The Right Use of Emotion


Education, which is worthy of the name, must expand all the human faculties with all their activities and properties…They must be such as will improve the memory, discipline the understanding, refine the feelings, cultivate the taste, form the manners.’
– Fr R J Meyer, ‘Science of the Saints’ (1)

The trials and difficulties of life hit our emotions hard at times. The violent peaks and troughs of our emotions can sometimes leave us feeling like we have just been on a rollercoaster ride.  We can be desperate to find some relief from our unruly passions. There are many ways that we try to ‘refine these feelings’. We may go to a doctor to help us find some way of balancing or controlling our emotions.  Often, we are given drugs that simply numb our sensitivity. For some, this appears to dull their conscience enough to keep them circling around on the rat wheel. For others, these drugs only cause agitation in their bodies, e.g., increased anxiety, with these toxic drugs often numbing them enough so that they can carry out crimes of the most disturbing and violent nature, e.g., homicidal and suicidal acts or tendencies.

At other times, we try to ‘discipline the understanding’ to try to change our emotional reactions.  We may go down the psychotherapeutic or counselling route in our efforts to help us to understand or control our emotions.  Depending on what psychotherapy we go to, the importance of emotions may be overrated, e.g., emotionally focused therapy, or underrated, e.g., rational emotive behaviour therapy. Whatever modern treatment we engage in there is no adequate solution to the problem of these pesky, volatile emotions.  Some short-term relief can be given by professionals who tell people that society and its traditional ‘prejudicies’, e.g., ‘homophobia’, sexism, are the cause of their niggling consciences, thus placating their consciences for a brief period. Yet, most of us realise, even if we only feel it dimly at times, that these modern approaches do not provide us with the solutions we crave, i.e., the peacefulness and happiness the depths of our souls desire. Soon enough, we get sick of being drugged up and numbed and that guilt or anxiety that we taught we could rationalise away soon comes back to haunt us. So, what to do about those emotions which won’t leave us at peace? 

‘Every theory which discredits the true nature of man or denies the need of a Divine Remedy is only intensifying the disease which it attempts to cure.  The psychopathic messes into which many tumble are due either to a want of a knowledge of human nature or to a want of a genuine religion.’ – Bishop Fulton Sheen (‘Peace of Soul’) (2)

Before we set out to answer this question, we must ground ourselves in reality. Various therapists and professionals will have different theories on emotion based on their beliefs about reality. In the rationalist world of today, professionals will try to come up with theories about emotion without recourse to the faith and, therefore, without an understanding of the reality of what man is, i.e., a body and soul created by God, destined for either eternal happiness or eternal misery. Without this understanding they fail to see the part that emotions play in this journey. As they do not have a clear understanding themselves of man’s ultimate destiny they only confuse their clients more and more. As Bishop Fulton Sheen notes, they only intensify the disease that they are seeking to cure. So, if the solution to getting a handle on our emotions is not to be found amidst the various branches of modern psychotherapy, where, then, can we receive the education we must desperately need to help us to find peace?

‘[Rationalists] see the world around them swayed by emotional propaganda – they have learned from tradition that youth is sentimental – and they conclude that the best thing they can do is to fortify the minds of young people against emotion. My own experience as a teacher tells an opposite tale. For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is not infallible protection against a soft head.’ – C S Lewis (‘The Abolition of Man’) (3)

There is no getting away from emotions. C S Lewis was right in outlining how the right defence against false sentiments is to ‘not to fortify the minds of young people against emotion’ but to ‘inculcate just sentiments’ into starving souls. In giving man both a body and a soul, God gave man a sensitive nature. Thus, we are bound by this sensitive nature. Today, like the times of C S Lewis, people are being swayed and manipulated by emotional propaganda. Yet, the solution remains the same – the inculcation or cultivation of just sentiments rather than the rejection or misunderstanding of sentiment and man’s sensitivity. 

In Defence of Sensitivity

Some of us have a more sensitive nature than others.  This is obvious from experience. Now, whether or not someone is more or less sensitive has no merit, in and of itself. Merit is bestowed based on how we use the gifts that God has given us.  Yet, in this rationalist and materialist age where normality is largely seen as clustering around the average results on some psychometric test developed by rationalist atheists and where any display of strong emotion is often ridiculed or scorned, there is a need to defend man’s innate sensitivity. The reason for this scorning of our sensitive nature appears to be due to the erratic and irrational behaviour we constantly see around us today. It also stems from our own frustrated inability to get a handle on our sensitive nature.  As a result, there is a temptation to mock our sensitive nature or try to rid ourselves of it. However, to control our sensitivity, the solution is not to reject sensitivity or crush it into oblivion. Instead, we must try to properly understand it and the part it plays in helping us toward peace and happiness.

Sensitive Men 

From a philosophical point of view, there appears to be a strong relationship between intellectual ability and sensitivity. For example, speaking of St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest Doctor of the Church, Jacques Maritain notes that ‘his flesh…was the delicate and sensitive flesh which Aristotle says is peculiar to those endowed with great power of intellect’ and ‘he was so sensitive that the least bodily hurt gave him exquisite pain.’ (4). St. Thomas is an example of a sensitive man who used his sensitivity to give glory and honour to God.  However, the greatest example of how we should view sensitivity is given to us by God Himself. By being clothed in our human flesh when God became man Our Lord gives us insight into how we should view sensitivity. When He took on our sensitive nature, His sensitivity was far greater than that of any man, as Fr Faber, in his excellent book, ‘Bethlehem’ (5) explains: ‘He chose such a temperament of Body as should be able to endure the floods of glory he would pour into it. He chose one whose extreme sensitiveness might almost aid, rather than impede, the delicate operations of his magnificent Soul. He chose one whose beautiful texture caused it to be hereafter such an instrument of suffering as has never existed elsewhere amid all the immense capabilities of created life.’ AND ‘The tenderness of his Sacred Heart was perfect, in the fullest sense of the word. No one had ever been gifted with affections like his. There has never been a sensitiveness which could be thought of alongside of his. In their strength, in their depth, in their fidelity, in their delicacy, never had human affections been so divinely impassioned.’ These facts about one of the greatest saints and, more importantly, God Himself should help us to see that sensitivity, in and of itself, should not be scorned or ridiculed. While none of us are born with a sensitivity as sensitive as Our Lord’s and only some of us approach the sensitivity of St. Thomas, all of us are born with the ability to feel and experience sensations. So, what use should we make of our sensitivity? 

‘When God’s grace, which is always given in answer to prayer, imparts the power to bring home to oneself what Jesus felt, what thoughts traversed His mind, what emotions stirred His soul – in a word, when it is given one to realise in some measure how He humanly reacted to all the circumstances of His life, then one begins to walk with assured step on the road that leads to holiness.’ – Fr Edward Leen (‘In The Likeness of Christ’) (6)

Above, Fr Edward Leen gives us a short description of what effects contemplation on the sensations and emotions Our Lord experienced while in this world should have on us.  Fr Leen continues: ‘Strong in His resolve to tread the path marked out for Him by Divine Providence, He did not use His life, His energies or His talents to minister to His own satisfaction, or to gratify His egoism. Though his sensitive nature was wounded through and through by hostility, unkindness, ingratitude, and want of understanding, He allowed nothing that He suffered from others to modify in the least the perfection of His attitude towards them.  At all times He bore Himself with the same calm, unchanging, unbroken, undeviating fortitude.  He wasted no valuable time in repining or in self-pity; He wasted no energy in rebellion against circumstances; and He did not passively acquiesce to the inevitable with a gesture of indifference or despair. The whole attention of His great Soul was concentrated on the doing of the task that the occasion offered, never once reflecting on what it should mean to Himself in the eyes of men, satisfied that He, in the doing of it, should be approved of in the sight of God.’ (my emphasis). While we will never experience or feel, to the same extent, the pain inflicted on the gentle and sensitive Body of Our Lord, our sensitive nature will inevitably be wounded in this life. Unlike Him, we will, at times, respond to this wounding of our sensitive nature with self-pity and despair.  Due to Original Sin, our sensitive nature will rebel against the dictates of reason and faith. We can then start to begin to curse the feebleness and disobedience of our rebellious body.  We want to be rid of all emotion and sensation and we can often drown ourselves in drink or drugs to try to do so. At other times, we may try to combat life in a stoic way pretending that we are above and unaffected by the sways of emotion. Alternatively, we can contemplate Him Who, while not having any rebellious or disordered emotions, still felt the stirring of emotions within His soul.

The hearts of Jesus and Mary and Joseph were not insensible to any legitimate human feeling or emotion.’ – Fr Leen (‘In The Likeness of Christ’)

Just like Our Lord, the example of the Holy Family teaches us that the Christian life is not about ridding oneself of one’s feelings. The Catholic Faith teaches us to contemplate on and pray about the joys and sorrows of Our Lady and St. Joseph. These devotions give us a better understanding of the Christian way and the Life of Our Lord. While under the care of St. Joseph and Our Lady, Our Lord felt many emotions, Our Lord felt joy, Our Lord cried, Our Lord shivered, Our Lord suffered. When He had grown to Manhood, emotions, felt through His exquisitely sensitive Heart and Body, did not cease. He became intimately involved in the suffering of man and suffered out of love for us. In a world which often promotes the idea of stoic detachment from our own or our neighbour’s suffering Our Lord’s example shows how running away from suffering in this life is not an option. He took on our sensitive nature, not so we could escape from the suffering our sensitive nature inevitably causes us in this life, but so we would know how to use this sensitivity in the right way.

‘[The Church] does not deny emotions, any more than it denies hunger; the Church only asks that, when a man sits at table, he shall not eat like a pig.’ – Bishop Fulton Sheen (‘Peace of Soul’)

Christ does not expect us to be emotionless or stoic. His life in this world is proof of this. However, He does ask us, through His perfect example, to strive to do the will of God. To do this, He asks us to order our passions accordingly so we do not eat like pigs.  He tells us not to allow our unruly passions to make us beastlike. He also shows us that we should not stoically pretend that we are purely spiritual beings who are immune from the sensations we experience in this life. We are men and we cannot escape this reality. Our Lord solely asks us to be virtuous men who strive manfully to do the will of God. He shows us how to do so. He leads the way in showing us how to use our sensitive nature. This nature God has given us can be an ally in helping us to imitate Him or we can use our sensitivity while working toward our own demise. As the great theologian of the 20th century, Garrigou-Lagrange, notes: ‘Whereas in the souls of saints, of missioners, and of martyrs, a perfectly ordered passion is a power that manifests and serves the love of God and neighbour; in the soul of a criminal, it manifests and serves unbridled self-love.’ (7)

Conclusion:

‘St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.’ – C S Lewis (‘The Abolition of Man’)

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.’ – St Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica, FS, Q24, Art. 3, A[3]) (8)

Trying to numb our emotions, following the false stoic way, allowing our passions to have complete free reign over us, or using our sensitive nature to do bad are not the answers.  Our emotions must be directed by us so that eventually they can aid rather than hinder us in our quest for peace and happiness. As St. Augustine and Aristotle note, we must train our emotions to react in the right way. Following on from this, St Thomas notes that it is good and a sign of perfection if our emotions help us do good.  It is a sign that we are beginning to imitate Christ, Who made perfect use of His sensitive nature in carrying out the will of God. It is a sign of entry into the illuminative way as described by Archbishop Goodier: ‘One learns to see things as God sees them, to feel about things as God feels about them, and to judge life accordingly.’ (9) (my emphasis)

Where Emotional Satisfaction is Found

When we go to Holy Communion, we feel something extraordinary, a well-being which runs through the whole body from head to foot. What is this well-being? It is our Lord, who imparts himself to every part of our body, making it thrill with joy. We are compelled to say, like St. John, It is the Lord! Those who feel nothing at all are much to be pitied! When you have had the happiness of receiving the good God, you feel for some time a gladness, a balm in your heart…Pure souls are always like that; and this union is their strength and happiness.’ – St. John Vianney (10) (my emphasis)

While our emotions are rebellious at times and not always under our control, through prayer and penance and ultimately by the grace of God, we can gain much mastery over them (7). It is through the Faith, the Sacraments, and especially the Holy Eucharist, where the good God imparts the most joy to those souls who have devoutly prepared themselves for Him. How sad it is for those who do not know or feel this! By giving us His body and blood as our strength and happiness He gives us strength so our emotions begin to serve us as allies, rather than opponents, in our efforts to do good. This is the right use of emotion. It is the Catholic response. It is the only response that gives true joy to mind, body, and soul and it is the only one that will give us the strength to carry the crosses life brings without trying to numb ourselves to or run from the pain of it all.    

Finally, may God grant us the grace to be able to gain mastery over our rebellious nature and, for the fight we put up, may our sensitive nature be rewarded with eternal balm in our hearts .

God bless

Footnotes and references:

  1. Fr Meyer, R. J. (1906). Science of the Saints. St. Louis: B. Herder Books. Available here: https://archive.org/details/scienceofsaints01meyeuoft/page/n5/mode/2up
  2. Bishop Sheen, F. S. (1949). Peace of Soul. New York: Whittlesey House. Preview available here: https://archive.org/details/peaceofsoul0000shee/mode/2up
  3. Available here: https://archive.org/details/TheAbolitionOfMan_229/mode/2up
  4. Maritain, J. (1947). St Thomas Aquinas. London: The Catholic Book Club.
  5. Fr Faber, F. (published, 1955). Bethlehem. Baltimore: John Murphy Co.
  6. Extended quote: ‘When God’s grace, which is always given in answer to prayer, imparts the power to bring home to oneself what Jesus felt, what thoughts traversed His mind, what emotions stirred His soul – in a word, when it is given one to realise in some measure how He humanly reacted to all the circumstances of His life, then one begins to walk with assured step on the road that leads to holiness.  This study reveals a wonderful similarity and a still more striking dissimilarity between Him and ourselves.  We discover with delight that He was affected by things much in the same way as we ourselves are. He was hurt by misunderstanding; He was wounded by insult; he delighted in candour and innocence; He was revolted by hypocrisy; He was won by straightforwardness and simplicity; He hated lying and irreverence; He was fearless in the vindication of truth; His heart was deeply touched by those who showed faith and confidence in Him, and finally, He gave Himself without reserve to those who yielded Him their loyalty and their affection.  But just as it dawns on us that in many things our experiences are very like what His must have been, and we discover, too, a profound contrast Him and us.  There is a marked difference presented between the perfection of the manner in which He controlled the stirring of His feelings and guided their expression, and the imperfection and weakness exhibited by us at each moment in the direction of our thoughts, our feelings and our activities, i.e. in the direction of our whole internal and external life. We see that His life was perfectly human and still humanly perfect: and we are obliged to confess that all the movements of our being, feelings, emotions, judgements, speech, attitude of mind and body, though bearing the stamp of humanity, are far short of the human perfection discernible in everything pertaining to the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord.  The realisation of this contrast causes in us a pain and a sorrow which partakes more of the nature of love than grief…The study of Him excites in us the desire to become like Him as Man. And then when our life and our acts bear a resemblance to those of Jesus, God comes and pours His Divinity into our souls in abundance, lavishes on them the gifts of His Grace, and gradually breaking down the barriers that exist between creature and Creator, initiates souls into the happiness that accompanies union with the Divinity.  Great happiness results from this union, even in the imperfect mode of it that belongs to the condition of our state of exile on earth.  This is the whole theory of sanctity.’ – Fr Edward Leen (‘In the Likeness of Christ’), p. 197-199.  (This book is an excellent source for coming to know Our Lord’s Humanity). Available to borrow here: https://archive.org/details/inlikenessofchri0000leen/mode/2up
  7. In Volume 1 of the ‘Three Ages of the Interior Life’, Garrigou-Lagrange offers an excellent outline of the means of gaining mastery over our disobedient. This includes spiritual reading, spiritual direction, prayer, mortification and the Sacraments. See here: https://archive.org/details/threeagesofinter0001garr/mode/2up
  8. Summa Theologica available at: http://summa-theologiae.org/question/14303.htm
  9. Archbishop Goodier (1938). An Introduction to the Study of Ascetical and Mystical Theology. London: Burns & Oates. Available to borrow here: https://archive.org/details/introductiontost0000good_s5s0
  10. Convert, A. H (1923). ‘Eucharistic Meditations – Extracts from the Writings and Instructions of St. John Vianney’

Note: The article above is mainly a defence of sensitivity as sensitivity is often misunderstood or abused today. However, an excerpt is posted below from the book, ‘Cords of Adam’ by Fr Thomas J. Gerard (published: 1908), so it is understood that sentiment and sensitivity to emotion can serve as an aid or a hindrance to true devotion and happiness. Fr Gerard makes many similar points to the ones made above about the emotional nature of man but it also outlines the dangers associated with sentiment which are worth being aware. We may taste the sweetness of the Lord (Psalms 33:9) at times, especially after Holy Communion as St. John Vianney notes, but lest this serve as a means to ensnare us in spiritual pride the following piece is worth taking onboard :

 ‘The abuse of emotion in religion has been stigmatised as sentimentalism. But the abuse of this abuse may easily lead to another equally great mistake, namely, that of undervaluing the use of emotion in religion. Man is a rational animal and much more. He is also a volitional and emotional animal. Since human nature then is as it is, the emotions must ever have their proper place assigned to them in the life of devotion.’ – p. 60

‘There is a middle way between a cold passionless religion and a religion which is all sighs and ejaculations. The correct measure of sentiment is the measure in which it leads to right action and conduct.

            There is a tendency in this northern climate of ours to undervalue the use of emotion in religion. I question very much whether that prayer in the Missal is often used, the prayer for the gift of tears. Simpering in an Englishman or an American would probably be accounted to him as softness if not something worse. Still there is that in most men which in an Italian is represented by tears. There is some tremulant emotion, however slight, a kind of wincing at the thought of sin committed, a feeling of horror at the thought of having offended God. Well, this feeling, wincing or tremulant emotion is valuable and to be encouraged just in so far as it tends to real purpose of amendment; and in so far as it does not it must be reckoned as worthless.  The absence of feeling in those who are living the spiritual life seriously has been considered a recognised phase in the process of spiritual development. It is a trial intended to test the firmness of the will. The will that can go in spite of the absence of all sensible devotion may content itself that it is fairly well flourishing in spiritual growth. Indeed so valuable is this test that it is spoken of as a ‘dark night,’ and at the same time a ‘night more lovely than the dawn,’ a light guiding me ‘more surely than the noon-day sun.’ This absence, however, derives its value from the contrast to the presence. The presence of emotion, therefore, is to be valued as providing a breathing time against the coming absence. The absence is to be valued as providing a test of the efficacious firmness of the will. There may be souls who are habitually dry. But they are not normal cases. The constant absence of all emotion may be a sign of carelessness and want of interest in the spiritual life, although not necessarily so. It is certainly, however, a sign that the conscience needs examination.  If the result of examination shows that the ordinary means are being taken to promote interest in spiritual matters, then the dryness may be considered as an exercise in will-power; but if it shows that these means are not being taken, then the dryness must be considered as a sign of danger.

            Opposed to the occasional and constant absence of emotion is the constant presence of it. This equally affords a reason for self-examination. The value of the constant presence is more easily weighed than the value of the constant absence. It has an art and a music and a literature all to itself. These are almost entirely devoid of any solid intellectual characteristic. They affect rather loud clashing colour, sensual emasculated tone and senseless incoherent ejaculation. The life of Our Lord is read greedily in the visions of the saints, whilst that in the gospels is found dry and uninteresting. Not that he descriptions of St. Gertrude and Blessed Margaret Mary and Sister Catherine Emmerich do not give us wondrous insights into the spirit of the life of Christ, but that the soul which interests itself in nothing but sensible devotion misses the whole of that spirit and contents itself with the letter through which the spirit is meant to be conveyed. The altogether emotional devotion has its own peculiar sins too. These are the secret sins of spiritual pride and self-righteousness and the one predominant open sin of talking of the faults of others.

            The remedy for all these vagaries is a return to the standard of the gospel. Christ will be served as He wishes and not as we wish. He has given us affections and emotions to help us in that service. His one business on earth is to do the will of His Heavenly Father, to save souls by the undoing and by the hindrance of sin. In so far then as emotion and affection draw us nearer to Him and keep us away from sin, they are being rightly used. In so far as they are made an end or a pleasure in themselves they are being used wrongly. To love Christ because of his obvious kindness and gentleness is good in its way, but not precisely what He wants. What He desires is practical sympathy which will do and live for His cause, the salvation of souls.  The women who met Him on His way to crucifixion had a gift of tears, but not exactly the gift of tears which He preferred. ‘Weep not for Me,’ He said, ‘but for yourselves and your children: not for My sufferings, but for your sins which cause them.’

            So also was it when Our Lady found Him in the temple. The mother and father had sought the Child sorrowing. Their affection, however, although of the purest and best, needed to be directed to a higher service than their natural satisfaction. ‘Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ How much more direction than does affection need which in comparison is so gross and carnal? The true test of right cultivation is the fruit which the emotions bring forth. ‘Not every one that saith to Me Lord, Lord, shall enter in to the kingdom of heaven; but he that doth the will of My Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ – p. 62-5

Healing The Scars That Evil Leaves


Nearly all avoidance of evil and all practice of virtue must begin in our thoughts. If we deliberately allow ourselves to think evil, we shall soon find ourselves speaking evil and doing evil.’ – Fr Eugene Boylan, ‘This Tremendous Lover’

The idea that we should avoid evil is firmly rooted in our soul. We have an innate sense that evil we expose ourselves to or evil we are exposed to can have a detrimental effect on our minds. Exposure to particularly traumatic or evil happenings can leave its scars. This innate sense that evil can really damage us is backed up by empirical evidence. In recent times, research in psychology has highlighted how early childhood trauma impacts on our mental health.  Research into psychiatric disorders is also highlighting how early childhood trauma, e.g. sexual abuse, has a strong relationship with hearing voices and seeing visions. With this research becoming more evident there has been a shift away from medical models that overemphasised the biological roots for psychological issues to one that recognises that the type of environment we grow up in and the evil that we are exposed to often leaves its scars.  This has resulted in more talk of ‘trauma informed care’, which is better than the dominant ‘diagnose and drug ‘em’ models. Yet, with credit given where credit is due, there really is nothing extraordinary in this shift of emphasis. A brief reflection on one’s own experiences and a short consideration of the lives of others will help us to see that traumatic experiences do often leave their scars in various ways. This understanding that exposure to evil has detrimental effects on one’s minds is also nothing new. It has been written about and more clearly explained long before psychiatry and psychology became professional disciplines. Let us look at some of this wisdom from the past.

It is better for us not to know low and vile things, because by them we are impeded in our knowledge of what is better and higher; for we cannot understand many things simultaneously; because the thought of evil sometimes perverts the will towards evil.St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, First Part, Treatise on the One God, Q. 22 (The Providence of God), Article 3, h (Reply to Objection 3)

Our minds tend to be corrupted by evil.  St Thomas, the Angelic Doctor of the Catholic Church, clearly understood this.  Rather than focusing on ‘better and higher’ things which purify and lift our minds, our minds can be poisoned when we focus on or know ‘low and vile things’. St. Thomas wrote in a time (the 13th century) where evil and immoral practices, e.g. homosexuality, murder, were far less prevalent and where most minds were kept free from knowledge of this vileness.  The time in which St. Thomas wrote is often referred to by modern secular historians as ‘The Dark Ages’ yet this period, especially the 13th century, was one of the most truly progressive and enlightening periods of history.  Minds were kept safe from the dark knowledge of low and vile things so they would not be impeded in knowledge of what is better and higher. These ‘dark ages’ helped minds such as those of St. Dominic, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure rise to higher levels of sanctity and philosophical insights than men have reached since. Our modern pagan times (or our ‘enlightened times’ as many believe) make it harder for one to keep focused on what is better and higher. This is because sin is so prevalent and is seen as ‘progressive’ by many, e.g. abortion as ‘health care’, LGBT ‘pride’. As we are often swamped in the filth of ‘low and vile things’, the mind struggles to reach to better and higher things.  Yet, if we want to maintain good mental health and, more importantly, avoid our will being perverted towards evil we must take St. Thomas’ advice and try not to know, or, at the very least, not focus on ‘low and vile things’. We must do what we can to keep our minds pure and our wills incorrupt in our current times and avoid exposing ourselves deliberately to evil. Focused efforts on purity and sanctity will only help in establishing one’s sanity while ‘holiness consists in hating and waging war against all that is evil and cleaving to that which is good.’ (Fr Auguste Saudreau, ‘The Ideal of the Fervent Soul’) This is what we must do for the health of our mind and soul.  What we expose ourselves to will have an impact on our thoughts and actions.  As St. Francis de Sales says, ‘let us have good thoughts: then we shall never have evil movements. Let us shun immodest company: then we shall not be provoked to lust.  To cure ourselves of our vices, it may be well to mortify the flesh, but above all we must purify our heart.’ (‘The Devout Life’)

But what happens when we are exposed to evil or have evil inflicted on us without our consent? Sometimes due to these experiences, e.g. sexual abuse as a child, people will find that they are more inclined towards evil and immoral practices, e.g. homosexuality, and will sadly give themselves over to it, doing so often with the encouragement of psychological professionals. Others will resist some evil inclinations but find themselves distracting themselves from the reality of their trauma in other ways, e.g. alcohol, drugs, gambling, binge eating, etc.  Others will find themselves able, by the grace of God, to face reality, understand themselves and their behaviour and find peace of soul amidst the crosses they have been given.  Still, others will find themselves in psychiatric services, diagnosed with a psychiatric condition such as personality disorder or schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, drugged up, and told that they have a biological condition which will be needed to be treated with psychiatric drugs for life. (This is a common experience for people and I have seen this for myself while working in psychiatric services where many people’s traumatic stories were missed due to an overfocus on supposed chemical imbalances).  There are many different paths people take when they are exposed to evil at a young and innocent age. Some decide to indulge more in the evil they have encountered while others try to understand and combat their perverse inclinations towards evil.  Many struggle to make sense of the hatred they have for the evil inflicted on them along with the hatred or guilt they feel towards themselves. All seek answers to help them to understand the disorder, angst and restlessness they identify in themselves. As our society becomes more and more disconnected from the truth and more and more people are exposed to evil, this sense of disorder is only increasing. So what is the solution? 

Far from seeking out that which is evil, Love dreads meeting with it’ – St Francis de Sales (‘The Devout Life’)

The first step is to identify what is evil and to avoid meeting it.  There is a terrible amount of confusion about evil in our world today. This confusion is not helped by leaders, e.g. the hierarchy in the Church, who have responsibility for helping souls to avoid evil, but who in some, if not many, cases, have helped to corrupt souls by exposing them to evil or confusing them about what constitutes evil. Due to how evil can be cloaked in the guise of virtue, we must be ‘wise as serpents’ in our endeavours to avoid meeting evil.  If we want to have peace of soul and liberty of spirit, we must focus on what is better and higher, not what is low and vile. We must love with is good and pure and dread meeting evil. This website and service endeavours to point out some of the most obvious examples of low and vile things, e.g. abortion, fornication, homosexuality.  It tries to point people towards better and higher things, e.g. the teachings and true representation of the Catholic Faith, virtue, sanctity.  While countless modern psychological theories compete for people’s attention and money, the fundamental principle for finding peace of soul, no matter how traumatic your life has been, remains the same, ‘Turn away from evil and do good: seek after peace and pursue it.’ (Psalm 33:15). We have a responsibility to figure out what exactly this means and what it entails (1).

Ultimately, the best approach for identifying and avoiding evil is a life of prayer. So, to end, let me share this prayer of Fr Martin Von Cochem, written in his classic book, ‘The Four Last Things’ that may give help to you in your endeavours:

‘O my God, grant me grace that on earth I may love the light and eschew the works of darkness, in order that I may attain to the contemplation of the eternal and perpetual light!

God bless

Footnote:

(1) If you want a more detailed philosophical outline of what evil fundamentally is you can check out St Thomas treatise on the distinction between good and evil here.

Autism, Boys and St Thomas

An error in definition is always fatal’ – Fr Doolan, ‘Philosophy for the Layman’

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 or feeling
  • 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 to 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! 

The Implications:

Either the writers that are quoted above, such as von Hildebrand, Chesterton, 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!

Footnote:

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/

Am I Too Sensitive?

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.’ 

Saintly Examples:

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.  

References:

  1. For example, see: https://intelltheory.com/aristotle.shtml
  2. ‘C. C. Martindale, S. J. (1934), ‘What are Saints?’ – Sheed & Ward: London
  3. Amabel Du Coeur de Jesus (1953) ‘To Love and To Suffer’. Newman Press
  4. Carol Robinson (reprinted – 1992). ‘My Life with Thomas Aquinas’, Angelus Press: Kansas.
  5. Maritain, J. (1947) ‘St Thomas Aquinas’, The Catholic Book Club: London.
  6. See: http://summa-theologiae.org/T13.htm
  7. Vianney, Joseph (1906) ‘The Blessed John Vianney’
  8. Drane, A. T. (1891) ‘Life of St Dominic’
  9. Monsignor Dalpiaz, V. (1937). ‘Cardinal Merry del Val’ Burns, Oates & Washbourne: London

‘The Words of the Prophets are Written on the Subway Walls and Tenement Halls…’

Where does one find the truth today?  There are so many distractions, falsehoods and lies being expounded in our world that it seems that we only catch glimmers of truth here and there.  This situation is not helped by the appalling state of academia and what passes for expertise today.  Sometimes truth is found, not from the writings of these ‘experts’ but from those who point out the absurdity of their writings.  This is often found in the comment section that proceeds the articles that these ‘experts’ write. The following blog gives just two examples of this. (See footnote 1)

The first article, ‘The truth will not set you free‘, (link here) is pseudointellectual nonsense written by a psychotherapist who also teaches at Florida International University.  The more interesting and beneficial part of this article is the comment section where a commentator, ‘Raul’, points out the absurdity of the author’s argument. I would recommend checking out the main dialogue between Raul and the author by clicking the link but here are a couple of comments by Raul that refute the author’s assertion that the truth is unknowable:

Raul: ‘if a statement corresponds to a real item it is true. the statement “grass is green” is true if grass is in the real world happens to have grass that is green. if you are color blind you may have a different perception of the truth and be wrong if you think it is grey. but that is not true. you would be absolutely wrong. William Berry contradicts himself in saying that we are incapable of knowing truth. Is that true? childish mistake in reasoning. the statement is contradictory on it’s face. read what he says” the FACT is we can not know TRUTH” the title “the truth is, we can not know truth” is that true?

Raul: ‘Truth is singular and universal. 2+2 is 4 and not 5 or 6. here and everywhere in the universe. it is 4 regardless whether you know it , or believe it. truth is independent of your belief. that is what makes it absolute and objective. you can believe you can fly with all your heart and truth in reality will introduce you to the law of gravity and that is truth independent of any personal idea of truth. you can not independently define truth. truth is what is real. not perceived, or imagined, or wished. Santa Claus is not true for me or anyone. he is a fairy tale, like it or not. Regardless of what you say or think to be true. if you believed it to be true, you would be, uhmm, what is the word, oh yeah! WRONG. can we say that? or is everyone right? in that case you have become absurd and can no longer dialogue.’

(Personal note: I read this article long before reading anything by the likes of St Thomas Aquinas or before grasping some of the fundamentals of philosophy.  I share this interaction as a way of highlighting how a person with some basic understanding of philosophy and a good dose of common sense is able to counteract the nonsense that a psychological professional espouses. I believe that Raul, by pointing out absolute and simple truths, such as ‘2+2=4’ and ‘the grass is green’ and the Santa Claus example, can help to direct souls away from the foolish, proud and disastrous hyper-intellectualising path we can often be on. His comments also remind me of the phrase my father once told me, ‘Don’t forget the bog’, i.e. keep grounded, which I have talked about elsewhere, see here).

This second piece (link here) is a collection of responses from a commentator called, ‘johndoe’ on the website, www.madinamerica.com (See footnote 2).  Johndoe’s insightful replies are far closer to the truth of matters than anything that is offered by the various professionals, including a professor of psychiatry, a psychiatrist, a journalist and an acclaimed LGBT author, in their posts. He shows a better grasp of the truth about the human condition than any of these contributors and psychological professionals.  This is particularly true in his replies to the articles, ‘Doctor Munchausen: Hear no, See no – What?’, ‘The Lessons of Ancient Philosophy’ and ‘Heteronormative Violence of Mainstream Psychiatry: A Cautionary Tale’. Here are some of his comments that challenge the falsehoods of the authors:

Johndoe – Defending Catholicism Against Marxist criticism: ‘So it is Christianity’s fault, is it? And not, I don’t know, urbanization and industrialization and the consequent break-down of communities? An urbanization and industrialization which was the direct consequence of the weakening of Christianity from the Renaissance onward – think of the relaxation of the Christian prohibition of usury in the XV century and how that led to the birth of Capitalism (which is to say, a return to the economic system of Ancient Rome, an economy based on overt or covert slavery).

As always the paper in question is written from a purely English perspective, i.e. a Protestant perspective, and it therefore ignores the fact that Protestantism is not in fact Christianism but materialism in Christian clothing (read Max Weber, who was on to something even if he didn’t know what himself).’

AND

Pointing out author’s lack of historical knowledge and bias:

And of course nowhere in the article a reference to the level of poverty in Ireland back then – you’d think there was a welfare state running in parallel with these evil nuns. Why don’t you take a look at other countries with similar levels of poverty but without evil nuns (i.e. Eastern Europe) and see what happens/ed to teenage mothers and orphans there?

Nothing like a bit of good old Catholic-bashing to give a boost to your career, is there Dr. Healy?’

Johndoe – ‘On reparative therapy: ‘Ron, I certainly think you need to look at the (scarce) data there is on reparative therapy rather than repeat misinformation about it. I would ask you to honestly make an effort to look it up (not in Wikipedia) if you have any interest in the truth rather than just confirming your prejudices.
You may want to start with the APA taskforce report, written up by people who absolutely loath reparative therapy, and yet even they could not come up with significant evidence of harm:
http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/therapeutic-response.pdf’

Anti-intellectualism?

When somebody points out the absurdity of such professors and intellectuals, they are often accused of ‘anti-intellectualism’.  For example, the current President of Ireland and ex-lecturer, Michael D Higgins, speaks about ‘ant-intellectualism’ being a ‘weapon of anti-democratic forces’, while he simultaneously pushes for his own brand of ‘critical thinking/philosophy’ which is not based on ‘old orthodoxies’, or, in other words, having no foundation in the truth.  When the fact is pointed out that the Emperor has no clothes, i.e. modern sociology, modern psychology, psychiatry and modern psychotherapy are promoting nonsense and falsehoods, the intellectuals in these fields, like Michael D Higgins, respond with arrogance and a condescending attitude.  They dismiss those who point out these false foundations as ‘uneducated’ or ‘anti-intellectual’ and suggest that they lack the ability to understand the depth and breadth of their arguments.  The two pieces above do not prove that the ‘common man’ today has more sense than the intellectual but they do show how far removed intellectuals can be from the truth.  The purpose of this post is not to ridicule intellectual pursuits so let me try to briefly outline some advice in relation to intellectuals and ‘experts’, i.e. those who claim to have more knowledge and understanding than the common man.

Humility and docility to the truth are virtues. They are key in assenting to the truth. One must know oneself and understand that there are others who can grasp and understand certain things better than you can.  We have a certain level of dependence on others in this regard. St Thomas Aquinas, in explaining why we should be humble and docile to the truths revealed to us by God, offers the following analogy: ‘One can also answer this question by supposing that a certain master has said something concerning his own special branch of knowledge, and some uneducated person would contradict him for no other reason than that he could not understand what the master said! Such a person would be considered very foolish.’ (‘The Catechetical Instructions of St Thomas Aquinas’, p. 4).  This analogy works well when the masters are genuinely masters and their knowledge is grounded in truth.  In this case, it is humble for the uneducated person to be docile and accept the superior knowledge of the master in that field.  Here, St Thomas expresses the need for masters or those of strong intellect to guide those who do not have the same capacity to grasp certain knowledge as they do. This follows a natural order where some people are more skilled than others in certain areas. So far so good, but the question is: are today’s leaders in the academic fields really ‘masters’?

Today, our modern-day intellects in sociology, psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy and various other pseudo-scientific disciplines can try to claim that the ‘uneducated person’ rejects their assertions because they do not understand what they are saying.  However, when our modern ‘masters’ are speaking in riddles, when they can’t say whether anything is really true, e.g. ‘2+2=4’ or ‘the grass is green’, when they won’t give any solid definitions about what it is they are talking about, when their statements and theories are in direct contradiction to common sense or fundamental philosophical principles, e.g. a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect, or they are mistaken in important historical facts, then, the uneducated person, who still has an ounce of common sense left in him, should reject their ideas as false or at the very least, see them as highly questionable.  Even if a professor with numerous letters after his name is to speak eloquently and beautifully with lots of warmth and passion, one must be careful not to be duped by this appearance of authority and wisdom.  We must learn to think for ourselves as Harvard Professor of Philosophy, Charles A. Dubray outlines, ‘Frequently you have relied on the testimony of others; you have learned a text-book and taken it for granted that the author was right.  How could do otherwise, for instance, for historical or geographical statements?  But this method, which was the only possible one, must not now lead to an exaggerated reverence for all that is found in books or newspapers.  For, how many errors are published and how many fallacies are taken for truths simply because they appear in print, or even because they are spoken in brilliant language accompanied by fine gestures. It is necessary to learn how to use one’s own reason and to practice the difficult art of criticism so as to distinguish truth from falsity, and thus to become able to steer one’s own mental life, to think for oneself, and no longer depend too exclusively on the thinking of others.’ (‘Introductory Philosophy’, p. 5). Taking this cautious approach is not anti-intellectualism. It is only acknowledging that people can err while maintaining that there are certain things that are absolutely true. 

Let us imagine that St Thomas Aquinas was around today. It is highly likely that he would be appalled at the state of academia and that he would be accused by our modern ‘intellectuals’ as being ‘anti-intellectual’, solely because he loved truth, understood and worked within basic philosophical principles in his theorising, and valued common sense. St Thomas would probably see many of our modern ‘intellectuals’ as crazy and rightly view modern theories and ideas, particularly in relation to God and man, as fables and quackery. As Prof Dubray asserts, ‘Facts, i.e. concrete experiences, both internal and external, and principles, i.e. self-evident propositions, are the necessary bases of thought.  If they are rejected, nothing is left but to stop thinking altogether or go to an asylum…’Two and two are four’, ‘a straight line is shorter than a curved uniting the same two points’; ‘the same thing cannot at once be one way and the contradictory way’; ‘I am now thinking and writing’; ‘the paper on which I am writing is white, and the ink I use black;’ ‘I experience a headache,’ etc., are so many assertions of which I am certain that, should any one try to destroy or even weaken this certitude, I should at once suspect his seriousness or his mental sanity.’ (‘Introductory Philosophy’, p. 380-381).  St Thomas may be able to have a good conversation with ‘Raul’ or ‘johndoe’ but he most certainly would be questioning the sanity and seriousness of psychological professionals who teach error in universities and fill influential websites with absurdities.  Alas, in our current times, St Thomas would probably be the one who would be seen as obstinate, crazy and perhaps diagnosed as having ‘oppositional deviant disorder’ for not willing to admit that there is no such thing as truth or for saying that the grass is definitely green!

Learn how to use one’s own reason and to practice the difficult art of criticism so as to distinguish truth from falsity

Before finishing this article, it is best to leave a word of warning lest this article be seen as dismissing all expertise and being overly praiseworthy of the opinion of the ‘common man’. In criticising the current state of academia and the lack of wisdom and understanding of academics and masters, let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The solution is not to overestimate our own intellectual capacity or knowledge and only follow what our minds tell us without consulting others. This is tempting in our current times as the so-called experts in many fields, e.g. psychology, sociology, theology, are so misinformed. However, the danger of being overly skeptical about expertise in general is that it tends to lead to subjectivism and increased intellectual pride in ourselves.  Today, there are so many academics speaking nonsense eloquently and with apparent sophistication that we are tempted to associate eloquence and sophistication with nonsense and falsehoods! St. Augustine warns us against this prejudice in our reasoning by reminding us that ‘A thing is not necessarily true because badly uttered, nor false because spoken magnificently.‘ The blunt factory worker may be right sometimes and wrong other times while the well-spoken academic may also be right sometimes and wrong at others. We still must engage our reason when deciding what to believe. Let us not dismiss or scorn intellectual pursuits or the quest for knowledge and understanding because of how bad the current academic environment is and how much eloquent and articulate rubbish is coming from it.  Let us try not to let our reasonable skepticism verge into cynicism. There is a thirst for truth in each one of us.  It is true that this thirst is not being fulfilled in schools or universities today. Instead of students receiving the refreshment of the truth they crave, they are being given fables and myths that confuse the mind and titillate the lower faculties.  As these tales resemblance truth they may give some brief joy or peace but as they are not the genuine article they fail to satiate the deep longings of the intellect and soul. However, instead of dismissing all expertise let us go back to the likes of those who spoke the truth simply and also magnificently. This is the likes of St Thomas, the Angelic Doctor, and other genuine masters, such as St Augustine and St Bonaventure. Let us soak in the truth they offer us and protect and nourish it. 

Finally, let us keep our eyes and mind open for the truth. Sometimes, it is spoken magnificently and other times it is found in the internet equivalent of the subway walls and tenement halls as shown above. Wherever we find it let us still soak it in and let it change our hearts and minds so that we can, ultimately, delight eternally in Truth Himself. 

Footnote 1: The following two pieces are from websites that I used to frequent regularly until I finally realised the amount of errors that were emanating from them. The website Psychology Today provides a platform where psychological ‘experts’ have a place to provide their ‘professional’ opinion despite not understanding what man is nor understanding what leads to true happiness and peace of mind and soul.

Footnote 2: Mad In America is another website I used to visit until I realised how many errors and falsehoods they push, e.g. promotion of homosexuality, feminism and Marxism.