There are a lot of things I learned about my faith from peeking in scary old books that belonged to my uncle who was a priest (he passed away when I was little). One of the most valuable things I read was that our feelings are not necessarily true reflections of our souls. I’m pretty sure most people don’t believe that.
Doesn’t seem when you’re depressed that somehow you’ve incurred the wrath of God? Or that when you’re confused that God has abandoned you, just as you “know” you deserve? Haven’t you ever felt downright gleeful doing something you know is wrong? Or looked back on a time in your life that makes you cringe, but at the time your conscience was comfortably napping?
Isn’t amazing how quickly we can rationalize the evil we want to do? That somehow our situation is special? “The love I feel for this man/woman is more real than anything I have ever felt – so what if they’re married.”
“Follow your heart” is the new modern mantra. And human beings will blithely ignore facts when feelings are stronger than their reasoning.
I recently read an old pamphlet written by Margaret Sanger, the foundress of Planned Parenthood, and was surprised to find her words pulling at my heartstrings as she sympathized with the trials in women’s lives. How many women have let their feelings drive them to cheerfully support the Culture of Death? Or to ignore the obvious fact that that ultrasound is indeed of a baby?
I once read of an apparition that gained a popular following and that inspired many conversions…until the visionary declared himself pope! Some of his followers recoiled in horror, but some couldn’t pull themselves away. They had an ‘experience’ there. It ‘felt’ so real! In one swoop the devil chopped off an arm of the Church.
Feelings aren’t bad in and of themselves. God gives them all the time, and sometimes we really can’t help them. But feelings need to take a back seat to truth, reality, or just ordinary prudence.
I think we all hear God speak in that still, small voice at times, or have things happen that we feel isn’t coincidence. We ask, “Was that a message from heaven?” Frankly, that question doesn’t matter to me. I ask, “Am I thinking with the mind of the Church?” or “Is what I want to do a good thing?” “Is it in keeping with the Ten Commandments?” Humility and obedience need to guide us. If we let intensity of experience be the judge, then we have set up a false god in our hearts.
Sometimes I find I have shove feelings aside and make myself a little emotionally “stupid” or my fears will prevent me from doing anything daring. I imagine if any priest could truly grasp what it was he was doing at the consecration of the Mass, he’d be paralyzed.
Negative feelings aren’t always bad – they drive people to confessionals all the time. But our feelings don’t always speak the truth. Mother Teresa spent 45 years feeling rejected by God even though she was clearly a saint. Courage, patience, and surrender are things we may possess without “feeling” them. And even if we do ache for certain spiritual gifts, we may be expecting now what might take a lifetime to achieve. Even after all these years I still get cranky when it’s time to fast or say the rosary. These contrary feelings enhance rather than detract from the value of our efforts, but they make us “feel” like virtue is hopeless for us.
We have to trust God and His Church even when holiness feels dry or mundane. But having said all this, it’s nice to know that sometimes intense feelings are right on the mark - like the relief of a good confession or the sweetness of communion well received. Or the feeling I have rambled on long enough. Have a good one guys.