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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.
If there is anything I can remember from my high school experience it was that rules were the worst. At the time, I could have sworn that I was the only one among my friends with a curfew. Also, I would have bet anything that my parents were among the strictest around. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just be free. I was young and wanted to assert my independence as often as possible. Looking back, as most of us come to realize, these ‘rules’ were in place to help shape us into who we are today. In order for us to move forward in life there has to be some boundaries and guidelines. Often times, there were things that my parents taught me that I didn’t understand at the time but my only option was to trust them and believe that they only wanted the best for me. I learned that when I rejected these valuable life lessons it only pointed out a shortcoming in my own character and not in their parenting style.
In today’s society there are many who reject the Catholic Church and even religion altogether because they feel as though the Church only seeks to limit their freedom. Many evangelicals take cheap shots and compare the Church to the scribes and the Pharisees in the scriptures who dished out their fair share of impossible-to-follow doctrines. Keep in mind, I don’t mean to speak divisively, but sentiments similar to the aforementioned ones are… well… misguided thoughts, to be charitable about it.
To better understand why such views still prevail, even today, we must consider what the most common understanding of freedom might be in the world today. Many people, even some Catholics, view freedom as the ability to do whatever, whenever, free from consequences. To an extent, this definition is actually correct, except for the no consequences part. As we learn from just growing up, doing what is right, as opposed to what is wrong, is a proven recipe for smooth sailing. Granted, trials will befall us; however, when we desire and live oriented towards what is truly good, we can survive any such trials. Because God created us in His image we are, by design, made to live in service to what is truly good. The occasion of sin that tempts us can often distort our created purpose and enslave us to our corporeal desires. Concupiscence, our own tendency to sin, lead us to believe that obliging our own immorality is actually the key to being truly free and that any attempt to stifle it is a limit to such freedom.
Man’s freedom is limited and fallible. In fact, man failed. He freely sinned. By refusing God’s plan of love, he deceived himself and became a slave to sin. This first alienation engendered a multitude of others. From its outset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom. – CCC 1739
Sin is the limit of our freedom. As the Gospel tells us, it is the truth of Christ that actually sets us free. This reality is most beautifully explained in that we were made by God and for God. Any number of analogies, for example, using a power tool for something other than its intended purpose making a job more difficult, can be used to describe how living contrary to our created purpose only serves to limit our intended freedom.
In light of the so-called rules and impossible doctrines of the Church, any amount of pure-intentioned prayer and discernment can reveal to us the parent-like nature of the Church itself. Like a mother seeking to keep her child from harm and guide them in the way they should go, the Church makes definitive statements regarding our purpose and morality so that we might live according to what God has in mind for us. There are many reasons as to why we might reject the Church’s rules, but these rejections most often point to a level of (intentional or innocent) ignorance or to the blindness that our conscience suffers due to habitual sin. The Catholic Church guides us into a more complete experience of God’s love. We will do well to remember that true love calls upon us to die to self for the good of the other. The Church doesn’t seek to take away your freedom; she seeks to guide you into eternity with Christ.
Thoughts on Being ‘Trapped’
Yesterday evening, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the monthly gathering of our Diocese’s young adult ministry called Truth Poured Out (similar to Theology on Tap). The topic that Fr. Jeff selected is one that, in recent years, has been gaining traction among various faith groups; the topic of human trafficking. Leading up to last night, my only familiarity with this issue stemmed from a documentary I viewed a few years back and having witnessed a few of my friends participate in awareness marches, locally. I knew there was a major problem, especially here in the US but I never really gave it much thought. Even though this problem had, in a major way, become a domestic problem I always felt that it wouldn’t be happening here, in a nearby big city perhaps, not here though.
You might see countless articles telling you dozens that are better to fast than just chocolate. This is not one of those articles. Who knows… chocolate might be the one thing you need to give up in order to grow in holiness.
Throughout my years of working in youth ministry, the number one response I receive when I ask students about their Church-going habits is that they don’t go because it is boring. Second and third place responses are usually tied to issues of oversleeping or perhaps Mass, for them, simply isn’t a family affair. Granted, a good number of the teens I work with do attend Mass faithfully. On the other hand there are a few who rarely do. If there is anything that I can hope to accomplish in youth ministry it is this: that every one of them would fall madly in love with the Eucharist. More than hype, more than fun and games (which are absolutely crucial) my only desire for these young souls is that they allow for their hearts to be swept away in desire for Christ in the Eucharist. Truly, this would be the greatest accomplishment of any parish ministry.
Growing up, I was always taught that it was important to get ‘plugged in’ at church. Such a belief has stuck with me, still today. In order to “be the Church” we are obliged to do more than just occupy a pew on Sundays. Being the Church entails an active participation in the various ministries that your community of faith has to offer. Believe me, there is always a spot for everyone. If you can sing, join the choir. If you can’t, be a lector. Stage fright? Be an usher. I could go on and on but the fact remains that whatever your unique skill set may be, the Church can use it. Even if you don’t think you have any skills the Church still needs you!
One of the earlier remarks of Pope Francis’ papacy is that we are the “throw away culture,” which, if we took time to think about it, his assessment was spot on. Initially, we might find his labeling to be harsh and such remarks could go as far to hurt the pride of young millennials who are working to change their societies into something that they see as ‘better.’ Francis’ assessment extends into discussions of the environment, technology, and most importantly… the human person. In my previous post, I wrote about a less popular topic that often gets ignored by the pro-life movement at large. I wrote about the grave harm brought on by any and all forms of artificial contraception and sterilization. Contraception, sterilization, and everything that I am going to address today contribute to why we received the ‘honor’ of being called the throw-away culture.
Being anti-abortion is easy. Being pro-life is hard.
Ever since I found out the truth about abortion, I was against it. I have always believed that life begins at conception and that any force of man to end the life of another was nothing short of murder. To many of you reading this, you are likely to be quite familiar with the pro-life, pro-choice debate here in the United States. As we approach the anniversary of Roe V. Wade this debate will only intensify. On one hand you have the mostly Christian, mostly conservative pro-life establishment that seeks to overturn Roe V. Wade and all similar legislation. Most people who claim to be of religious affiliation or even claim to abide by some moral code will likely stand with the pro-life camp. The correlation between being religious and being anti-abortion rests in the belief that all life is sacred. Even if you aren’t fighting abortion due to certain religious convictions your stand against abortion probably comes from some innate feeling inside you that tells you life is worth preserving.