by Theologian Father William G. Most
What is the Role of Emotions or Feelings
in our Spiritual Lives? First, let us be clear on
what Emotion is. According to Modern Psychology it has Two (2)
Bodily Changes, chiefly in Biochemistry;
For example, the 'Chemistry' in Fear and in Anger
are much the same. So it is the Mental Interpretation that Decides which it is. If we see something 'Outrageous' before us, that
Registers as Anger. If we see something 'Highly Dangerous', it Registers as
Emotion, by its very Nature is Neutral, neither
Good nor Bad. For example, Our
Lord had Anger when He drove-out
the Sellers from the Temple. So Anger then was
Good. It provided a Chemical Lift, Adrenalin, that made it easier for Him to
carry-out what was needed. But if Anger is more than what the situation-on-hand calls for,
then it is Wrong. Since we are Humanly Weak, it
usually does go a bit-beyond what is Proper. A bit-beyond is Venially Sinful. It would have to be
something Exceedingly Great, so that a Person is almost out-of-his-Mind, to make it Mortal.
(Also, a Real Desire - not just a Passing Thought - for some Notable
Revenge can be Mortal).
Similarly, in the Spiritual Life, Feelings or
Emotions can be Helpful or
Pleasant Emotions in Religious Things are called
Consolations; the opposite, Aridity. Realization of
Spiritual Truths is not the same as Consolation.
There are chiefly Three (3) sources for Feelings
a Good Spirit (or God) and
the Evil Spirit.
First, they can come from Ourselves. Some, on Reading the Life-of-a-Saint, may as it were,
Identify with the Saint, and Imagine themselves
Saintly, especially if they happen to have a Calm Mood in Prayer. They may
practically Contemplate themselves as they Pray, and Think themselves
Holy. Some Races of Humans are more prone to Emotion than others.
So something written by such a one may speak of High Emotion. For example, Saint
Augustine, in his 'Confessions', after his Conversion, in his Retreat before
Baptism, describes Emotional Highs from reciting Psalm-4. Most people would
not find that the case.
The State of our Health and Body, in general, can affect our Response in
Feeling. Sluggish Bowels can tend to Dampen or Hold-down Emotions. If we
watch ourselves - which is even Amusing to do - we will find that our Reactions and Attitudes can Readily Change with any Change in our
Body Chemistry. Women, in general, are more inclined to
Feelings than Men. Further, their completely-Natural Hormonal Cycles can bring a Constantly Shifting Landscape, as it were,
before their Eyes.
Sins, and even Imperfections, even
Attachments to Earthly Things can Predispose one to
Aridity. To understand Attachments, we think of the Words of
Our Lord in Matthew 6:21: "Where your Treasure is, there is your
Heart also". In a Narrow Sense, that might be a Box of Coins hidden under the Floor for Safekeeping. Such a Stash would
tend to Pull the Owner's Thoughts and Heart toward it: he would
Enjoy Thinking on it. But we can put our Treasure in just anything: in Huge Meals, in Gourmet Meals, in Sex, in Travel,
in Study, even in the Study of Scripture and Theology. All these things are Lower than God Himself,
some much Lower than others. So they can, in Different Degrees, tend to Hold Down our Thoughts and Hearts.
But there is a Second Factor: How strongly does a Person let self be
pulled by these things? The Least Pull would Result only in Imperfection,
less-than Venial Sin. The Next Level would be Occasional Venial
Sin - then Habitual Venial Sin - then Occasional
Mortal Sin - then Habitual Mortal Sin. One who
Falls into Habitual Mortal Sin will find it hard for his Thoughts,
Feelings, and Heart to Rise-to the Divine
There is a thing called Affection-to Venial Sin. It means this: it is as if a person were to
say to himself: I do not intend to commit Mortal Sins, or even every Venial Sin that offers itself. But I have some
Reservations. If it gets too Hard to keep up a Conversation without some Detraction, I will do it. Or if it is too Hard to stick to the
Truth, I will Lie. In general, a person will not so openly speak to himself, as it were, about the Attitudes we have described.
But they can be there, at least Subconsciously, and can do much Damage. Such
Attachments keep one not only from Fully Receiving a Plenary
Indulgence, but from any further Spiritual Progress at all. It is as if the
Person puts a Clamp around his Heart: it can expand just so far, no farther. It is
Sad to see some Persons going-in for so many Devotions, but yet making
no-Gain, since they Harbor - perhaps without realizing it - one of these Affections. This is something to
check on. During a Retreat is a Good Time to Scour our Consciousness for these things. (Cf. Saint John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount
Carmel 1.11.4 - for his Comparison of a Bird-on-a-String).
God or a Good Spirit can send either
Consolations or Aridity. When a Person reaches the
Second Conversion - the Point where he Decides to get Serious about Pleasing God - then
God often sends Consolations, to help Detach the
Soul from Things of this World. But, if these Feelings
were to run Long-Term, there would be Danger of Attachment
to them. Saint Francis de Sales says we might come-to Love the
Consolations of God more than the God of
Consolations. Saint John of the Cross (Ascent of Mount Carmel 3.39.1) compares such things to 'Toys'. If a Baby picks up
a Sharp Knife, we do not try to take it from him. No, we dangle a 'Toy' before him, so he will
let-go-of the Knife. The 'Toys' are such Consolations.
There is only One (1) Free Thing in us, our Free Will. So
in a Situation where our Will must hold onto Carrying-out the Will of
God in-spite-of Aridity, even in Darkness
, i.e., when it seems Impossible to do so - then the Soul must either make a Large
Gain, or Fall. We think of Abraham, told-to
Sacrifice his Son, even though he had-to Believe God would make him the 'Father of a Great
Nation' through Isaac. Abraham could have Respectfully asked God: I
know I must believe this, but now You tell me to kill him. I am willing to do either, but cannot do both. But Abraham did
not ask any question: he just went-ahead. And God did Provide.
Our Blessed Mother had to Hold on in the Dark
many times, e.g., at Cana, where the Reply of her
Son seemed to be Rejection. Yet
she Believed, and told the Waiters: Do whatever He tells you. That brought
His First Miracle, ahead of
His Planned Schedule.
In John 6, Our Lord insisted they must Eat His
Flesh. That sounded-like Cannibalism to the Crowd, or Backbiting.
He did not explain, just insisted, even though many Drifted-away.
He even told the Apostles: Are you going to leave too? . . . No, You have
the Words of Eternal Life. He wanted them to
'Hold on in the Dark' and so to make Great Gain.
. . . . . . No Gain
. . . . . No Glory
. . . . No Crown
Our Blessed Mother at the Cross had to Believe that this
"Wretched Failure" was really the Salvation of the World.
She did, she even had to Positively
Will that He Die,
Die then, Die so
Horribly - for when any Soul knows what God
Positively Wills, that Soul should Positively
Will what He Wills.
And she did this in Direct Clash with her
Love, so great that PiusIX in 1854 said it was so-Great that,
"None greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it". (The Pope
spoke of Holiness, which in practice is Interchangeable-with Love).
Saint John of the Cross tells us that there are Three (3) Signs that a
Soul, already Far-Advanced, is going to receive Infused Contemplation.
One (1) is a Total Aridity, everything Material,
everything Spiritual, brings no Consolation
The Evil One can send Consolations, to make a
Soul try to take-on Spiritual Projects too Great:
he can afford to Promote some Temporary Gain in-return-for Long Term
Loss to that Soul. He can also send
Consolations to make us think we are Saintly, we
have-arrived. And of course the Devil can Promote Aridity to
Urge us to Give-up or to Let-up. And in Aridity he can tell
a Soul that it is a Strong Soul, and does not need
So we return to the Thought we mentioned in-passing above: there is only One (1) Free Thing in us, our
Free Will. If we could make that Completely Match the Will of God,
that would be Perfection. Of course we cannot get that in
One (1) Quick Action, like Instant Coffee. No, we cannot Foresee at this Moment all that
God will ask us for before the End of our Lives.
(A Unity (1) of Body and Soul)
Even more Important — Even though Spiritual Progress lies in the
Will, it is tied to what is called Somatic Resonance. Since we are made of
Matter and Spirit and the Two
(2) are tied so-closely as to Form One (1) Person, the Result is that if we have a Condition
on either side, Body or Spirit, then for Normal-Running
there should be a Parallel on the other side. That is called a Resonance. When it Falls on the side of the Body
(most usual) it is labeled Somatic. For example, a Man in Deep Black
Depression may Think he is Losing his Faith. The Truth is that the
Bad Chemistry that causes his
Depression is Interfering-with the Somatic Resonance to
Faith - that Resonance is found in Biochemistry. Hence it seems to him he has
no Faith. But when he comes out of the Blackness,
there is no need to make him a Convert again. His Faith was there all-the-time.
Now Somatic Resonance, precisely since it is Bodily,
follows the Laws of the Way a Body Grows - Plants, Animals, Children all Grow in a Step-Graph. There are
Long Plateaus, and in-between Small Rises. Our Spiritual Growth follows such
a Pattern. Can we help make the Rises Larger? Yes, when we do something that is Hard, on what Saint
Francis of Assisi called 'Brother Ass', his Body,
then the Somatic Resonance can be Shaken-up enough to Support a Larger Rise. And when - most People meet
such things once or more in a Lifetime - we meet something Terribly Hard to Accept as the
Will of God (Permitted or Positively sent), then if we only Refrain from Growling,
but even Thank Him for that as Means-of-Likeness to Christ -
then we can make a Large Gain at such a Point. We think again of Our Lady
at the Foot of the Cross.
There is a Diversity in Spiritual Patterns too. There are, as it were,
Two (2) Levels or Tiers in the Principles of the Spiritual Life.
On the Basic Level, no one can Break the Rules without taking a
But on the Secondary Level there is Room for much Variation.
Saint Francis of Assisi took much-pleasure in Birds and Flowers, and that led him to Praise
God Greatly. Saint John of the Cross probably reacted in the Opposite Way. Saint Francis de Sales
was a Refined Gentleman. Saint Benedict Joseph Labre was like a Filthy Tramp living in the Ruins of Rome. He must
have had Body Lice. One Story says if One of them tried to crawl out of his Sleeve, he would push it back again.
We owe Him Everything - for making us out of Nothing - and all-over-again, for
Redeeming us. So we go to Mass not to enjoy ourselves - that is
indifferent whether or not we enjoy it - but to Please Him by Joining our Resolve of
Obedience to that of the Obedience of the
Heart of His Son, as He lies on
the Altar, and to that of His
Mother, who still joins-with Him
in each Mass, as she once did at the
Cross (cf. John Paul II in Saint Peter's Square on
Sunday Feb 12, 1984 said: "Every Liturgical Action . . . is an Occasion of Communion . . .
and in a Particular Way with Mary. Because the Liturgy is the Action of Christ and of the Church . . . she is Inseparable from one and the other
. . . . . Mary is present in the Memorial - the Liturgical Action - because she was present at the Saving Event, Faithful with her Whole Being to
the Father's Plan, at the Historical Salvific Occasion of Christ's Death. " Her
Will is still United with His, the
Flesh and Blood on the
Altar came from her).
We might even take a Few Moments before a Mass: What have I done in
Obeying the Father since the last Mass? If Well, I can Join that to Jesus' Offering; if some times I did Badly, then I should express Regrets.
Here are some Passages from Saints who had much Aridity,
but Profitedfrom it:
Saint Therese of Lisieux, Autobiography (Cap 13, p. 196, Kennedy Edition): "Do not think that I am
overwhelmed with Consolations. Far from it! My Joy consists in being Deprived of all Joy here on Earth. Jesus does not guide me openly: I neither
see nor hear Him".
Saint Therese of Lisieux, Poem: "I know that at Nazareth, Virgin full of Graces / You lived in great
Poverty, not wishing anything more; No Raptures, no Miracles, no Ecstasies / embellished your life, O Queen of the Elect./ The number of little ones
is very Great upon the Earth. / They can, without trembling, lift up their eyes to you. / It pleases you to walk among the Common Way, / Incomparable
Mother, to Guide them to the Heavens".
Saint Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle 6.9: "I will only warn you that, when you learn or hear that
God is granting Souls these Graces [Visions etc.], you must never Beseech or Desire Him to lead you along this Road. Even if you think it is a
very good one, and to be greatly Prized and Reverenced, there are certain reasons why such a course is not wise". She adds:
"It shows a Lack of Humility, one leaves Self Open to Great Danger since the Devil will take any opening, there is also
Danger of Autosuggestion; it is Presumption to want to choose one's Own Path; Very Heavy Trials usually go with such Favors" and,
"There are many Saintly People who have never known what it is to receive a Favor of this kind, and there are others
who receive such Favors, although they are not Saintly . . . . It is true that to have these Favors must be the Greatest Help towards attaining a High
Degree of Perfection in the Virtues; but anyone who has attained the Virtues, at the Cost of his Own Toil, has earned much more
Saint Francis de Sales, Letter 764 to Saint Jane de Chantal: "It is the Height of Holy
Disinterestedness to be Content with Naked, Dry, and Insensible Acts carried out in the Higher Will alone. You have told me well about your Suffering,
and there is nothing to do to help it but what you are doing: Affirming to our Lord, sometimes out loud and sometimes in song, that you even Will to Live
and to eat as the Dead do, without Taste, Feeling or Knowledge. In the End, the Savior wants us to be His so Perfectly that nothing else is left for us,
and to abandon ourselves entirely to the Mercy of His Providence without Reservation".
Prayer of Saint Padre Pio
Lord Jesus, sometimes, when I am in the State of Spiritual Aridity, I don't even feel like
Praying, and I certainly do not feel Your Presence. I wonder how You, the Bread of Life, could ever Love me, a Miserable Sinner.
Help me to Accept my Weak Humanity, and to bow always Humbly before You and Accept the "Medicine" of Your Holy Spirit
Who longs to Heal my Heart and Soul.
Padre Pio was Graced by God with the Stigmata. His Shield depicts the Pelican,
a Symbol of Christ, who strikes her own breast to draw blood in order to feed her young chicks.