A Religious Response to the Colorado Killings

A weekend has passed since twelve people were killed and fifty-eight were wounded in Aurora, Colorado, by alleged gunman James Holmes.  Throughout the period I searched the mainstream media for statements from America’s religious leaders that might help people make sense of the tragedy.  The closest I came to finding any pastoral contribution was in the form of therapeutic religion.  Pastors called for remembrance of the victims, solidarity with their families, asked for prayers and encouraged people to have faith.  These are all well and good, but, didn’t President Obama do as much?  As a matter of fact, the President was referred to by some reporters as fulfilling his ministry as “the consoler and chief.”   Isn’t this the job of the priests, ministers and rabbis’?

The following are some of the things that should have been heard in America’s churches this past Sunday:

Firstly; evil is a reality. Because of Original Sin we live in an imperfect world.  In the Book of Genesis we read of Cain murdering his brother Abel.  The Bible attributes his action to a sin of jealous rage.  Could this also be construed as insanity?  Certainly!  Furthermore, because of Original Sin, Cain’s free will may have been impaired leading to a distortion of reality.  Mental health experts will make this determination based on empirical data in Holmes’ psychiatric evaluation. But, couldn’t pastors suggest that Holmes’ actions may have been spiritual in their origin?

Secondly; there is the demonic factor that needs to be reckoned with here.  Demonic possession is widely attested to in the Bible.  As a matter of fact we often see Jesus acting as an exorcist casting out demons.  Today Satan’s presence is often discounted as superstition.  This attitude marginalizes one of Jesus’ most important ministries. It promotes a secular world view which depends on the social sciences which are often woefully inadequate for the answers to life’s questions.

Thirdly; faith has become a rather nebulous term, faith in what or in whom? After all, many people today consider themselves to be spiritual though not religious.   In the present case, faith has been used to mean some generic belief in the goodness of the American people.  This secular faith in ourselves fails to produce any lasting consolation and it puts us on rather shaky ground. The fact is that Americans as individuals or as a nation have not always acted righteously, making faith in them rather tenuous.

Fourthly; true consolation can only come from the love of a personal God.  The Bible is specific about God’s concern and care for us.  For Christians God’s action in the Resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate consolation.  The Resurrection should have been proclaimed loudly from every pulpit.  Its message is that God can bring life out of death and goodness out of tragedy.

Fifthly; this tragic event should have been an occasion to remind people of how fragile life is and how death often comes unexpectedly.  It provides pastors with the opportunity to speak of the importance of being in the state of grace at all times.

And, finally; this incident is a reminder that we are called to pray for the souls of the dead.  It is our Catholic belief in Purgatory that requires us to pray for the faithful departed who may need purification before they can enter heaven.

I wonder how many heard any of these points mentioned in their churches over the weekend.  I can only pray that the media, for the sake of political correctness, just ignored the Truth that was preached.  And, that America’s pastors rose to the occasion.

What was said in your church about the Colorado tragedy.  Were you satisfied?


Father Michael P. Orsi was ordained for the Diocese of Camden in 1976. He has authored or co-authored four books and over 320 articles in more than 45 journals, magazines and newspapers. He holds a Doctorate in Education from Fordham University, two Master degrees in Theology from Saint Charles Seminary, and a Bachelor of Arts from Cathedral College. He is presently serving as Chaplain and Research Fellow in Law and Religion at Ave Maria School of Law, Naples, Florida.

  • Mike Davis

    Father, sadly, I heard nothing at all about the Colorado tragedy from the pastor in my parish this past Sunday. It was completely ignored.

    • Charlie

      Ditto from CenCA

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    In a sense, evil is always unintelligible 

    Good and bad choices are no more equivalent than apprehension and misapprehension, truth and error are equivalent.  The good choice, “This – being such – is to be done,” is intelligible, because intelligent; the act of the bad will is a surd, ultimately unintelligible.  True enough, we can often trace its causes to instinctive or dispositional factors, but it remains logically incoherent.

    Sometimes, we can say that there are certain physical conditions which we know to go with irrational beliefs or attitudes with sufficient regularity for us to call them their causes.  But this is a very different kind of explanation.  Causes, in the scientific sense in which this word is used when we speak of causal laws, is to be explained in terms of observed regularities: but the declaration of one’s reasons or motives is not founded on observation of regularities.  ‘Reasons’ and ‘motives’ are what is elicited from someone whom we ask to explain himself.

    • Gandshagen

      What is your point?

  • S Bucher

    In our parish (Divine Mercy  in  Bellevue ,Kentucky,) our pastor indeed discussed briefly  the Colorado shootings  as being evil and said he would address this issue in more depth in the last hour of our weekly day of Eucharistic Adoration on the Tuesday  following the shootings . He said that 7-8 pm would be a Holy Hour dedicated to prayer for the victims and their families and all affected  by the tragedy . He intended to discuss evil of what occurred then because he believed it would take more than an 8 minute homily to cover the subject . Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend as I am in a wheelchair and had no one to transport me.

  • P. J.

    Thank you, Fr. Michael, for bringing up the subject about the evil in the world.  We don’t hear about that much anymore.  All we heard about the tragedy came at the end of the Mass, where the pastor asked us to keep all in prayer.  When I hear about or read about these evil deeds, I do pray for all involved.

  • Mkosinski

    Thank you so much, Fr Orsi, for your excellent, clearly detailed comments. It is rare to hear similar comments these days, and we need to hear much more of the same! Your comments should be sent out far and wide, including other clergy!

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  • Fr. Evhen

    As a Priest, seeing only the link on New Advent, something like, “what pastors whould be saying about Aurora. . .”, I was so offended by the link title!  Then, as I read the article, I was so edified by the contents.  Next, I despaired for a moment, thinking, “Have we sunk so low that such true  priestly perspectives have to be fed to priests by a laymen?”. 

    Finally, I read the name of the author, Fr. Orsi!

    Thank you, Fr. Orsi, for your prophetic, priestly word!  Thank you for your faithfulness!

    • TheInformer

      Fr. Evhen, apparently many of your brother priests  think “that such true priestly perspectives have to be fed to priests by a laymen”……see my post above yours.

      I’d like to think that those in the ordained priesthood have SOME idea about what to do.  But apparently some priests and bishops would rather be ordered around by  NewChurch laity?

  • A very good article, thank you, Father. I only wish you did not follow the (occasionally) absurd legal convention of calling James Holmes an “alleged” gunman. Everybody knows that he has done it, for Pete’s sake!

    • Famijoly

       Perhaps.  Then the question becomes “Holmes and who else?”

  • Kathy

    Nothing was said of it at my Latin Mass Community. I was disappointed.

  • “Kudos” Father Orsi.   You have nailed it on six very Catholic points.  Now, I better get busy praying for the souls of those who died.   God bless you Father.

  • Ikilope

    I heard nothing in my church about the shootings from any of the homilies and certainly I did not preach on it either. People didn’t come to Mass in. New Jersey looking –yet again — for answers to he surds that exist in life. They need the Gospel, not the pablum they got from the ministers mentioned in the article to be sure, but they also need to allow the world outside not to intrude into the worship of God on Sunday.

  • TheInformer

    I’m almost never satisfied after 25 years of daily Mass attendance, with what’s said from the pulpit.

    Last week, unrelated to Colorado massacre, the priest insisted that the hierarchy of the Church is directed by the wants and will of the people.  That’s not leadership buddy.  That reduces priests and bishops to mere order takers, and people pleasers.

    Maybe that’s why they never challenge us?

  • Carl

    Yes, from my southeastern Pennsylvania Parish our Pastor hit at least three of the six points you have mentioned.

    It was pointed out how appropriate our Church bulletin had on its cover Jesus carrying a sheep slung over his shoulders!  In the first Jerimiah reading He will send shepards and punish the evils deeds.  Responsorial Psalm 23, The Lord is my shepard; there is nothing I shall want…Even though I walk in the dark valley…Second reading Paul tells of braking down the wall of enmity. 

    And finally in the holy Gospel according to Mark, “his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd!

  • bzelbub

    I am always startled by Christian/Catholic response to murder. We extoll our belief in God and that his ways are unknowable. We also know that we are held in his hand and he knew us before we were born and we will be with him in the fullness of time.
    S why is it so easy to believe in demonic possession, as opposed to the Father calling us home?  We always hear that God has a plan. So who are we to question God’s plan about the way we are called home? If it makes you feel better to claim the Devil made them do it, fine. But don’t then tell other families at the time of their loved ones deaths that God had a plan.

    • Doug

      bzelbub writes: “We always hear that God has a plan. So who are we to question God’s plan about the way we are called home”
      His “plan” was this, originally: “And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth.” At that time it was conditional on man’s obedience to his Creator. “And he commanded him, saying: Of every tree of paradise you shall eat: But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat. For in what day soever you shall eat of it, you shall die the death.”
      How long would Adam and Eve have lived if the HAD obeyed? Where was the home to which they were “called”?

  • Graham Kitchen

    Obviously you didn’t search very far to find pastoral comment.  I found quite a number.

    As for the possibility that the offender was possessed, this goes without saying.That aside, where in the Bible does it talk about Purgatory?  Where does it talk about praying for the souls of the dead?  Once you are dead, it is too late for anything further.There may be ancient writings by man that suggest these erroneous things, but they are not the word of God.  God’s word is the beginning and the end of all discussion.Paraphrased from the mouth of Jesus… None can enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless they go through Jesus.  This means that one has to ask for forgiveness for our sins and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour before one can get access to Heaven.Also, If we have not forgiven someone for wrongs done to us, we will not get into Heaven because God cannot forgive us.  And if we are liars, we will not get into Heaven.Having passed these tests, you can be sure of your engraved invitation to be in the presence of God.

    • Green

      Purgatory is Biblical. Go to Catholic dot com, and search for purgatory.

    • There is heaven,hell and purgatory.Purgatory is in bible.its in the 2 book of maccabees in old testament.it was heretic luther who ripped out 7 books from the old testamnt that were there from the beginning.The word purgatory is not in bible but neither is the word trinity or incarnation but we believe in them.The concept of purgatory sure is look at 1 corinth 3 about those who are saved but as going thru a fire where their works of wood hay and straw are burned up.There is no purifying fires in heaven no need of them and the fires of hell are eternal so that leads purgatory.Ultimately there is only a heaven or hell purgatory is temporary for those who died saved but because of worldly attachments and imperfections need to be refined before heaven as nothing unclean enters heaven.

  • Famijoly

    Thanks to Fr. Michael Orsi for this essay on the priestly duty to address the reality of evil. The first line in the bullet points make for a good outline for a homily that will assist a parish in coming to grips with the public manifestation of evil.

    The terrible scene at an Aurora, Colorado, cinema in which so many lives were lost and so many more were wounded, and so many more were scarred emotionally has been thrust into the mindset of people across the United States and beyond because it was in a high-profile setting and has been covered by numerous news-gathering organizations.   The President even ordered flags at federal buildings and military installations to be flown at half-staff for two days.

    While Fr. Orsi has done a great service in reminding his brother priests it is their duty to confront the reality of evil and to assist their parishioners in doing so, an underlying implication in the essay seems to be that to have not mentioned “the Colorado tragedy” in homilies on the Sunday immediately after last Friday’s massacre makes an American priest, anywhere in the USA, derelict in his duty.

    While I presume upon Fr. Orsi’s good intentions, this sentence is an example of broad-brushing his brother priests as derelict to build his column:
    “The following are some of the things that should have been heard in America’s churches this past Sunday:”

    Perhaps, like commenter S Bucher’s pastor, many priests realize that the issue is more complex than it appears (in the in-your-face mainstream media) and opted to wait in order to be better prepared to deliver a homily or teaching that addresses the situation — as Fr. Orsi does with the opening lines of his outline — in a theological and pastorally practical manner.

    A study of the machinations of powermongers throughout history up to and including our own  time and seeing such occurrences as the Aurora massacre as not accidental or random lends much credence to the thought that the evil manifested in public at the opening of a Batman movie is much more nuanced and insidious than the “official story” blasted from the in-your-face corporate media reveals.  To understand more on this, read a book by Catholic lay theologian James W. Douglass that was published in 2008.  It’s called “JFK and the Unspeakable:  Why He Died and Why It Matters.”  The book was published by Orbis.

    Yes, as Fr. Orsi aptly points out, “there is a demonic factor that needs to be reckoned with here.”  But the Devil’s minions are sneaky, indeed liars from the beginning, and this “unspeakable evil” as Douglass demonstrates in his book is closer to home than you or I think.  A pastoral challenge for a pastor to put out to his flock in the wake of such manifestations that gain public attention is to ask yourself, “How am I participating in such evil?  Where can my appetites be curbed?  Where can I be more directed toward our good and loving God and His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ?”

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  • Father Orsi, thank you for the reminder to pray for the poor souls.  I can’t help but to think that this whole situation should be a reminder to pray for those living as well.  The oddest occurrence in the shootings is that this “joker” did not engage in a shoot-out with police, and for some reason, stopped what he was doing then warned the police about his booby-trapped apartment.  I keep wondering, was somebody praying for policemen on this day?  Was somebody praying for someone who lived in that apartment complex on this day?