Passion can be a great thing. Our faith teaches us that our passions (emotions, feelings) are part of our God given human nature and “incline us to act or not to act in regard to something felt or imagined to be good or evil” (CCC 1763). As a part of our human nature, our passions are not part of our immortal souls. This might be surprising; but how we “feel” about a situation isn’t our soul telling us what to do. That doesn’t mean that our passions aren’t valuable, they are, but it is an important distinction. The Catechism put it this way, “The passions are natural components of the human psyche; they form the passageway and ensure the connection between the life of the senses and the life of the mind. Our Lord called man's heart the source from which the passions spring” (CCC1764). So while the passions are not part of our soul, they form a unique bond between our immortal souls and our bodies.
The Catechism also states that passions in themselves are neither good nor evil. They are morally qualified only to the extent that they effectively engage reason and will. That means, for instance, if we get angry at an injustice that anger itself is neither good nor bad. But it may “move” us to act in a certain way. If we are moved by the “passion” of our anger to respond to injustice with another injustice, we have then allowed that passion to move us to sin. On the other hand, if we are moved by our anger at injustice to strive to make things right in a morally just way, then we have used that passion in a morally good way.
We are called to use our intellect and will to assert themselves over our passions. We must filter our emotions through the truth of the situation and use of right judgment in our response. Because how we “feel” about a situation is never enough. Therefore, acting on our feelings alone about a situation is wrong. Think about the times you have heard an account of some event and how you “felt” about what should be done. Then, on a reasoned analysis of the actual situation, with as many more facts about how and what actually happened, we would respond com- pletely differently. Acting on our feelings alone is wrong.
The Catechism teaches us the following, “Strong feelings are not decisive for the morality or the holiness of persons; they are simply the inexhaustible reservoir of images and affections in which the moral life is expressed. Passions are morally good when they contribute to a good action, evil in the opposite case. The upright will orders the movements of the senses it appropriates to the good and to beatitude; an evil will succumbs to disordered passions and exacerbates them. Emotions and feelings can be taken up into the virtues or perverted by the vices” (CCC 1768).
This is all the more important in today’s society. The ratcheted- up rhetoric of today rejects the idea that we need to critically analyze our both feelings and the response our feelings promote. How can we ever work towards a common good with people, especially with whom we disagree, even passionately disagree, if we are slaves to our emotions? All we will do is fight and accuse. We have been created to be so much more than slaves to our emotions.
Finally, we are reminded in the Catechism that the primary passion is love. “There are many passions. The most fundamental passion is love, aroused by the attraction of the good. Love causes a desire for the absent good and the hope of obtaining it; this movement finds completion in the pleasure and joy of the good possessed. The apprehension of evil causes hatred, aversion, and fear of the impending evil; this movement ends in sadness at some present evil, or in the anger that resists it” (CCC 1765).
We believe that to love is to will the good of another. To choose, hopefully aided and encouraged by our passions, to give of ourselves for the good of the other. But there are times, many times, which we are and will be called to give of ourselves and act for the good of the other even contrary to our feelings. Due to our fallen human nature, often our passions are disordered. They are not ordered to what is good, but instead to what is evil. Enabling our intellect and will, aided by the Holy Spirit and sometimes despite our passions, to choose and do the good is the height of authentic love. The way we show the Lord that we appreciate the gift of our passions is to striving to conform them to what is genuinely good.
God bless you,
Father Joseph Byerley