There are no evil passions
Milena Kindziuk, Piotr Chmielinski
Passions provide very important information about man’s life. Therefore, one should not suppress them but notice and master them. How? The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states, ‘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’. Therefore, it is natural to write about passions in the second part of our Advent cycle.
The psychotherapist from the Association of Christian Psychologists in Lodz Anna Stelmaszczyk explains that there are two important orders in man’s life: the mind and the heart. The mind is the order of logical thinking, reasoning, analysing whereas the order of the heart lets you discern your emotions. Without this ability man is as if dead. Only when man expresses his feelings he shows he is alive. Fr Krzysztof Grzywocz, an experienced spiritual director from Opole, claims that in Christianity there is sometimes a tendency to value the mind more. ‘But passions are extremely intelligent. They are not at work without any reason. It is the mind that often interprets passions in a wrong way and the mind is led astray. The mind would be poor without emotions and emotions would be poor without the mind’, said Fr Grzywocz during one of his formation sessions concerning passions.
Do not confess your passions
Many people neglect and undermine the sphere of passions. We can also suppress our emotions and they recede into our subconscious. We run away from such emotions as anger, envy and aggression, and treat them as sinful. This is wrong because passions are morally neutral.
‘There are no evil passions’, ensures us Fr Miroslaw Nowosielski, a psychologist from Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw. Anna Stelmaszczyk adds, ‘All passions are good, even those seen as negative.’ She gives the example of anger that is the energy man needs to defend himself. If someone cannot get angry because he thinks it is not proper or is afraid of showing anger he will exhibit aggression or self-aggression or even will fall ill after some time.
In this case people should not confess their passions in confessional booths. ‘Passions arouse spontaneously’, the well-known preacher and psychologist Rev. Professor Marek Dziewiecki emphasises. ‘We need to confess when we do concrete evil deeds influenced by our emotions’, adds Rev. Professor Stanislaw Urbanski, a theologian of spirituality from Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw. It is worth knowing that we sin when we, influenced by our emotions, think badly of others. ‘It matters what I will do with a given feeling, how I will direct it and that’s why the deed that follows the feeling is sinful’, Fr Nowosielski explains.
People have the right to dislike others but it is important what they will do with their feelings. Passions provide very important information about our lives. If we feel positive emotions like joy, peace, confidence it means that our situation is rather good. Whereas negative emotions, e.g. fear, anger, hatred, mean something evil. ‘There is a strict connection between emotions and the way of life’, says Fr Dziewiecki. Therefore, young people make big mistakes when they want to raise their spirits without improving their lives. Then they take various substances to feel better but this is only temporary relief. What you need is work on your own maturity. Then your various kinds of emotions are soothed since they inform you about a new and better situation. Passions tell a lot about ourselves so it is worth reflecting what they actually show. For example, if someone hurts me my natural emotional reaction is a feeling of harm and anger. The feeling informs me about the harm.
Furthermore, passions are also God’s word for us. ‘Through our passions God wants to tell us something. Passions reveal some challenge from God’, thinks Fr Jozef Augustyn, SJ, a spiritual director and retreat-giver.
Sometimes the sphere of emotions plays a decisive role in spiritual life.
Fr Urbanski: – Actually spiritual life without emotions does not exist.
Fr Grzywocz: – Spiritual life is very emotional since the relationship between man and God is very emotional. The whole man should be a place of dialogue with God. If we switch off emotions this dialogue will be impossible.
But passions are also a place of meeting other people. Someone who experiences difficulties is tragically lonely. Since feelings are tied together. That’s why, it is worthy participating in other people’s lives, getting involved in their experiences and building relationships with them.
‘But, beware! Too much involvement in other people’s affairs can be destructive. If you try to get involved in the life of a depressed person and you do not keep certain rules of communication, including appropriate distance, you may feel exhausted since you will catch this depression sooner or later’, warns Fr Tadeusz Florek, a Carmelite Discalced, psychologist and psychotherapeutic from Krakow.
John Paul II was able to express his emotions in a beautiful way. He could not help laughing when he spoke about cream cakes in Wadowice. He was sincerely moved when he heard his favourite Marian song. But when needed he could raise his voice and admonished people as it was during one of his pilgrimages to Poland. And all people appreciated that since he was very true in his reactions. He did not pretend, he did not act and did not do it for show. And the answer is simple: the Pope followed Jesus himself. Since from his birth Christ openly expressed his emotions. First, he was shown as a defenceless baby in a cradle, a child that cries when it is cold or hungry, and then when he was an adult. Suffice to mention how he turned the tables and threw the merchants from the temple, shouting at them and showing his irritation. He was also angry towards the Pharisees. He reproached them for their desire to take the first places at feats and that they showed their superiority. All these situations show that he was a flesh and blood person.
Anna Stelmaszczyk also focuses on another aspect of Jesus’ behaviour, namely the fact that he could mark limits of his passions. For example, when he found his disciples sleeping in the Garden of Olives he did not praise them for that and he did not cover them with blankets so that they could keep sleeping but he told them, ‘Did you not have the strength to keep awake one hour?’ When
Lazarus died Jesus cried, which testified to his great sensitivity and gentleness.
The verse ‘be angry but you must not sin’ (cf. Ephesians 4:26) has become classic.
‘It means that we have the right to be angry. But many people often live in some artificial world. They pretend that they do not feel anything at a given moment and afterwards they release their tension, e.g. they have a heart attack or severe depression’, Fr Nowosielski stresses.
Matured people are jealous
Passions should be skilfully directed by the mind. Since passions themselves are blind in some way. We must discern what our feelings can lead us to. For example, if a husband falls in love with another woman his feeling of love will not tell him whether the relationship is good or bad. He must evaluate it by using his mind. And if the relationship does not serve common good because his marriage can be broken up he should not build anything on it.
The same concerns envy. We most frequently think that envy is something wrong and we think that we should not show envy. However, we should discern what envy could lead us to. It is true that envy causes evil deeds. But envy itself has its sense. ‘Matured people do envy others’, says Fr Grzywocz. He adds that the feeling of envy refers us to values. For instance, if someone begins interesting studies people can envy him. ‘Through the feeling of envy I hear the message: this man is doing something valuable, something good. I will not harm him by my envy but I will even make him feel worthier. Consequently, I have become a patron of his worth. Secondly, envy stimulates development. If I envy him I might feel encouraged to begin studies as well.
You should develop and control your passions. Otherwise, we can hardly speak about maturity and taking responsible decisions. One can see it on the example of those men and women who leave their religious orders. ‘Some people, influenced by some sudden emotion, decide to leave the order or priesthood after several years of formation. Actually, such people have never understood their passions; on the contrary, they suppress them, they try to deceive themselves and they rationalise their emotions’, says Fr Dariusz Kowalczyk, the Provincial of the Jesuits’ Society. Unordered feelings exert real influence on people’s spiritual lives. ‘If someone boils with fierce anger and does not want to cope with it he will project his anger onto God and other people. Then you cannot speak about a profound encounter with God and people’, Fr Florek claims.
Keeping passions under control
Psychology claims that one should control one’s feelings. According to Fr Nowosielski, feelings are the key to get to know your sins and to discern God’s will. ‘They show the reasons to call some deeds sinful. And they let you make examination of conscience in the right way.
The strategy of controlling one’s passions is the following: first, you must realise what kind of emotions you are experiencing now. And here you can face a problem. Some people, especially men, cannot identify their own emotions. ‘Men are often full of negative emotions, they let emotions use them and they try to convince themselves and others that they follow some rational reasons that lead them to particular actions. But in fact, it is not the reasons but their feelings, which they are not aware of, that make them behave like that’, Fr Kowalczyk says. Therefore, it is worth noticing and identifying your own emotions. ‘If I name something, call it by its name, I am in good contact with this reality. The name makes me relate to this feeling. Then I feel that I am not overcome by my emotion’, Fr Grzywocz says. You must trust your emotions. If they come to the surface it means that they are to come. Then you must discern your emotions. If we do not experience our feelings and suppress them into our subconscious they will arise with real unrestricted power. ‘The repression of emotions can explain the scale of violence that young people show; they often have no occasions to express their passions. Especially the feeling of harm or grief’, Fr Augustyn says. Violence can result from suppressing one’s emotions since they are gigantic energy. They are like the elements. Water can flood everything but can also be used to produce electricity. So can passions. We can use their power to do evil or to do good.
You should tell your passions
Being aware of your emotions is not enough. You should tell them, which is what psychologists claim. The best solution is to tell your passions to those people whom we trust and know that they will not harm you. These can be spiritual directors, psychotherapists, and friends. Psychologists say that the best school of emotions is the family. When parents express their feelings or when they make their children express their feelings such conduct will yield the fruit of maturity. The next step is to get used to your emotions. ‘I must observe them and distance myself from them. Since my feeling is not my whole being’, Fr Kowalczyk claims. Finally, you must ask God for the grace of heeling your emotions. For example, I can feel tormented for years that I have been treated unfair. At some moment, through the power of prayer and proper help of other people we can experience real heeling’, Fr Kowalczyk says. And the painful emotion disappears because God has healed it. We feel that such a quality change cannot happen without his power.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
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 (1764).
In themselves passions are neither good nor evil. They are morally qualified only to the extent that they effectively engage reason and will. Passions are said to be voluntary, "either because they are commanded by the will or because the will does not place obstacles in their way." It belongs to the perfection of the moral or human good that the passions be governed by reason. (1767).