Though Jesus didn’t want to die on the Cross, He did God’s will. The Agony in the Garden by Giovanni Bellini from Wikipedia

Sr. Helena Burns: Feelings are just one part of being human

  • September 29, 2021

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Feelings are just one part of being human

Sr. Helena Burns, FSP

“Feelings. Nothing more than feelings.” Thus went the 1970s ballad. As often happens, pop songs contain profound lessons if you take them out of context and give them meanings the songwriter never intended: “Yes, they’re just feelings, and nothing more. Don’t sweat it.”

Our daily, hourly multiplicity of feelings, emotions and moods that come and go are important as reactions and indicators to ourselves, others, events and our surroundings. But they’re only useful when we know how to read them and be in control of them.

For example, someone deeply offends us; we can’t help but feel hurt or angry; we then choose how to respond appropriately. This choice leading to action will hopefully include our rationality, but we may find that the best way to answer this particular person at this particular moment is with a bit of emotion in our voice and demeanour. Ideally, our choice of action will be based primarily on our faith in Jesus Christ, His Gospel values and principles, and the life of virtue(s) we are trying to acquire in imitation of Jesus.

One way to look at the role feelings play in our lives is this: Feelings (here I’m including our entire “affective” life, desires, passions) are one-third of what makes us human. But only one-third. The other two-thirds must be given their proper due: reason and free will. Another way to speak of these faculties is: our mind, will and heart — our abilities to reason, choose and love. Keeping all three in balance and harmony is much easier said than done!

St. Paul summed up this common human predicament that we all experience: “I do not understand what I do. … I don’t do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do. My inner being delights in the law of God. But I see a different law at work in my body — a law that fights against the law which my mind approves of. … Who will rescue me…? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Romans 7:15, 19, 22-23, 24-25 GNT).

In the not-too-distant past (syrupy lyrics aside) subjective feelings — good, bad or indifferent — were given far less attention and weight than today. Today, feelings are king. Feelings are everything. Feelings seem to be our one and only compass. Feelings are even legislated upon.

What used to be given pride of place? Thought, logic, objectivity, common sense. In fact, even in the interior life and the “life of good deeds” striving for holiness, spiritual masters emphasized the need to begin with correct thinking, with truth, with knowledge and meditation (especially of Scripture) ordering all our attitudes, relationships and activities. Perhaps, in the past, we overdid stressing rationality to the detriment of feelings, but the tables have certainly turned, haven’t they? Today, facts don’t even seem to matter. The once all-authoritative science is being thrown under the bus.
How can we possibly base important life decisions or societal matters on constantly fluctuating and often confusing feelings and emotions? Sometimes, we can’t even figure out exactly why we feel the way we do. Feelings were never meant to lead us, to be in charge. (I like to ask young people what would happen if we really trusted and acted on all our feelings all the time, like: getting up in the morning, going to school, doing homework, taking care of a sick friend?) The Agony in the Garden reminds us that Jesus didn’t feel like going to the Cross, but He did the will of the Father nevertheless. “Not everyone who says: ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father” (Matthew 7:21).

Well, what then shall we do in a society that worships “the feelz”? What should we do with our own often torturous feelings? Consult the Word of God. The Word of God is light, healing, direction. The Word of God is solid gold truth and fact about the past, present and future. Does God say to do it (no matter what/how we feel)? Then do it. Does God say don’t do it (no matter what/how we feel)? Then don’t do it. Yes, it’s just that simple. Even though God knows and understands all the nuances and intricacies of our history and our hearts, His Word still stands as the sure way forward for all of us. All-inclusive.

(Sr. Helena, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA.  Twitter: @srhelenaburns)

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