children are being exposed to toxic falsehoods and messages within our schools, such as inappropriate sexual images and information. Negative emotional reactions to this are a good sign. As well as this, boys, more than girls, tend to think more objectively. They are generally more attached to the objective truth than girls. They care more about the objective truth than what people think. Psychological research also shows that boys are less conscientious and are less likely to follow instruction as, compared to girls, they do not have the same level of innate desire to please and follow authority. Boys are more concerned with defending the truth while women are ‘concerned more with persons than with ideas’. (Dr Willibald Demal, ‘Pastoral Psychology in Practice’). Hence, it is more likely that boys rather than girls will challenge authority, especially one who espouses an inconsistent, hypocritical or false message. There are many lies and much deceit and pretence in our school systems today. Boys are more likely to challenge the toxicity being spread in our schools than girls and occasionally they may express this by being very upset when asked to do something that they know is not right or which they have concerns about. Again, it is likely that this ‘sign of autism’ will be seen in boys than girls.
Sign: ‘Finding it hard to make friends or preferring to be on their own’
The Innate Difference: ‘A woman should not be judged for needing reassurance, just as a man should not be judged for needing to withdraw.’ (John Gray, ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus’)
Linked to points one and two above, men tend to be able to process and manage emotional reactions or difficulties on their own more so than women. Hence, they do not need the comfort of friends as much as women do. This is evident in social media where women tend to have more friends and where they tend to share more information than men. This desire amongst men for withdrawal from the world is also evident in early Christian monastic life which was inspired by Desert Fathers, such as St Anthony, and in later Christian monastic life by saints such as St Benedict and St Bernard, with these saints preferring to be on their own so they could be alone with God. Even modern popular psychology books recognise this obvious difference between men and women in this regard with John Gray in his famous book, ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus’, recognising the need for what he terms, the ‘man cave’. This ‘preferring to be on their own’ sign is more likely to be seen in boys than girls.
Sign: ‘Taking things very literally – for example, they may not understand phrases like “break a leg”’
The Innate Difference: As far as I am aware, there is no evidence that this sign is a predominantly male or female characteristic.
Boys will be boys!
So, out of the seven signs of autism in older children, six of these signs are more likely to be evident in boys. This is not because boys are more likely to be autistic but because boys are more likely to act like boys! It becomes clear that autism is a tool that is being used, consciously by some and unconsciously by most, to pathologise and discourage healthy and virtuous male behaviour. Psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and often parents, driven by twisted ‘gender’ ideology propaganda, are encouraging boys to be more like tame, compliant girls. Any boys who challenge inconsistent authority, who don’t base their opinions about reality on their own or other’s feelings, who value order and routine highly, who have keen interests in one or two particular fields, and who like time on their own, are in danger of being told that they have a disorder called ‘autism’, i.e. any boy that acts like a boy is in danger of being diagnosed with a psychiatric disease!
Either the writers that are quoted above are right about the differences between the sexes and we need to base our understanding of ordered and disordered behaviour on this OR we need to admit, despite what our eyes and common sense tell us, that we are more ‘enlightened’ today and that there are no real differences between the sexes.
Traditional or ‘Enlightened’ Views on Masculine Behaviour – A Saintly Example:
What theory we choose from above has particularly important implications for Catholics and Catholic teaching on academic pursuits. For example, if there are two theories on what constitutes disordered behaviour amongst men, what are we to make of the behaviour of one of the greatest of saints, the Angelic Doctor, St Thomas Aquinas?
‘The radicalism of youth is above all a sort of metaphysical hunger, a desire to get to the root of things.’ (Dr Wilibald Demal, ‘Pastoral Psychology in Practice’)
Described as an incredibly sensitive soul, St Thomas was someone who locked himself away from his family and friends in a monastery in his pursuit of truth. Nothing could hold him back from this pursuit of his beloved Truth. Fr Martindale, in his book, ‘What are Saints?’ describes the determined, detailed, ordered and zealous investigations into truth that were characteristic of St Thomas, ‘Nowhere in the world – no, not in Aristotle himself – will you find such ruthless distinction between speculation and proof, hypothesis and demonstration, such relentless logic as in St. Thomas, such laborious accumulation of all available fact, such shifting and reshifting and assessment of evidence, such absolute freedom from the scientific or philosophic fashion of the moment – for science has fads and fashions, slagons and cant-phrases too…Aquinas read everything, and forgot nothing; never mixed up the materials with which he was dealing, whether they concerned sheer history, or human psychology…or ascetism, or metaphysics, or revealed dogma and theology. Nowhere in his enormous work is the least dislocation to be found; nowhere a word used without its meaning having been previously made clear; nowhere a side-slip in an argument.’ St Thomas’ behaviour ticks many of the boxes for the ‘signs of autism’ listed above. He did not allow his own or other people’s feelings influence his reasoning and pursuit of truth, he enjoyed a strict routine as a monk in a monastery, he hated sin and vice and became very upset when his purity was threatened, and he spent most of his life happily alone in his monastic cell while he pursued one particular area, i.e. the study of God, with his whole mind, heart and soul. We are faced with a slight dilemma and questions arise: Is St Thomas a model for boys who want to commit themselves seriously to study as the Catholic Church has held him up to be? Or, in our ‘enlightened’ times, do we dare to look back at this great saint and call his behaviour a sign of autism and thus disordered?
The Ordered or Disordered Life of St Thomas?
The answer to this question has serious implications. It could mean that we hold up saints, such as St Thomas, as models for boys to follow, especially those boys interested in academic pursuits. Or we could see in his behaviour signs of a modern disorder that we have only recently become enlightened about and, if this is true, it would only be wise and prudent to discourage boys from following his example. To me, the answer is obvious. The second option, which is the current trend today, has led, and only leads, to disaster. Its fruits are transgenderism and societal disorder. If St Thomas was a young man in our modern society and he showed the same boyish enthusiasm for the truth as he did when he was young, what would happen to him? Would he be considered disordered and given treatment to realign his mind? How many sensitive young boys today, like St Thomas, who show a love for truth, honesty and accuracy and a hatred for falsehoods, lies and error are told that they have a disorder? The world rejects, ridicules and pathologises young men like St Thomas when the world actually needs more boys and men like St Thomas. It needs sensitive men who love truth, purity and order and who challenge and detest falsehoods, vice and disorder. It needs men to search for the truth and once they have discovered it, to tell this truth to the world no matter what labels the world tries to stick on them. The Catholic Church has always supported endeavours such as this. ‘The Catholic Church…has always upheld St Thomas in his insistence that the business of science, as well as philosophy, is to ascertain not what people think but what is the objective truth or fact.’ (‘Philosophy for the Layman’ – Fr Doolan). And thank God, the Catholic Church has done so as it helped St Thomas leave his wonderful gifts with us, such as the Summa Theologica. St John advised his brethren who followed Christ to ‘Wonder not, brethren, if the world hate you.’ (1 John 3:13). To those boys and young men who follow the example of St Thomas, it might be said, ‘Wonder not, boys, if the world labels you with a disorder’.
‘Dearly beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits if they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1)
So, I hope that it becomes clear from this analysis that autism is, at the very least, a very questionable diagnosis. It is a diagnosis that appears to pathologise healthy boyish behaviour and one that would paint one of the Church’s greatest minds and saints as disordered. No, let us put away this nonsense and retrospective application of these arrogant and twisted modern theories. Instead, let us pray to St Thomas that he intercedes for young boys, who like himself, are full of zeal for the truth. Let us pray that, St Thomas, who escaped from the clutches of family members who taught he was mad in his pursuit of his beloved Truth, helps these boys to avoid the snares of psychiatrists, psychologist, social workers, and perhaps their own parents, who tell them that they are disordered and in need of treatment or realignment. Let us not fall for the disordered and dangerous interpretations of behaviour that the world presents to us through false prophets, but let us critically ‘try’ their claims and let us look to saints, such as St Thomas, to guide our understanding of what normal and ordered behaviour should look like.
St Thomas, Angelic Doctor of the Church, pray for us!
There has been one prominent psychiatrist, Sami Timimi, who has pointed out how the diagnosis of autism is not a scientifically valid or clinically useful diagnosis. He explains how this diagnosis pathologises healthy childhood behaviour and he recommends avoiding sending your child to a child psychiatrist for ‘treatment’. However, while he rightly points out many of the errors of psychiatry and psychiatric diagnoses, as an atheist and fan of postmodern Marxist theories, his proposed solutions to psychological distress are flawed and dangerous as they fail to define accurately what human beings are and what the purpose of life is. In doing so, he fails to direct people to the Divine Physician who will cure them and ultimately reward them with perfect happiness if they follow His will.
Quotes from Bible taken from the Douay Rheims edition, available at: http://drbo.org/
The last article on ‘Sanctity and Sanity’ spoke about the various modern proposals that are offered as ways of alleviating psychological distress. These range from toxic legal and illegal drugs to dangerous new age practices. But there is one solution to psychological distress that is guaranteed to work. Now, this solution does not take away physical pain, nor does it take away suffering that life inevitably brings. It offers a cross to carry. This is its central symbol and message. To many, it does not appear to be a great solution yet its Founder asserts that it is the only path. This solution is the road to sanctity through the Catholic Faith. Many reject this offer and Him who offers it, because they see this offer as unhelpful for their happiness and sanity as Fr Edward Leen (‘Why the Cross?’) explains, ‘Men once killed the heir and thought that, by stifling his voice, the inheritance of earth would be theirs. In all ages the same crime is repeated, instigated by the same idle expectations. Men, again and again, seek to slay Christ, living in His Church, and indulge the hope that, once they have silenced Him, they will be left in tranquil enjoyment of the earth and the fullness thereof. They persist in regarding Christ, and Christ because of His Cross, as the great barrier to their happiness and well-being.’ Let us not despair at this offer. If it was solely the pain of the cross that was offered and promised to us, then we may have a right to feel aggrieved. Yet, Christ also promised that this burden, if willingly taken up, would be light. His life on earth and the examples of the saints only show us how infinitely good and generous God is in this supreme offer. ‘God is infinite goodness. Goodness seeks nothing except to give itself and to communicate the riches which it enjoys.’ (Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, ‘The Soul of the Apostolate’). God seeks to enrich us with His happiness. He implores us to take up His offer as He promises to satiate the desire for happiness in us.
‘These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and your joy may be filled,’ (John 15:11)
Man has an innate desire for happiness. ‘The craving for happiness comes from the bottom of the human nature.’ (Dom Anscar Vonier, ‘The Human Soul and Its Relations with Other Spirits’). This search for happiness is what drives man on. But where is this happiness to be found? When modern man views the saints, what does he see? Does he just see their poverty, their mortifications, their penances, their low worldly position, the eccentricities of their life story and character? Does he see, through worldly eyes, only the cross and the hardships of their exterior life? Or can he see deeper and see the beauty of their hearts and souls which were filled with joy, happiness and peace? By just looking at the exterior, through worldly eyes, does he mistakenly believe that a miserable earthly life is the deal that needs to be made with God for eternal happiness in the next? Surely this can not be the case and Fr Edward Leen (‘Why the Cross?’) highlights how this is not so, ‘To many, religion appears to demand actual misery as a condition of future well-being. This is a totally mistaken view of things…God does not demand unhappiness as the price of happiness. He plans happiness here as a prelude and foretaste of happiness hereafter.’ But where is the evidence that happiness in this life is given to those who follow the Catholic way? It is to be found in those who truly embraced the cross. It is to be found in the saints that followed Christ’s example.
‘When we die to something, something comes alive within us. If we die to self, charity comes alive; if we die to pride, service comes alive; if we die to lust, reverence for personality comes alive; if we die to anger, love comes alive.’ – Bishop Fulton Sheen, ‘Peace of Soul’
‘You don’t need no ticket, And you don’t pay no fee’ – Mike Scott (The Waterboys), ‘This is the Sea’
The opportunity for true happiness and joy is offered to us all. Saints have come from every conceivable walk of life. Sanctity is not solely for those born into ‘privileged’ circumstances. In God’s infinite mercy and goodness and through His gratuitous grace everyone gets a shot at sanctity. Those who have responded faithfully to these graces are the saints. They willingly took up their crosses and followed the path that Jesus had walked before them.
‘As Jesus practiced and taught, man’s true greatness and his highest liberty consists in his complete independence of what is created and in his utter subjection to the Uncreated. Detachment from creatures and loving submission to God alone give man the greatness and happiness he instinctively aspires to. Sanctity, or greatness of character – for they are actually the same thing – does not consist in anything external nor does it depend on it: it is to be found entirely in the interior. The presence of this world’s goods, good or evil fortune, easy circumstances or hardship, health or sickness, protection from or exposure to the unkindness of the elements, or the perverse wills of men, these things in themselves cannot take from or add to us.’ – Fr Edward Leen, ‘In the Likeness of Christ’
But yes, it must be admitted that the lives of many saints were often hard and yes, their sufferings could be immense. But can we see the peace and joy that flourished in their hearts and, from their hearts, out into the world? What a joy it must have been to behold the joy, happiness and peace that radiated from the likes of St Bernard or St Francis of Assisi or St Catherine of Sienna or St Francis de Sales! Thank God, they have left us glimpses of this in the words they have written and in the biographies written about them. They give us a glimmer of the happiness that comes when one completely surrenders one’s will to that of God’s. As Fr Leen (‘In the Likeness of Christ’) rhetorically asks, ‘Was there ever a man who had completely surrendered his will to the will of God who could not confess that he was supremely happy?’ These were men and women who truly tasted the Lord and saw how sweet He is (Psalms 33:9). These saints are not those who ‘dabble’ with the Catholic Faith, who are lukewarm and having got an incomplete and inaccurate sense of it, eventually drift away from it. If truly living the Catholic Faith brings peace, happiness and joy in this life then we should look to those who truly lived it to the fullest for guidance. As Fr D’Arcy, described by Henry Sire as ‘the philosopher of Christian love’, points out in his book, ‘Mirage and Truth’, ‘The argument of those who have given up religion should receive little attention, unless they can claim with truth that they tried and tested it to the full. If we appeal to those who have gone the full distance and not fallen out with a broken wind we shall find invariably that they have experienced an incomparable joy and enjoyed a fullness of being which can only be called divine.’
But if imitating Christ and the saints and following the Catholic Faith brings such joy why do we not see this in Irish society today? Ireland still has many people who profess to be Catholic. However, we all know Catholics who appear to be more miserable, irrational and more unbalanced than atheists we may know. Too often it is bitterness, harshness and resentment, rather than joy, love and peace, that exudes from them. The joy that Christ promised to His followers does not appear to be present in them and they provide no encouragement for taking up, what they propose to be, their beliefs. The young person who has been told that the Catholic Faith is the way to happiness may look away in disillusionment, if not disgust. Yet this is not the fault of the Catholic Faith but a problem in its application as Fr Leen (‘Why the Cross?’) explains, ‘If Christians in considerable numbers are not happy, it is not because they are followers of Jesus Christ, but because they follow Him very far off, very hesitatingly, and with many a start aside by the way. Happiness (not, however, unattended by suffering) is for those who ‘believe in’ Him, and of the many who subscribe to His teaching theoretically, there are relatively few that adhere to it practically.’ He explains how it is the saints who ‘understood Christianity to be what it actually is, a divinely fashioned instrument, made for the express purpose of transforming human nature. Christianity guarantees this result – this divine transformation of humanity – if it be applied to the work…It does not guarantee this result if inadequately used, or if ill used; and ill used it must be, if not wholly accepted or if badly understood’ and he points out how it was the saints, through their application of the graces they received, that ‘became human beings – more human than the others, and yet human beings who diffused rays of the divinity.’ These saints inspired people around them. People saw God in the saints. It is to their lives that we must look if we are going to be as happy and peaceful as we can be in this life. Society, especially in these times of mass apostasy from the Faith, may call this solution to psychological distress mad or foolish as they offer their modern ‘progressive’ and ‘enlightened’ approaches to distress, but as St Francis de Sales (‘The Devout Life’) said to those who received ridicule for aspiring to Christian perfection, if ‘the world considers us fools, let us consider it mad.’
‘The Christian idea of perfection, of completion, is, in part, in every humanism; the idea of self-surrender is in every mystic; the idea of love is in every human heart. And is there not in the various forms of socialism and communism, in the mutualism of the modern humanists, some hint of that idea which is in the Church herself, that union which transcends altruism and is so much more personal, more living, than any form of communism, that communion of saints which is also the communion of us ordinary sinners, for in it are included all those who own Christ for their head?’ I am the true vine, ye are the branches’ – it is a member of the mystical Body of Christ that the Christian sees the face of his birth, God’s ideal of what manner of man he should be.’ –Coudenhove, ‘Burden of Belief’
The solution to one’s psychological battles is not to be found in convoluted modern psychological theories. They are not to be found in non-Catholic mystics, gurus and shamans who make a living from Westerners who had the Truth at one stage and who appear desperate to find it again. They are not to be found in the falsehoods of psychiatry nor are they to be found in the deluded utopian visions of humanists, sociologists and communists. They are to be found in willingly picking up one’s cross and following the example of those happy holy Catholic souls that have come before us.
Now, the road to sanctity is narrow. Obstacles, temptations and sufferings will be encountered along the way. But there is a choice to be made. The grace that opens one’s eyes to the reality of this choice can come with its own challenges for those who have grown accustomed to their own way of viewing the world as Ida Friederike Coudenhove (‘The Burden of Belief’) outlines, ‘It is perfectly true…that on the purely natural plane, something, even a great deal, may be destroyed through the irruption of Grace as a consciously life-forming principle. It really is an irruption, where the individual has shut himself up in his right little, tight little world; it shatters the clear security he enjoys in the order of visible, calculable things, and exposes him to all the storms of the infinite. Now he is torn in two, and his way lies through night and conflict, through the struggles and tension of inward transformation, through the unspeakably long, dark agony of dying to be born again: everything that you have read behind the smiling countenance of the saints.’ This straight and narrow path, which involves inward transformation, is the only true way to happiness. It is a far more joyful route than the route that the world offers with its fleeting pleasures, vanities and vicious snares. This path of virtue is the route that makes the saints smile and which finds them radiating their happiness and joy to others. It is open to everyone.
Finally, let us respond to the prayer of St Paul who prays that ‘You may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth: To know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fulness of God.’ (Eph 3:18-19). Essentially, may you be a saint.
The following blog is the first of a two-piece article on the relationship between sanctity, i.e. a holy and virtuous life, and sanity, i.e. peace of soul. The first piece gives a brief overview of this relationship from a scientific, philosophical and historical perspective. The second piece will provide examples of people who have lived holy, peaceful and joyous lives.
Wickedness and Insanity – The Current State of Affairs:
‘Whereas the expert is tolerant of some fashion and prepared to take seriously the proposition that he is no more than the table he is looking at, he is unduly annoyed, if it be suggested that the word soul is in place in a discussion on psychology, that the science of ethics has a number of loose ends unless some kind of immortality be admitted, that a serious philosophy cannot avoid the conception of a divine being. He seems to feel that the game is not being played fairly, that he is being forced to present at some séance.’ – Fr M C D’Arcy, ‘Mirage and Truth’
Today, there are many different solutions proposed to solve mental health issues. Some of these include medication, exercise, dietary changes, slowing down/staying more present, getting out into nature and going to see a counsellor or psychotherapist. While all of these can be of some benefit, there is one sure fire method of maintaining one’s sanity in the crazy world we find ourselves in. This solution to psychological difficulties is rarely talked about in our modern times. This solution is living a holy and virtuous life. This effective solution for psychological issues has fallen out of favour in our world today as people grasp at more ‘progressive’ solutions, which condone or even encourage sinful lifestyles or encourage people to take prescription drugs that are often toxic and ineffective. Many professionals dismiss or only pay lip service to any talk of the soul or the importance of a moral life. Hence, many of our modern approaches are causing far more harm than good. One can find numerous professionals highlighting the problems with the psychotropic drugs people are being prescribed (see here: www.rxisk.org ; here: https://joannamoncrieff.com/; and here: https://davidhealy.org/psychiatry-gone-astray/ for just three examples). I have highlighted elsewhere how dangerous counselling can be if the counsellor is detached from the truth themselves.
‘It is his own perfection that man is instinctively reaching out after in all his restless strivings, or rather it is God, Who alone can complete and perfect man. We are unhappy because we are not perfect, and we are not perfect because we have not that plenitude of existence for which we crave and for which we have the capacity. Perfection means fullness of life, and fullness of life means complete happiness.’ – Fr Edward Leen, ‘In the Likeness of Christ’
Even when one is taking good care of one’s body, is getting out into nature often and is taking the time to slow and appreciate things around them, it does not keep one immune from psychological difficulties. While the body may be healthy, there is still lack of peace in the mind for many. There is a restlessness of the soul, which manifests itself in one’s mind and body. There is a desire for perfection that burns within us and which can spring into our consciousness as pain or bewilderment or disillusionment or deep sorrow that we cannot quite explain. Psychiatrists often explain this away as a chemical imbalance in the brain (with scant and poor evidence to back up this assertion) and sociologists explain this restlessness as a reaction to social inequality or social injustice (yet the socialist utopias they have dreamt up and forced on people have only turned into dystopian nightmares). These modern explanations for this restlessness lack grounding in evidence, logic and reason. The ‘old’ explanation for this restlessness is rarely talked about today. It is even more rarely accepted as the true explanation, i.e. one’s distress is caused by not living an ordered life in accordance with God’s will. Once this explanation is accepted as the reason for most psychological difficulties today, the solution becomes obvious – living an ordered life in accordance with God’s will, i.e. living a holy and virtuous life. (I say ‘most’ as I am not ruling out the fact that, in some cases, psychological agitation is caused by a physiological issue or the oppressive social circumstances one finds oneself in but, even with these factors at play, a strong Faith is still key to overcoming or managing them). A sincere desire to find and follow God’s will will bring one to the truth, i.e. the Catholic Faith. But some might ask, where is the evidence for the Catholic Faith contributing to psychological well-being?
Sanctity and Sanity – The Scientific Evidence:
‘No psychological theory which condones sin can ever be one that contributes to the mental health of individuals or a society‘ – Fr Ripperger, ‘Introduction to the Science of Mental Health’
I have highlighted elsewhere the empirical evidence for the claim that the Catholic Faith is of benefit to people’s psychological well-being. I have also spoken about how unholy practices are promoted by psychological professionals and how they misunderstand and misdiagnose emotional reactions due to their lack of understanding of what man is. A brief examination of the actual evidence for psychiatric interventions will lead one to see that these are not the solutions. A critical examination of socialist/communist experiments in the twentieth century clearly shows us that these are not the solution either. In 1878, in his encyclical, Quod Apostolici Muneris, Pope Leo XIII clearly foresaw why trying to remove mention of God and eternity from the public sphere would only lead to disaster in the twentieth century: ‘After being consigned to oblivion the rewards and punishments of a future and never-ending existence, the keen longing after happiness has been narrowed down to the range of the present life. With such doctrines spread far and wide, and such licence in thought and action, it is no wonder that men of the most lowly condition, heartsick of a humble home or poor workshop, should fix eager eyes on the abodes and fortunes of the wealthy; no wonder that tranquillity no longer prevails in public or private life, or that the human race has been hurried onward to well-nigh the verge of ruin.’ Applying a critical scientific mind to the claims and practices of psychiatry and socialism highlights how damaging these approaches are. But what does a brief examination of Church history teach us about psychological distress and its treatment? This is what I will explore next but before we do that, we must get a clear understanding of what we are actually talking about.
Sanctity and Sanity – The Philosophical Argument:
‘The least deviation from truth will be multiplied later a thousandfold.’ – Aristotle
To help someone with a psychological issue, one must understand what psychological order and psychological disorder look like. Now, in our modern times, because of psychological professional’s false understanding of man and his purpose in life and the embracing of these ideas by many of the Catholic hierarchy, confused and dangerous ideas about what order and disorder look like have become more and more prevalent in our society. Prior to the Vatican II council, and before the majority of Catholics accepted the errors of the world, most Catholics had a clear understanding of what order and disorder looked like. As Catholics had a clear understanding about what man was and what the purpose of life was, this understanding revolved around virtue and vice, holiness and sin, morality and immorality. It was rooted in the understanding that we are all children of God. Dom Anscar Vonier, in his book, ‘The Human Soul’, gives an example of what Catholics were taught to believe when it came to defining disorder. ‘Man belongs to God, to mankind, and to himself. He sins because he puts himself in opposition to God or to mankind, or to himself. Belonging to God, he owes to God duties of religion; they are the most necessary and the most sacred part of his moral life. He owes to God subjection of intellect and will. To neglect any of his duties towards God, or to rebel against God with intellect or will is a grievous disorder, because man has placed himself in opposition to the uncreated order and harmony. As a member of mankind, the human individual has towards mankind duties of love and justice. The violation of those duties puts him into opposition to the human order; he is in a state of disorder. Finally, man is not a simple entity; he is a composition of spirit and body; harmony and order for him are attained when the body obeys the spirit. If man were not a composite being, he could not sin against himself; there would be only the two preceding disorders; but being two in one, it will be disorder, if the lower part of his being is not subject to the higher part.’ Catholicism teaches that the body’s subjection to the soul, man fulfilling his duties to his fellow man, and man subjecting himself to God, are the foundation blocks for an ordered life. Deviation from any of these leads to disorder within man. This deviation also contributes to disorder in the world.As modern psychological theories either reject or ignore this Divine order and as more and more people embrace modern errors, it is no wonder that disorder both within man, e.g. increased rates of psychological distress, suicide, and in our society, e.g. homelessness, continues to grow.
Sanctity and Sanity – The Historical Evidence:
‘The Church…teaches us the laws that govern reality and the consequences of breaking them. This is what Our Lord meant when He said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). For moral freedom – like every other freedom – is limited by the order of the universe…we are free to reject the teachings of Christ in His Church, just as we are free to ignore or disobey the laws of engineering; but we will find that the rejection of her laws never leads us to the perfection of our personality, as we foolishly hoped. It results, instead, in a morbid affirmation of the ego, which can even lead to self-destruction.’ – Bishop Fulton Sheen, ‘Peace of Soul’
For hundreds of years, the majority of people in the West understood, followed and lived the teachings of the Catholic Church. By the grace of God, most people adhered to the natural and Divine laws. This led to peaceful minds and harmonious societies. People were nourished on the Divine Charity that emanated from the Church thus helping to make their burden light and the yoke sweet. As a result, psychological disorders were rare. Despite what modern scientists continuously tell us, we have not become better at identifying psychological disorders nor have we become more enlightened about or more effective in treating psychological distress. While being ignorant of the central cause and most effective cure for psychological distress, even atheist professor of psychiatry David Healy highlights how modern treatments for ‘schizophrenia’ are worse, in terms of outcome and life expectancy, than those provided 100 years ago and that current approaches are often directly responsible for creating chronic illness and drug dependence. Psychological disorder is on the increase mainly because we have become disconnected from the Faith. We are tumbling into ‘psychopathic messes’, as Bishop Fulton Sheen puts it, due to our abandonment of the Catholic Faith.
But what about all those claims that the Church, especially in the Middle Ages, treated everyone as if they were possessed and treated men and women suffering from psychological issues in cruel and degrading ways? Carol Robinson in her book, ‘My Life with Thomas Aquinas’, highlights how false these accusations are: ‘Most references to ‘medieval’ treatment of the insane in textbooks are wildly inaccurate. Snake pits were a device of the ancients; the chained inmates of Bedlam were a post-Reformation scandal; and diabolism as an all-pervasive explanation was Seventeenth Century. True history does honour to the Church. The admirable Gheel system of allowing freedom of the village to harmless lunatics was started by a cult to St Dymphna, and still persists. Medieval references to the care of the insane were simple and salutary, including such advice as playing music to cheer the melancholy. Above all what honours the Church is that mental disease never became a major problem while the world still lived within the framework which she made.’ Even those who are no friends of the Catholic Church and who promote falsehoods about progress in psychiatry admit that the Church was not involved in the abuses prevalent in Irish mental asylums during the 18th and 19th century as these were run by secular government-run institutions. A critical and accurate examination of history highlights how adherence to the Catholic Faith established order in society and order in the minds of its faithful. The Faith gave people what their soul needed. This is particularly true when comparing our modern psychological theories to the nourishment that was given to men’s minds and souls during the greatest age of the Church: ‘Instead of expanding men’s souls, as every branch of knowledge in the thirteenth century had the power to do, springing as each did from the source of all Truth, our intellectual offerings have contracted men’s minds and shrivelled their souls. Men have been directed to look, in our day, not out beyond themselves to the Immensity and wonder of God, but in upon the workings of their own minds. They have been taught a great deal of distasteful nonsense in the name of psychology and sociology, and treated to a number of myths in an unclean practice called psychiatry, first brewed for the world in the impure mind of an Austrian Jew named Freud.’ (Sister Catherine, ‘Our Glorious Popes’). The Catholic Faith gave man what he needed as the Church knows what man is, i.e. a combined body and soul designed to know, honour and love God.
Following the Evidence:
‘God has created man. He is therefore man’s beginning. He has created man for Himself. He is therefore man’s final goal. The proper order of the universe demands that men recognize these two facts and act accordingly.’ – Frs Farrell & Healy, ‘My Way of Life’
An objective scientific analysis of the claims and practices of psychiatry and psychology in our modern times brings one to the conclusion that they are causing more harm than good. An objective historical and scientific analysis of the relationship between psychological distress and the Catholic Faith brings one to the conclusion that the Faith is of huge benefit to people’s psychological well-being. Unlike the pseudoscientific claims of psychiatry and modern psychology, practicing the Catholic Faith can be truly said to be an effective evidence-based approach for psychological distress. This is a recognition of the facts. However as these are not Catholic times that we live in, it is highly unlikely that these facts will be recognised and acted upon by those who like to promote ‘evidence-based’ approaches to psychological issues. This is the sad situation we find ourselves in today, i.e. the very thing that would solve psychological issues, the Catholic Faith, has been pushed out of education, health and social policies and practice and any remaining remnants are being rapidly swept out too. Given this, instead of looking for the government or the health service to help us with psychological issues we must look elsewhere for solutions. No better place to look is the examples of saintly men and women thus inspiring us to bravely carry the crosses life inevitably throws at us. Hence, the second part of this article on ‘Sanctity and Sanity’ will look at these examples so one can live a holy and peaceful life and, ultimately, an eternally happy one.
This is a question that many people ask themselves. It is a subject that comes up with many individuals in counselling sessions. I have written elsewhere about ‘validating emotions’ but here I would like to talk more about a related topic, ‘sensitivity’. This is, excuse the pun, a sensitive and slightly nuanced topic so one must get back to fundamentals about human nature to understand it. A great place to start for understanding these fundamentals is Aristotle who some have referred to as ‘the father of psychology’ (1).
The Merits of Sensitivity:
Aristotle noted that those with a high degree of sensitivity also tended to be highly intelligent. To perceive, respond to and organise sensory information in the world in a quick and logical fashion requires heightened senses. In this life, we are reliant on our body, i.e. our sense organs, to gather sensory information from the world, while the intellect, i.e. a faculty of the soul, organises and makes sense of this information. Some people’s bodies are more responsive to information coming in through the senses. These people are more likely to feel bodily pain more intensely and be more susceptible to information overload. It is more likely that those who are highly sensitive will end up going to see a mental health professional. Now, while some of us may bemoan our sensitivity, being highly sensitive is not necessarily a bad thing. It is linked to higher intelligence and sensitivity also has some higher endorsements than this. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, had the most sensitive skin, as emphasised by many Doctors of the Church, e.g. St Bonaventure, and due to this, He was subject to the most painful and excruciating physical pain in His passion. Our Lord’s example shows us that having a high degree of sensitivity is not a bad thing. Many of the saints also had a high degree of sensitivity. This includes the likes of St Francis Xavier, who has been described as ‘vibrantly sensitive’ (2) and St Terese of Lisieux, who has been described as ‘super sensitive’ (3). As I have argued elsewhere, sanctity and insanity are incompatible, and the model of the saint should be our model for normal. Many saints were able to combine a high degree of sensitivity with a high degree of sanctity. The temptation today, when we feel overwhelmed by life, is to try to numb the sensitivity of our body. As Carol Robinson points out in ‘My Life with Thomas Aquinas’ (4), this can be particularly tempting for Catholics who know and love the Faith and see how much our societies are rejecting Christ and His teachings: ‘There is that wide gap between religion and daily life…which is creating a terrific tension in our lives. This is probably the root reason why lay Catholics have mental breakdowns. The more penetrating and sensitive they are the more sharply they feel the contrast between the nobility of their religion and the sordidness of the economic aspirations; between the intensity of their spiritual life and the dullness of mechanical work and play.’ The toxicity of the world can get in at individuals, especially sensitive ones. There are many substances which can take some of the sensitivity away, e.g. alcohol, drugs, psychiatric drugs/medications. These drugs can have a numbing effect on our senses. These can be useful at times to ‘take the edge off’ and help us to relax or unwind but these substances are not long-term solutions to our sensitivity. So, what is the solution? Well, before we look for solutions, we must make sure we have an accurate diagnosis. This is where the great Angelic Doctor of the Church and most sensitive of men, St Thomas Aquinas, whose ‘flesh, according to William of Tocco, was the delicate and sensitive flesh which Aristotle says is peculiar to those endowed with great power of intellect’ (5), comes in.
Understanding the Passions:
In St Thomas’ treatise on the passions in his masterpiece, ‘Summa Theologica’ (6), he provides the fundamental foundation for understanding and evaluating whether passions, i.e. the sensitive appetites, are right or wrong in their expression. In this treatise, St Thomas challenges the philosophy of both Cicero and the Stoics who saw the passions as ‘diseases’ and ‘disturbances’. St Thomas notes that their philosophy is built on a misunderstanding of passions. (Note: St Thomas says that ‘passions are not called “diseases” or “disturbances” of the soul, save when they are not controlled by reason.’ For further insight into St Thomas’ refutation of Cicero’s and the Stoic’s interpretation of the passions, see: http://summa-theologiae.org/question/14302.htm). While St Thomas acknowledges the dangers of the passions he also notes how, in and of themselves, the passions are neither good nor bad. He acknowledges how passions are bad if they are not in accordance with reason and good if they are in accordance with reason. For example, hating God, who is the supreme good, is against reason, while loving God is in accordance with reason. St Thomas acknowledges that passions can lead one astray. Reason must be their master. ‘The passions of the soul, in so far as they are contrary to the order of reason, incline us to sin: but in so far as they are controlled by reason, they pertain to virtue.’ He goes on further to show how passions that are controlled by reason and rejoice in the things of God are a sign of moral perfection. ‘Just as it is better that man should both will good and do it in his external act; so also does it belong to the perfection of moral good, that man should be moved unto good, not only in respect of his will, but also in respect of his sensitive appetite; according to Ps. 83:3: “My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God”: where by “heart” we are to understand the intellectual appetite, and by “flesh” the sensitive appetite.’
Many examples of this perfection of moral good are apparent in the lives of the saints and holy men. For example, St John Vianney sorrowed at offences against God: ‘He was a saint, that is to say, he loved God with all his soul, and they scarcely told him of anything except offences committed against God. This lacerated his heart, and in his most intimate conversations he could not repress the grief it caused him. ‘Ah! It is here one must come, to know all the harm that sin of Adam has done to us’, he repeated time after time. ‘My God!’, he exclaimed one day, ‘how weary I am of sinners! When shall I be with saints!’ And another day: ‘The good God is as much sinned against, that one is almost tempted to ask for the end of the world. If there were not, here and there, some beautiful souls to repose the heart, and solace the eyes for all the evil that one sees and hears, we could not tolerate each other in this life.’ While sorrowing at the offences against God, he rejoiced in the honour given to Him: ‘When he preached from the altar, his eyes never rested on the Tabernacle without his being seized with a kind of breathless transport. He never spoke of the Mass without being moved to tears ‘Oh, my friend,’ he said one day to a seminarist, who was speaking of the grandeur of the priesthood, ‘when I carry the Blessed Sacrament to the right, It remains there, I carry it to the left and it remains there also. One will never understand the happiness there is in saying Mass until one is in heaven.’ (7).
Another remarkable saint, St Dominic, showed how his heart and his flesh grieved at offences against God: ‘Day and night he was in the church, praying as it were without ceasing, God gave him the grace to weep for sinners and for the afflicted; he bore their sorrows in an inner sanctuary of holy compassion, and so this loving compassion which pressed on his heart flowed out and escaped in tears. It was his custom to spend the night in prayer, and to speak to God with his door shut. But often there might be heard the voice of his groans and sighs, which burst from him against his will.’ (8).
The following piece on the saintly Cardinal Merry del Val, Secretary of State to St Pius X, shows how sensitive a truly pious and God loving soul reacts to offences against God: ‘Free at last from diplomacy and politics, in his solitary and silent home of Santa Marta, he could give full freedom to the longings of his holy soul: to that delicate and sensitive piety which made him suffer when he saw God’s law broken. To hear any profane language on the street used to horrify him, and even upset him physically. Once, in a country town, he saw some porters loading sacks of grain on to a waggon; one of these was torn, so that the contents ran out on to the road; the porter broke out into the vilest language, even in the presence of some boys. The Cardinal was affected for the whole day, and in the evening, in addition to his usual visit to the Blessed Sacrament, he made another and a long one. Going out for a walk one day, he met a carriage-driver in the piazza, who was uttering blasphemous words against Our Lady. He went up to him, reproved him, and, taking his number, said that he would report him, all the more that the offence was punishable by law; he was only prevented from so doing by the man’s entreaties and promises. The same delicate sensitiveness made him feel for dumb animals, which he could not bear to see ill-treated, and more than once he intervened to hinder such treatment, or cause it to cease.’ (9). These passages illustrate how great men in the Church were highly sensitive. They also show how their hearts and flesh rejoiced in the goodness of Our Lord and sorrowed at offences against Him and His creatures.
An Objective Standard:
So, where does this leave us in relation to evaluating whether somebody is ‘overly sensitive’? First, we must recognise that to judge whether somebody is ‘overly sensitive’ we require examples and an objective and rational standard to base this off. Where do we find these examples? There is no better place to look to than the examples of Our Lord and His saints. These provide Divine and holy examples of sensitive reactions. They show us how to direct and manage our sensitivity. Where do we find an objective and rational standard to evaluate sensitivity? For those who wish to have a sound scientific footing for understanding sensitivity and the passions, there is no better place to look than St Thomas Aquinas.
The Solution to this Sensitive Topic:
If mental health professionals are to help people cope with life, they must understand what a human being is and what an ordered life looks like. To define ‘disorder’ one must know what order looks like first. Our Lord provides the Divine example of a perfectly ordered life and His saints provide holy examples for us to intimate. St Thomas provides the philosophical foundation for the understanding of psychological order. Since Protestants detached themselves from the infallible guide that is the Catholic Church in the 16th century and since scholastic philosophy, e.g. St Thomas, has been ridiculed and rejected by many in the 19th and 20th century, the mental health ‘experts’, i.e. psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists, have come up with their own subjective understandings of what a disorder is. In our modern times, there is much more understanding of the neurology of the brain and increased awareness of the biological processes operating throughout our body that affect our senses than there was during the times of St Thomas. For example, we know more about the essential vitamins and minerals that are necessary for the healthy functioning of the senses. However, more importantly at a deeper philosophical and theological level, there is less understanding about what one should do with one’s sensitivity. There is even less understanding about one should be sensitive to. We live in a time where we can fix many sensory issues or problems that we may have, e.g. glasses for eyes, hearing aids for ears, yet, many of us have no idea of how we should use the senses God has given us. Today’s apparent ‘experts’ on these matters seem even less enlightened than the average citizen with many encouraging or condoning the use of the senses in activities that are offensive to God, e.g. abortion, contraception, fornication, homosexual behaviour, etc. If placating guilty consciences does not work, oftentimes, the reaction of mental health professionals and apparent mental health ‘experts’ to particularly sensitive individuals is to sedate and numb them with drugs.
It is no wonder that sensitive individuals, who fail to find answers from modern mental health professionals/experts, struggle to understand and cope with their sensitivity and engage in various means to numb their sensitivity, e.g. drink, drugs, or try get a hold of them of their sensitivity, e.g. New Age practices, yoga, mindfulness, or try to satisfy their sensitive appetites, e.g. fornication, food, sentimental religious practices such as the Charismatic/Pentecostal movements. None of these will provide the answers people are looking for. The solution to one’s sensitivity is not a bemoaning of one’s sensitivity as you try to numb it or a glorification of one’s sensitivity as you try to feed its insatiable appetite. Nor is it a flight to New Age gurus who pose as peaceful enlightened beings. It is a return to what St Thomas and the Catholic Faith teaches us. It is a mastering of one’s sensitivity and a habitual training of one’s passions so that they rejoice in that which is virtuous and true and sorrow over vice and toxic falsehoods. There are natural methods, e.g. fasting, exercise, penances, that help one to master one’s sensitivity. All these efforts must be directed by love of God, who is Truth, Goodness and Beauty Himself. Ultimately, grace, through the Holy Ghost, is the most powerful force for ordering oneself and one’s sensitivity in the right manner so that, through this ordering, one can experience the spirit of liberty that St Paul speaks about (‘Now the Lord is a Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty’ – 2 Corinthians 3:17) and that Our Lord promises to those who follow Him (‘And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ – John 8:32).
So for 2020, may God bless you in your efforts to find peace, freedom and happiness. May He take a hold of your heart as well as your flesh and may your heart and flesh both rejoice in Him.
‘When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse Out of the corner of my eye I turned to look but it was gone I cannot put my finger on it now The child is grown The dream is gone And I have become Comfortably numb.’
The song, ‘Comfortably Numb’ by Pink Floyd ends with the lines above. Here, the artist sings about how, during his childhood, he caught a glimpse of something better than the life he currently lives. Due to his life experiences, he has become cynical, disillusioned and in the end, ‘comfortably numb’. It is obvious from this song that this ‘comfortably numb’ feeling is not a peaceful feeling of contentment but a feeling of bitter resignation. This feeling captures much of what has happened to people or is happening to young people, in our society today. Many of these people had or have a burning desire to live life to its fullest, i.e. they ‘caught a fleeting glimpse’ of the potential in life, but due to bitter life experiences they have become or are becoming disillusioned and fed up with talk about goodness, truth or high ideals, i.e. ‘the dream is gone’. So how do we maintain or reawaken this idealism of youth so that we can catch a glimpse of the true reality of life?
Re-inspiring Idealism in People’s Hearts
When people have become ‘comfortably numb’, something special needs to happen to shake them out of this. This shaking can sometimes come in the form of pleasurable life events, e.g. falling in love, landing the job they always wanted, travelling to new and exotic places. These events can awaken in people that inner idealistic teenager as one’s eyes are briefly opened to the beauty in life and hope emerges once again. However, as these feelings are often transitory, e.g. the initial crush fades, married life becomes difficult, the new job gets tiresome, travelling becomes burdensome, this awakening is not sustained and often people end up back in their ‘comfortably numb’ state. There can follow an increased cynicism as the person notes that the very thing that promised the fulfilment of happiness, i.e. the husband or wife, the new job, the exotic holiday, does not live up to the expectation and fails to satisfy the inner craving for happiness. They all fall short of what one expected or hoped for. Martin Mosebach (‘The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy‘) also points out the various other avenues idealists go down on their quests for happiness, but which eventually lead to unhappiness and disillusionment, ‘Vegetarianism, cult of nudity, feminism, neo-paganism, pseudo-Indian meditation, gay liberation, ubiquitous guitar-strumming. Basically, all these movements can be traced back to the burning idealism of good people who were led astray and betrayed.’ With so many disappointments and so many people and things falling short of the mark, cynicism about the possibility of a happy and joyous life and the feeling that you have been betrayed can seem like reasonable responses. Now, this reaction is not all bad. While indifferentism sometimes creeps in with setbacks and disappointments, cynicism can be a more positive reaction as it shows some sign that the person may, at least, still care, as Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary, points out in his insightful book, ‘The Spirit of the Legion of Mary‘, ‘When you find people cynical do not be over-hasty to condemn them. Rather reason out the ‘Why’. The answer to that ‘Why’ may form a condemnation of ourselves. For cynicism is not altogether an unworthy product. In its essence it is disgust, despair, disillusionment. Any idealist who is disappointed may become a cynic, but the idealism has not been destroyed. It is merely submerged. It can be brought to light again.’ This disappointed idealist ‘cannot put [his] finger on’ why he has become so cynical but Frank Duff realised that, with a little patience and guidance, the light, i.e. the ‘why’, could emerge from the darkness. So how can this idealism, i.e. this striving and longing for something better, ‘be brought to light again’ and maintained?
Presentation ofThe Truth
‘Many are the misguided men who in their revolt against the Christian ideal of human character and the Christian rule of life, are not in revolt against that ideal itself, but what they conceive it to be. It is not to say how far Christian themselves are responsible for this state of affairs. Not only inadequacy in the practice of Christianity, but also a faulty presentation of its values, is apt to rouse antagonism in the sincere and the reflective. The Christian theory of life is so coherent, so logical, so simple yet so mysterious, so accommodated to the average man as well as to the most highly gifted, and finally so soul-satisfying that, when adequately presented it must readily recommend itself to all men of sincerity and good will.’ – Fr Edward Leen, ‘Why the Cross?‘
If the truth is to re-ignite the slumbering idealists, it must be presented clearly and convincingly. It must not be watered down to appeal to the masses. It must be presented in a way that inspires and lifts as Frank Duff outlines, ‘It would be a tragic thing if, in any place, the actions of its members toned down the Church to such an extent that men looking at it could discern nothing of the characteristics of Christ; nothing virile, appealing, inspiring, conquering, grand; nothing but a slave of its environment, something that has made terms with the world.’ Those who don’t compromise, who speak clearly and precisely, and who don’t filter their message to appeal to modern or worldly eyes and ears will often be seen as naïve ‘idealists’ or mad men by the world. However, these speakers of unfiltered truth need to remember that many great people, such as St John Bosco, were labelled ‘idealists’ who never gave up, ‘Many hoary sinners were won by that lovable and persistent kindness, by that understanding of human weakness and belief that in the most unpromising characters there was always, somewhere, a vein of good.’ (F.A. Forbes, ‘St John Bosco, Seeker of Souls’).
Those who speak the truth must also remember the call from Christ to perfection as Fr Edward Leen points out, ‘Jesus was a lofty idealist as regards the destiny towards which He directed the aspirations of His fellows. His ambitions for them knew no limits short of the divine. He would make them sons of God and co-heirs with Himself (Rom 8:17). Being a lofty idealist, He was at the same time, as is usually the case, an intense realist…The obstacles that impede the soul’s vision of the Divine Beauty are the real source of human misery, for they are the one bar to human contentment. The clearing away of these obstacles involves toil and hardship and pain, but this pain prepares the way for peace and joy and contentment.’ This idealism is based on reality. It is not sugar coated and the reality of the battle ahead is clearly outlined. This intense realism is what appeals to the highest aspirations of the human soul as Fr Doolan (‘Philosophy for the Layman‘) outlines, ‘There is a spiritual craving and energy in humanity as such, from which springs ‘longings, strivings, yearnings’ for things far beyond the experience of the senses or the desires of sensuality. These strivings denote a certain idealism. It is expressed in the art of human life itself, but most notably in our poetry and painting and music and soaring architecture. Things like truth and goodness and beauty, and glory and fame, do mean something to men, and give rise to high aspirings.’ This appealing to the highest aspirations of man is also essential for the youth as Brother Willibald Demal (‘Pastoral Psychology in Practice’) notes, ‘Pure love must be the ideal of the youth’ and ‘The urge to honour and self-esteem awakens in the youth his fighting spirit, his urge to heroism; while his love impulses awaken his enthusiasm for everything noble, beautiful, and good, i.e. awakens his idealism.’ The youth need a challenge and one that will require the best of themselves. The words of Frank Duff speaking to his legionnaires, also appeal to those who desire a noble quest to take on, ‘You must outlive the world, outpace it, outlast it, outlove it, in everything – in science, in art, in business, in sport, in achievement of every kind.’
Who is Appealing to Our Idealism Today?
The Catholic Faith, due to how it is presented to the world today, has lost many idealists to other causes that speak to them more convincingly and appeal more strongly to the noblest of their aspirations. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens (once referred to as ‘The Four Horsemen’) appealed to young idealists due to their conviction and eloquence, while also inspiring in idealists the belief that they were part of a noble battle against falsehoods and error. The truth, i.e. the Catholic Faith, has failed to convince people, mainly because these people, usually the young, were not presented with the Faith clearly and/or it was presented to them by unholy pragmatists who tried to have two masters, rather than saintly idealists, such as St John Bosco, who knew, loved and served only one Master. St John Bosco represented, in his words and deeds, more than ‘a fleeting glimpse’ of the Catholic Faith thus helping to prevent many souls becoming ‘comfortably numb’.
‘So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.‘ (Matthew 5:16)
To prevent cynicism, to awaken idealism in cynics, and to sustain this awakening, there is only one ultimate solution. It is the presentation of the Truth in all its glory and splendour. This is what must happen in our world today. It will take humility, hard graft and study, sacrifice, plain speaking and most importantly, a display of true Christian charity, if people are to awaken in others a love of Truth Himself and a fervent hope that combats despair and disillusionment. Charity, radiating in and out from a saintly soul, has a deep impact on the one it is shines on, as Abbot Jean-Baptiste Chautard outlines in his inspiring book, ‘Soul of the Apostolate’, ‘The sinner has caught a glimpse of another kind of love, one that is pure, ardent, and noble, and he has said to himself: ‘So it is possible, after all, to love, on this earth, with a love that transcends the love of creatures!’. The sinner has put his finger on the source of Love itself, the dream or yearning of the soul turns out to him to be a reality, and instead of becoming comfortably numb the inspired soul strives towards Christian perfection. This is the best way to combat disillusionment and despair. Hopefully, young idealists and those cynics who were former idealists will then realise, like Chesterton, that ‘The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.’
So, let us not settle for being ‘comfortably numb’. Let us aspire to more. Let us take a closer look at the fleeting glimpses of goodness that we saw in the Catholic Faith and those that truly practiced it. Let us examine and consider the pure love we saw ‘out of the corner of [our eyes]’. Then, let us willingly take up our cross, understand the battle ahead of us, keep our eyes focused on Heaven, and let us realise that the truth is far sweeter and more liberating than any dream.