We’re always encouraged to “live with passion” and I would agree with that statement. A common sense question for a Christian to ask would be: what does” living with passion” look like?
Passion has driven people to achieve great things, to love relentlessly, and even to a near-successful attempt to take over Europe. Wait… what? Yeah, that’s a Hitler reference, but I think we can all agree that Hitler was definitely a man of great passion. Hitler believed in his political and social agenda with all of his being. John the Baptist was also a passionate fellow. No one would ever think to compare the two but they both had one thing in common: they were passionate.
I think we can safely assume that passion isn’t always oriented to what is truly good. As I have already mentioned, our passions can be disordered and can drive our reason and will into some very poor decisions. Our most common passion is love and such passion becomes aroused by what is seen as good or desirable. We are naturally drawn to what is, in our eyes, desirable. You might not believe this, but passions, in and of themselves, are never sinful. It is never a sin to desire something. Depending on what the particular object of desire might be, acting on a desire is where the actual ‘sinfulness’ materializes.
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
I have written before about the freedom that Christians enjoy in the truth of their faith. I have made note that Catholicism, in particular, is not a restrictive, legalistic cult but a religion of divine freedom, love, and most importantly: passion. We ought not to live out our faith due to some undue expectation of condemnation for our shortcomings. GK Chesterton once said that we should allow for our religion to be more of a love affair than just a well-constructed theory. (paraphrasing, of course) If our faith isn’t motivated by love then what is the point?
We can be passionate about many things. Many of these things can lead us towards death and destruction. Throughout our life, millions of voices will compete for our attention and each of them will claim to have the key to true fulfillment. There are many seemingly-noble causes that will tug at our heartstrings and, if our conscience isn’t well informed, motivate us to the point of becoming passionate about something that only serves to destroy any hope for true happiness. It is so often the case, that, what we are passionate about competes with the morality of our religion. Can we simply attribute this to a poor marketing campaign on behalf of the Church? Perhaps. (kidding!) The reason for this amounts to a lack of one particular element. You guessed it: passion.
“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses…” – Blessed Pope Paul VI
We know that our faith seeks to unite us closer to God and as we mature in this faith we will, inevitably, become more conformed to the likeness of Christ. Jesus Christ was, in fact, the epitome of moral perfection; perfection in the flesh, one might say. If we are to be more conformed to the moral perfection of Christ we must, first, become more virtuous. Virtue, as the Church teaches, is a firm disposition of the soul to do what is truly good. We are not born with virtue; rather we acquire it through choosing repeatedly, with the help of grace, in accord with what is good. As we grow in virtue the temptations of our vices become easier to resist. The residual effects of our ‘old self’ can still be felt in light of grace’s transformative effects. In time, as we grow in virtue, our passions will begin to reorder themselves to what is truly good.
Moral perfection consists in man’s being moved to the good not by his will alone, but also by his sensitive appetite, as in the words of the psalm: “My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (cf. Psalm 84:2) – CCC 1770
We ought to live with passion because the alternative to living in such a way will rob us of our joy and of our faith. Growing towards a virtuous life is a painful process and our flesh will constantly put our efforts at odds with what is right. With the help of God’s grace, however, we can reorient our passions towards the desires of God. We would do well to remember that not every passion will lead us to happiness and in our prayer we should discern the upright will of God. It is when we become passionate about what is truly good that we will become powerful witnesses of our faith and only then will we sanctify all of society.
We must be passionate.