Thursday, June 14, 2007

Some Doubted, Part 2

We left off yesterday with the promise that discernment proper picks up where scepticism of our own responses to situations leaves off. We should say a bit more about our feelings, since some interpret the Church's stance toward feelings as repressive. "Guide your feelings by reason and your reason by faith," is interpreted through the 'hermeneutic of suspicion' to be a thinly veiled euphemism for "suppress your feelings so that you'll buy into the stuff the hierarchy tells you to believe."

I mentioned yesterday that our feelings, our passions, at root are gifts from God. So is our reason. Yet we all know that people (even ourselves) can be quite unreasonable when they get upset, depressed or addicted. We all have a desire to love and be loved, and if we examine ourselves, we can identify movements of our hearts that make our efforts at love superficial. Ironically, those who push for personal 'authenticity' are often those who privilege feelings. "You feel like you want to do that? Go for it!" And yet when our actions hurt others or even simply weaken trust, we deprive ourselves of what we most deeply and authentically desire: communion with God and others, sympathetic understanding and simple joy in the presence of those whom we trust and who trust us.

This is not to say that feelings are therefore always to be suppressed or mistrusted or thought to be evil.

We all know that things in life get broken. But we don't look at a car with a dead battery and say, "Well, that's just how that car is." Nor do we stop driving altogether with the excuse that car batteries are unreliable. We find a friend to give us a jump-start and we fix the car. Similarly, if we feel unchaste stirrings, we shouldn't simply say, "Well, that's just how I am" and keep ourselves in bondage to that feeling. Nor should we refuse ever to look at another human being because we don't trust ourselves. Rather, through the practice of chaste self-discipline, we can arrive at the point of joyful living in which we can see a beautiful person and not need to possess him or her.

A first step, in the words of Mother Maria-Thomas, OSB of St. Walburga's monastery, is to develop a deliberate distance between ourselves and our feelings. Feelings are only impulses: they are not the core of our being. They give us important information about the relationship between our environment and our interior state. They can give us the energy to do things that our wills otherwise find difficult.

But our feelings are also ephemeral and can be changed. As children, we learned to like broccoli. We later perhaps learned to enjoy coffee, beer or opera. We can learn to like people from other cultures. We can learn to dislike vice. To do these things, we must in most cases, be persuaded by an authority that we trust. A parent may introduce us to coffee. A mentor may explain something about opera that piques our interest. A friend introduces us to someone from another country and speaks highly of him or her. In these cases, we put our initial reponses 'on hold': we try not to pay attention to the bitterness of the coffee, the huge vibrato of the buffo bass singer, and we try to hear our new friend's accent as charming rather than annoying.

So we here lay the groundwork for the importance of trusted authority in learning to cultivate mature affectivity in life. Tomorrow we will continue on this theme.

I promise my prayers for all who have read this far--and those who didn't make it, too!


beth said...

hello prior peter - well I just discovered your blog and I find that you are speaking very clearly about things that I ponder over. thank you for this, and thank you for your prayers. b

Anonymous said...

I also just discovered your blog via this post and will surely return for more. Please pray for me and all other young people discerning their vocation that we might have the courage to seek God's will with constant sincerity of heart.


This blog is published with ecclesiastical approval.

If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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