Good morning! Below are a few of your reactions to yesterday’s article, about my thoughts on the Virginia Tech massacre.
Before we start, yesterday I visited what I consider one of the most beautiful and meaningful places on earth — the medieval town of Assisi, in the Umbria region of Italy. It’s the hometown, of course, of St. Francis (1182-1226).
The son of a wealthy merchant, Francis gave up his worldly possessions to embrace a life of poverty and service to mankind. He is known as the quintessential man of peace and humility. What a contrast to what we have witnessed in Virginia in recent days!
I took some photos and posted them for you. Enjoy. Maybe it will make you come to Italy! (Remember to click on the photos to see the maximized snapshot.)
If you make it to the bottom of the reader reactions you’ll find our usual set of “interesting articles,” including a special set on Virginia Tech.
God bless, Father Jonathan
Tragic events such as Monday’s mass shooting and killing leave everyone asking, "Why? Why did it happen? Why did so many people get killed? Why wasn't the school's security procedure better?” The question I ask is, "Why can't we cope with life's stresses?" No matter how difficult the challenges we encounter may be, why would anyone ever lose his or her focus on what’s right and wrong? — Antoinette
RESPONSE: Antoinette, I have been asking myself similar questions. Over the last few days, as new information about Cho has been revealed, my opinion on how this particular case is relatable to societal causes has evolved. From conversations with medical professionals and from my own pastoral experience, I think an increase in this type of violent act is due primarily to a combination of things. First, it’s due to an upswing in psychiatric instability in our youth. Secondly, a copycat phenomenon is made possible by worldwide communication. In response to other e-mails, I will explain later on why I think we are seeing an increase in psychotic behavior.
Thus far your perspective of the tragedy at Virginia Tech is the only one that has provided any real insights amidst the deluge of “conventional wisdom” spewed out by the media.
I'm a graduate of Virginia Tech; unfortunately, I remember college as the same place many people see when they turn on MTV. I almost lost a roommate to a drug overdose, a friend of mine was raped, and a relationship of mine ended, with a woman I was with for several years, someone I thought I was going to marry. College was emotionally traumatic and extremely stressful. I thank God everyday that I had friends and family to support me through my darker years. I was able to graduate and start out in life bruised but not broken.
Since graduation I have reflected heavily on the culture on college campuses. These cultures are the epitome of narcissism, consumerism, and decadence (Tom Wolfe has described it as the "culture of cool.") I have often asked myself what answers do these cultures have for the less fortunate, the not so popular, or those that still believe in humility.
My guess is that this storm within started even before Virginia Tech. The gunman’s rants have culture clash and cries for help written all over them. It still amazes me how many people I know from school who are still trying to pick themselves up after years of adopting an empty value system focused on self-gratification. This is an enormous subject universities are willfully ignoring that unfortunately leaves many young people in its wake.
You have shed light onto the heart of this matter. God Bless. — Anonymous Hokie
RESPONSE: It’s great to hear from a VT Hokie. The question of how culture and sub-cultures affect our personal values has always fascinated me. We would like to think that we make decisions in absolute liberty, but that simply is untrue. We are conditioned (not determined) by our surroundings. In these times of unfettered mass media and communication, it is more difficult than ever to maintain moral objectivity in our decision-making. Parents, in particular, must double their efforts to be the principle educators of their children about what’s right and wrong. The best lesson, of course, a parent’s own example.
Lest we get too negative about college life, we should also point out that America is lucky to have the greatest network of university institutions in the world. There is lots of good going on in the classrooms and there are lots of great kids.
Father Jonathan — I am a frequent reader of your blog, and I usually agree with most of what you have to say — and coming from a Baptist, that's rare! But, I do want to make one plea to the nation. Unless the gunman's family did something to deserve condemnation (and at this point there isn't any evidence that I know of that says they did), please don't hate them. His parents not only lost a child, like so many of the other victims' families, but they have to live the rest of their lives knowing that their son destroyed so many others' lives. They will spend the rest of their lives asking themselves if it was something they did, or failed to do, that caused their son to do the horrible things that he did. Please pray for them when you pray for the victims' families. I cannot imagine what any of the families are going through right now, and pray that I never do.
Keep up the good work, Father. — Sharon S. (Hattiesburg, MS)
RESPONSE: Sharon, thank you for explaining that showing mercy and compassion toward the Cho family is not a sign of disrespect or indifference toward the families of the victims. In this case, we should be thinking “both” not “either or.”
Dear Father Jonathan:
It was my hope that you would write on the VA Tech tragedy, and I'm thrilled that you arrived so immediately at the heart of the matter. I'm a 1986 graduate of VA Tech and am pleased to work in an office overlooking its beautiful campus. I watched the events of Monday with great pain. I've been praying that a spirit of forgiveness will abound. Life is worth living and sharing that conversation with one another will do more to heal than all the politicians can concoct. — Brian
RESPONSE: You just shared your great thoughts with a lot of people. Thank you.
Dear Father Jonathan,
I have read your columns recently with ever-increasing respect for your insight, compassion and wisdom. I am the headmaster of a faith-based school on Chicago's north shore. I changed careers from international law to become a Christian educator several years ago because I believe so much in the need to engage both the minds and the hearts of young people. I spoke to our students and parents last night about the tragedy at Virginia Tech (my daughter is a student at JMU not far from there), and noted that the only way to combat this type of behavior is to fill a heart that is full of despair with love, hope and joy. Children must be taught that they are loved for who they are, given hope that they have a purpose in life and an eternity to strive for, and a joy in celebrating their own unique gifts and talents. That cannot be accomplished with additional laws, security or situational analysis. It was this young man's heart that was sickened, and all of us parents and mentors need to work together to protect the hearts of the many precious young people that God places in our paths. Keep up the good work and thank you for taking the time to write such a powerful statement. —Rick L. (Christian Heritage Academy, Northfield, IL)
RESPONSE: Very interesting … from international law to education. Good choice. We need you now more than ever.
Hi Father Jonathan:
I am a mother of four young children and my husband and I are trying hard to raise them to be caring, kind and understanding people. We are active in our daughter’s Catholic school and in our parish.
We have been shielding our children from the media for the past few days because of the VT tragedy. This morning my husband and I were up early and our 10-year-old came in our bedroom. We had "Fox and Friends" on the TV; you came on and Allison had just asked you the question, "How could God let this happen?" Your answer was beautiful and brought me to tears. You explained that God gives us the gift of free will and some use that free will for evil, most use it for good, and you mentioned the professor that blocked the door to his classroom. You said that he used his free will to help others. At that point, my 10-year-old looked and me and I could see that your wonderful explanation helped to make some sense of this tragedy. Thank you for your insight. We love that FOX News allows a priest to come on the TV and give the Christian point of view! We will continue to read your blog. We are keeping the VT families in our prayers. Thanks again. — Bridget (New Albany, IN)
RESPONSE: Bridget, whenever I finish a television appearance, I wonder if I said the right thing, in the right way, and if it made a difference. Thank you for the encouragement. Above all, thanks to you and your husband for raising your children in such a positive way.
Dear Father Jonathan,
As the mother of two children in college, my son is 2,000 miles from home and my daughter is 150 miles away, this tragedy has made me heartsick. […] It is my hope and prayer that no one should ever experience this kind of thing again, but there is evil in the world and it shows itself in the most innocent of places and at the most unexpected times. I fervently believe that that is much more good in the world than evil. It is less dramatic and therefore less obvious to us but it is there nonetheless. It is in presence of the ones who protected the students and gave them precious minutes to escape, it is in the one who came to the aid of the wounded and saved lives and it is in the university (I think maybe the world) community who joins together to grieve for lives cut short. I think also the goodness of the world will trickle out in subtle ways we may not be aware of right away.
Our culture fixates on the overly dramatic and 30-second sound bites. Unfortunately, the really good things are more mundane and quiet. Goodness takes time to fully develop and make itself known to those willing to see. We must be willing to look beyond our own circumstances to see it, but it is there. — Amy
RESPONSE: I have nothing to add — beautifully true!
First of all, my heart breaks for those who had loved ones involved in this tragedy. How does someone get to this point — where they can justify, in their mind, such a vile act? How do we know if something, as small as a kind word or gentle touch, could really make a difference?
We ALL need to be more aware, be nicer … you never know. — Lisa
RESPONSE: Lisa, I don’t think anyone in their right mind could do what Cho Seung-Hui did. In other words, I think he was very sick. He had lost his mind somewhere along the way. But here’s an important point to keep in mind. Even if we are out of our minds when we commit an evil act, we may still be morally responsible for the consequences of prior decisions that lead to such a point. Our free-choices affect our psychology. If someone is cheating on his wife, his taxes and his boss, for example, he is jeopardizing his moral health. When we divide ourselves from the inside, we generally do damage to our physiological makeup at the same time. All of this is to say that psychological weakness can diminish moral and legal culpability … but we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that every crazed person is a victim of genetics. I don’t know enough about Cho to make a judgment in his case.
Father Jonathan, you don’t get it. Articles like this are not helping the progress of mental health awareness. It is wonderful to show compassion and love to those that are suffering from mental illness. But you show that love by seeing to it that they receive the medical help that they need. Laws will need to change to facilitate the ability to do that. — Carol C.
RESPONSE: Hmmm … it sounds like we agree Cho suffered from serious mental illness and he needed professional medical help. But as I explained above, while mental health has a genetic and physiological component, it is also intimately linked to our spiritual and moral life. The point of my article was not about what should or shouldn’t have been done with Cho once they realized he was sick. It was an invitation to all of us to promote positive, loving environments around us, to reach out to those who are isolated, and in this way to give our youth the best shot at integral development. You can be sure someone who has never experienced love will not be mentally sound. And medicine can’t take its place.
Father Jonathan, In a world of confusion, when things are so jumbled, when I listen to all that is around the news, other people’s speculation, and me … I read your column and find the truth as this believer chooses to see it.
As I listen and watch, I struggle to find the words to express what I have learned from my faith. You found these words and I appreciate the confirmation. Nothing influences a body and soul more than the issues of the heart.
Thank you for clarifying what I felt, but couldn't say. I am truly thankful that I found your column.
— Anna G. (North Carolina)
RESPONSE: Shortly after receiving your note, Anna, I received this one below.
Get off your high horse and come down to the real world where life sucks. It’s all about making money and learning to survive. At least that’s what most normal people think…But then again, who said you’re normal. You’re not.
RESPONSE: I don’t know your name, sir (ma’am?), but I would invite you to read this note below from this mother of four. She doesn’t seem to have a lot of money, but she sure seems happy. Keep reading and writing in; it’s good for us to get your perspective too. The world is not all roses; that’s for sure.
Dear Father Jonathan,
Thank you for your voice in the desert. I'm a mother of four. We've never had much financial success, but my treasure is the love of my husband and children. I began learning after the birth of my third child that there is no finer gift (for them AND me) in life than to surrender to love through the people given to us. This love has become a shelter for them and me: a place of rejuvenation for all of the battles of living.
I cannot tell you how rich my husband and I feel watching our completely independent older children (they have paid for college with grit, academic scholarships and part-time jobs) find their paths and embrace their lives with strength bolstered by parental love from afar.
Our two high school kids come home bursting with stories, details, information, thoughts and intense desire to get their tanks refilled with home-baked love, peace and assurances of their value. It is my privilege to be here every day to provide this service.
Having seen how this can work out I am so happy that we've never had much money. It forces us to focus on what really matters and what is truly lasting.
I'm writing to you in an attempt to share this obvious secret with someone. For children living in the world today, love is food, protection, strength and armor. If parents would just gift their own children with themselves, instead of material goods, so many problems would be decreased and perhaps disappear. We must not try to eliminate our children's problems, but we should hug some of the pain away and feed them a sense of responsibility and true self-worth. We can enable our kids to listen beyond the unnecessary noises of this world and hear with internal peace and excitement their own vocations.
From a selfish perspective, I am finding the return on my investment is so huge I cannot take it in. I have been shown the meaning of "my cup runneth over," and it is so beautiful I CANNOT TAKE IT IN.
I love reading your words on FOXFan.com. Thank you for your fine work and hearing your call.
Father Jonathan, Thank you for this recent column. As always, you are very perceptive and have a common sense approach with practical observations and comments. I look forward every week to your columns. I appreciate your effort and appreciate that FOX News gives you the opportunity. While not Roman Catholic, I am a Christian and am also a physician by training. Thank you for "being there," for teaching us and for acting as a voice for others.
We are all given free will and some people choose to misuse it. While the young man who was the shooter lashed out at others and tried to blame others for his actions, contrary to what he said, what he did was his choice and only he is accountable for his actions. The shooter yielded to temptation and pulled the trigger.
— Kenneth D. (Maryland)
RESPONSE: Dr. Ken, thanks for your note, including the part I didn’t have room to include. I wanted to comment on this first paragraph, though, because I think we need to be careful not to jump to the conclusion that Cho is fully culpable before God for the “choice” to pull the trigger. Some people wrote to me to say we know for sure Cho is in hell. I surely don’t. Especially in the case of mental illness, things aren’t so simple.
Here's What I've Been Reading:
Virginia Tech Tragedy
• Roller Coaster of Emotions Continue at Va. Tech
• Vigils for Victims Offer Some Solace
• Pope Benedict: Virginia Tech Massacre 'Senseless Tragedy'
• Care for Caregivers after VA Shootings
• Ecumenical Church Heads Call for Tighter Gun Control
Values and Politics
• Politics Set Aside, President Again Takes on Role of ‘Consoler in Chief’
• U.S. Evangelicals Aim to Influence European Law
• A Catholic Debate Mounts on the Meaning of ‘Just War’
• Miss Mexico Nixes Violent Images Dress
• Couples Asking Friends, Relatives to Officiate at Weddings
• For Some Hispanics, Coming to American Means Abandoning Religion
• Britons are Getting Unhappier
• Pontiff’s New Book a ‘Personal Search for the Face of the Lord’
• Boston Loses Ritual with Church Closing
• Among Catholic Priests, Vietnamese are the New Irish
• Study: Clergy Among Happiest, Most Satisfied American Workers
Not All News is Bad News
• Teens Find Strength in Religion
• Street Pastors Fighting Crime in U.K.
• Tiffany Windows of N.J. Church May Be Sacrificed to Serve Poor
• Missionary Priest Forgives Men Who Shot Him
News Which Never Made the News
• Pastor Wanted Imus Gone, but Became Unexpected Source of Support
• U.S. Army Looking For a Few Good Chaplains
• Clerics’ Airline Suit Brings Backlash
• Study: Most Doctors See Religion as Beneficial