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How to Love a Mass Murderer

August 22, AD 2012 6 Comments

There were a few words, often repeated in the news coverage of the recent Colorado shooting by James Holmes, which stood out to me like red signal lights: “loner who said little and was easily forgotten”, “kept to himself” and “didn’t seem to have many friends.”

Now, I’m not a psychoanalyst or a criminal psychologist, but I did study what in the Middle Ages was called “the queen of all sciences”: theology.

The Catholic world view for me is best understood with the key word “relationship”. We are thoroughly relational creatures, down to our bone marrow in need of touch and contact with others. God Himself is a relationship of pure love and communion among three persons and He created us for communion with Himself and with each other.

That’s what heaven will be like, and that’s what we’re called to start living here on earth, as a “body” and as a “family” of brothers and sisters. Jesus prays thus to the Father: “And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23).

So it doesn’t surprise me when I hear that some criminals commit crimes in order to go back to jail because that’s the closest thing they have to a community or a family. It makes sense when I hear from psychiatrist Dr. Weil on Dr. Oz that 10% of all Americans are on anti-depressants and he thinks the leading causes are society becoming more alienated, lack of physical touch and that technology doesn’t substitute relationships.

It also doesn’t surprise me, as apparently it did many others, that James Holmes had a disproportionate gift of intelligence and grew up in a nice neighborhood.

Really? Is that what we’d most like for our children? An abnormal intelligence and a middle-class neighborhood? Do we really think that people who have are necessarily happier and mentally healthier than those who have not?

James Holmes house

Shouldn’t we instead wish for our children to have deep and close relationships, for them to find their vocation or primary “relationship” within the universal family which is the Church, to have strong social skills and be able to form lasting bonds, and for their trust in God the Father to enable them to trust other people, even if those same people sometimes let them down.

A recent Newsweek article by Dave Cullen, “What does a killer think?”, also described the Virginia Tech and Columbine murderers with similar “loner” behavior as James Holmes. The article says,

The official report on the Virginia Tech killings documented Seung Hui Cho’s steady disintegration, beginning in third grade and reaching homicidal ideation by eighth. It listed a dozen pages of ‘aberrant behavior,’ from ‘pathological shyness and isolation’ to stalking women in the dorm. Cho wrote weird, angry plays for creative writing class, which he refused to discuss. He sat silently, spurning eye contact with his ball cap pulled down to shield his eyes.


Most vengeful depressives blame their girlfriend, boss, or schoolmates. Some just aim to kill those targets. But the eventual mass murderer sees it differently: it wasn’t one or two mean people who drove him down, it was all of us. Society was brutal, the whole teeming world is mean. We all need to understand what we did to him; we all need to pay.

In the Catholic world view, evil is really just a degradation or lack of good. Hate is the absence of love. Mother Teresa had a few words on that; she said,  “I think the world today is upside down. Everybody seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater development and greater riches and so on. There is much suffering because there is so very little love in homes and in family life. We have no time for our children, we have no time for each other; there is no time to enjoy each other. In the home begins the disruption of the peace of the world.”

Could it be that James Holmes, other than being classified as “mentally insane” by psychology or “cold-blooded killer” by criminology, can also be classified as a person, our brother, who has a severe lack of love and relationship? And would you join me in perhaps offering a prayer or two for him?

About the Author:

Julie Machado is a 30-year-old wife, mother and Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal for college and has been there ever since. She has a degree in Theology from the Catholic University of Lisbon and has special interest in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.