No Forced Feelings

In Catholic, Christianity on December 2, 2009 at 2:56 pm

This post begins a three-part series (see the bullet list). It was originally written on December 2, 2009, then revised on February 26, 2013, after reading Bishop Karol Wojtyła’s Love and Responsibility

The book was written in 1960. In addition to Blessed John Paul II’s  discussion of personhood as the basis for true love, the primary topic of Love and Responsibility, his caution about emotions and the “authenticity” of experience significantly clarified and strengthened my thoughts I had written about feelings. See especially the first and third paragraphs after the list.


Many of us, whose pilgrimage began outside the Catholic Church, remember times we may have been concerned about our salvation. Specifically, thinking of our own conversion—when we “walked the aisle” or responded to an invitation to accept Christ—we find ourselves wondering, “Did I know enough?”  “Was I sincere enough?” “Was I old enough?”

By God’s grace, in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, these questions are answered.  The answer has three parts:

No forced feelings:  In the Church, God meets us as what we are: men and women composed of matter and spirit. Our spirits long for communion, for deep belonging, for love—to love and be loved. We may not always be quick to identify the only truly satisfying Object of our love: God. But because our longings are so powerful, we too frequently imagine intense emotion also will signal the satisfaction of our longings—if our experience is genuine.

“Did I know enough? Was I sincere enough?” Often our response, our metric, is “Well, it sure felt like it!”

Yet authenticity is not dependent on feeling. “Emotion . . . diverts ‘the gaze of truth’ from the objective elements . . . The effect of emotion is that the consciousness is preoccupied above all with the subjective ‘authenticity’ of experience.”¹ This doesn’t mean Catholic Christianity is cold or abstract, by any means. Quite the contrary. It is physical—Incarnational. Moments of great spiritual passion are not uncommon. But it has objective truth as its foundation.

Hence, each Sacrament includes a “sensible sign” (some element that can be detected by the human senses) through which grace is conveyed.  For example, you feel the water of Baptism; the chrism oil of Confirmation.  You taste the bread of the Eucharist.  You aren’t left to wonder, “Did I?”  And, “Did it feel like it?” Instead, you can have the confidence that “God did, just as He promised!”

Let us pray in the words of today’s Morning Prayer (12/02/09) from The Liturgy of the Hours:

Lord, You are the source of unfailing light.  Give us true knowledge of Your mercy so that we may renounce our pride [belief that salvation is something that depends on anything but grace] and be filled with the riches of Your house.

That is Christianity Richly!

¹ Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press), p. 154.

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