Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Thanks to CK for guest blogging today!

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.


Adoro said...

Well said!

Warren said...

Where I get in trouble with feelings is that I get discouraged and stay discouraged, deflated, and stay deflated. I feel lost, and just feel like staying list. It takes the fact that others require something of me, and the decision made entirely of will-power, however feeble it seems sometimes, to overcome those crippling feelings.

I encounter consolation and love, and happiness, and positive feelings, and don't tend to go off the rails in following and seeking a "feelings-based" experience of my faith.

But I am the kind who encounters discouragement, and gives in too often to that. I am prone to Eeyore-like fits of melancholy. I am almost happy to be sad sometimes, or it seems an entrenched pattern or response, for me, anyways. Or you could say it's my temperament.


Anonymous said...

Very good post!
Feelings are given to us and can be good, but we have to be careful to not let them "over-ride" reason. Feelings are not the end-all, be-all. The old, "if it feels right, it can't be wrong" of the 60's can send you straight to Hell.

When we start having good feelings that are against God--reason should kick in, and we should run, and run fast in the other direction.

Anonymous said...

Feelings are a gift from God. Like all spiritual gifts they require some discernment. One of the dangers of understanding that feelings can lead you astray is that you can start to supress your feelings. An appropriate feeling experienced fully and at the appropriate time is trully grace. This is true for feelings such as sadness as well as joy. Think of Jesus' anger in the temple, grief at Lazarus' death, and the joy at Lazarus' ressurection. All of these feelings were of God.

Anonymous said...

I look at that William Oddie quote in the post below (almost unforgivable to turn Catholicism into something dull), and I think of all who present the faith as punitive-negative from their being more Christian than Christ, and I realize that until Vatican II, I never heard anything different. The truth is that until God's mercy in surprisingly convoking Vatican II, we were fairly trapped into the Church upon pain of hell. I personally know dozens of people who left the harsh Church. Only some were willing to give it a try again after hearing it had changed. Indeed, feelings need to be discerned, but they should matter.

ck said...

Poor Servant:

It seems that, back in the old days, the Truth was presented with a lack of charity. What I got in school was a false charity because it was devoid of Truth - it was an educational theory called "values clarification" which said however we FEEL is true and right.

I know that oppressive, creepy feeling from too much talk of hell-fire, but emptiness is way worse. I have found that I can present the Church’s stance on sin, hell, death, and sex, but with sensitivity and intelligence and people find it surprisingly uplifting.

A heard a homily last weekend about how, since missing mass on Sunday is not so bad, it is not a mortal sin, and the priest refused to believe that is why we were there. Well, it’s PART of the reason I’m there. I have found that the reasons PLUS the rules is an indispensable combination. Knowing the reasons makes us intelligent servants of a loving God rather than cowering slaves. Knowing the rules and ultimate consequences gives us strength when we want to rationalize bad behavior in the heat of the moment. So to RULE get me out of bed on a frigid day like last Sunday, but the REASONS bring me the joy when I get there.