Tag Archives: emotion

28 September: Fortitude V, Fortitude and the True Self

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Today is the feast of Saint Wenceslas, King of Bohemia. Gathering around his statue helped people to develop and exercise fortitude in times of oppression and eventually to win freedom for their country.

 

What does fortitude do for us in these painful situations? Does it make us invulnerable? Does it make us completely fearless? Does it make us feel strong? The answer to all these questions is no. We will need fortitude as long as we are alive, and we will be vulnerable as long as we are alive. We will never be without the need of this virtue. Fortitude is about helping us to be strong, but it will not make us feel strong.

Then, what kind of strength are we talking about here? We do not have a “fortitude button” in our hearts, that we can turn on whenever we need it. But, fortitude does get help from the other virtues, so that it can become part of our character as a human being, part of our personality. This is where we can return to our reflections on the virtue of prudence. Prudence gives us the ability both to see reality and to see the good for which we are striving. This identification of and commitment to the good in a given situation is the vital thing that sustains us in situations requiring fortitude. Sometimes a situation is confusing, and there are several good things that seem to be in conflict. We can find it hard to identify which good thing we should be focused on. We often need the counsel of a wise person to help us sort through the confusion, and to gain clarity. Once we do, however, then we need fortitude so that we do not begin sliding back because of the pull of our emotions. Fortitude strengthens us on the level of our will, so that we become able to hold fast to that which we perceive to be good and true and worth suffering for. In this way, we become able to handle the emotional reactions that can otherwise be overwhelming in the face of danger or difficulty.

St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of these emotional reactions by using the concepts of fear and of daring. In his thinking, the fear and the daring are on opposite sides. Because of fear, he says, we simply want to run away from the threatening thing. If we do that, though, then as St. Thomas puts it, the will withdraws from following what the reason knows to be right, good and true. This is where fortitude helps us to become the person we really want to be, for we lose something vital here on the level of personal integrity if we run away from everything that is difficult and emotionally threatening. By holding firm to our convictions and principles, even at great personal cost, we grow. We become recognisable as someone whose actions match up to our system of values. It is not easy to be such a person. Fortitude is about this kind of growth.

At the other extreme from fear, there is the tendency to be “daring” in the face of danger – by which St. Thomas means that, rather than try to escape, we race headlong into a dangerous situation ‘without taking counsel’, and in a manner that is not helpful to anyone, but only makes the situation worse. While there can be a time when a situation truly calls for a kind of bravery that advances into battle against the enemy, for St. Thomas, this is precisely what “daring” does not do. Daring, in his thinking, seems to be another word for a knee-jerk reaction, which dashes precipitately into the face of danger, taking foolhardy risks, endangering oneself or others unnecessarily.

In other cases, as St. Thomas points out with shrewd awareness of human nature, the person reacts by both running away from and running toward danger. He quotes Aristotle here and says, ‘Some hurry to meet danger, yet fly when the danger is present. This is not the behaviour of a brave man’ (see S. T., II, II, 123, 6). This brief sketch perfectly captures the personality of someone who talks big, but cannot cope with real danger.

For further study:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press

http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/

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September 27, Fortitude IV: Fortitude and Mortality.

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At Manchester City War Memorial, MMB.

The ultimate danger is death. But most of us are not required to die for a good cause. Yet, there are other forms of death. We are apt to say, with feeling, “Oh, I would die if such and such happened.” Most of the time, when we use that expression, we know we would not actually die if that thing happened – but the expression bears some truth after all. We would not physically die, but whenever we feel threatened emotionally, we feel that some important part of us would receive a mortal wound if that thing happened. To be rejected by someone we love, for example, does not cause physical death, but the emotional hurt is very deep. If the relationship with the loved one comes to an end, then the part of us that was brought to life through that relationship feels like it is coming to an end. A death of sorts does occur. And so, fortitude is about coping with these kinds of very painful human experiences. It may be that in fact, the relationship in question should change, or even come to an end. Clinging to a relationship out of fear of the loneliness and hurt that will follow once the person is no longer in our life can sometimes perpetuate a relationship that is causing greater harm to oneself that the loneliness we fear. Fortitude would counsel a person in this situation to bring the harmful relationship to an end, and to bear the pain that will ensue for the sake of a deeper level of healing and growth.

For further study:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press

http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/

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Inter-galactic Explorations XXVI: The Black Dog.

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‘You heard that?’ said Alfie, as the dogs, T, Abel and Will walked back to the railway station. ‘Abel said bye bye, black dog.’

‘His language is coming on,’ remarked T, ‘but did you see him scream and kick? He is so pleased when he says something new, but he gets frustrated when he cannot make Will understand.’

‘Even though we can read his thoughts without words,’ flashed Ajax. ‘Why can’t humans just do that?’

‘Sometimes they can. Will knows when Abel is tired and needs picking up. But this afternoon Abel wanted to play on the lift at the gallery, and the gallery is closed. Abel likes the world to be predictable. When he comes to Margate he likes to eat fish and chips with Will, to play in the lift, and to splash in the pool on the beach. He’ll be working the lift at the station right now.’

T realised he was talking to himself. The chihuahuas had put a safe distance between themselves and the pool, and were no longer listening.

‘That was predictable,’ mused T. ‘I guess there’s predictable and predictable. We came to bring peace, but I’m not sure we knew what peace on earth would mean. Some Earthlings would go along with pod life, safely fed and entertained, no quarrels because there’s nothing to quarrel about.

‘Even though he likes working the lift, I don’t think Abel would enjoy being cared for by sensitive robots. But then we’ve not bred for centuries, which has stopped quarrels about mates; so what do we know about children?  It’s there in the libraries, how to love a child and share life with it. That would rock a few of our citizens.

‘Mind you, sharing among ourselves is changing those two, and maybe me as well.
‘Hey, who’s that Alfie’s talking to? I can’t pick up his vibes at all!’

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June 7. Justice III: Justice and the Other

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Photo: L’Arche.

A theme underlying the Catechism’s teaching on the virtue of justice, but which could easily be missed, is that justice is a virtue by which we focus on others’ rights and claims.

We are perhaps encouraged by our culture to be aware of justice or injustice in the political sphere. But apart from that, our culture today teaches us to be most aware of injustices done to ourselves. We are taught to ask “what about me?” rather constantly. Granted, in a world where we can easily be victimised by entire systems of injustice, this is an important and necessary question to ask. The virtue of justice does not require us to be victims. On the contrary, this virtue is about opposing injustice wherever we find it. But, it is possible to go overboard here. It is the justice of the nursery, of the two-year-old, and of the ghetto, that regards everyone as a potential robber and enemy. It is important to grasp that in the virtue of justice, its principal act is to honour the legitimate rights and claims of others.

So then, St. Thomas Acquinas tells us in his Summa Theologica (II.II, Q.58:1): ‘It is proper to justice, as compared with the other virtues, to direct man in his relations with others.’ The other virtues – prudence, courage and temperance – are formed within the mind and emotions of the individual. They may involve other people, but they may not. Justice, on the other hand, exists in relation to others. It works to maintain a certain equity between a need and the fulfilment of that need. The obvious example is in the payment of a just wage for a service rendered. But there are deeper and more subtle considerations relative to justice, which we shall explore in the coming posts.

SJC

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9 May: Letting go and letting God

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Whether we are seeking to grow in prayer, or become free of what we have come to recognise as life-diminishing ways of acting or thinking, or to know what it is God wants us to do, it is in letting go that we make room for God. It is the Spirit that roots and grounds us in God, draws us into wholeness and guides us along the way that leads to life. If we try too hard, believing that it is only through the sheer force of our will and effort that change can happen, we leave little room for God. Everything is gift.

However ‘letting go’ is in itself a work, for our natural inclination tends towards keeping life in our minute control, depending entirely on our own resources rather than being open to another’s help, and bringing about change by the strength of our will and endeavour. To go against this instinct for self-sufficiency and self-definition can feel daunting; yet we let go not into nothingness but to ‘let God’ be active in our lives. In doing so we find that we too are alive in a way we have never been before.

  • Put a stone in your hand to represent what you desire to let go to God.
  • Place a candle or cross nearby to symbolize the place of letting go.
  • Use the reflection below may help you to identify what you want to put in God’s hands:

We let go to God our regrets about the past – the choices we have made however we now feel about them, whatever has happened to us for good and for harm. God is in the place where we are, however we got there.

We let go to God our anxiety about the future. We cannot control what is in essence beyond our control – instead of torturing ourselves with fears that begin ‘what if…’ we let go to God who will always be alongside us in ‘what is’.

We let go to God what hurts. True we cannot switch off our painful feelings; they flow into our lives, but if we do not cling to them they will flow from us again, carried in the stream of God’s presence and care.

We let go to God our resentment. Even though the anger may not die down in our hearts we consent not to hold on to our need to get even; we give to God to heal what we cannot heal by ourselves

We let go to God our need to be good enough. God gives freely what we can never earn. We are valued, loved and believed in as we are.

We let go to God our desire for growth. It is God who continues to create us and who works to make us whole.

We let go to God the choices we face today. Though we do not know what to do, as we choose to listen, God will lead us along the unseen way.

We let go into God’s working: We consent to be drawn this day into the stream of God’s life: to become the activity of Love in that part of the world that is ours.

  • As you sense something you want to let go to let God, put down your stone by the candle or cross.
  • There may be feelings you need to share with God before you feel ready to let go: fears, hopes, doubts, desires or pains. You may sense you are not ready yet to let go and let God in this area of your life. If so, let go at whatever level you are able to today, with your ambivalent feelings and doubts.
  • You will probably find that on another day you will need to let go in this area all over again. Letting go is rarely a ‘done deal’; it is a process where little by little we allow God to become the source of our life.

 

CC.

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30 April: Prudence VII, Reason.

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Saint Thomas Aquinas says that it is important for prudence that a person be “an apt reasoner” (Summa Theologica 49.5).  We have just said that we must not be thinking forever about what to do, but still, we must think enough.   We know, for example, the exasperation we feel when someone flip-flops from one decision on one side of the problem to the opposite decision on the opposite side with very little rational explanation for the change of mind.

Today, pop psychology has placed a rather inordinate stress on the so called “gut feeling,” as though our gut somehow has access to a truth that the mind and the reason cannot find.  Saint Thomas thinks more highly of our powers of reason than that.  He says that reason is the faculty that researches, weighs and evaluates.  Going off on tangents, or taking quantum leaps isn’t really the way to attain prudence, in his thinking.  Rather, he says,

‘The work of reason is research proceeding from certain things to other things.’ 

Eminently reasonable himself, Thomas would have us take a step by step approach to discovering the most prudent course of action:

  ‘It is proper to the rational creature to be moved through the research of reason to perform any particular action.’  

SJC.

 

 

 

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7 March, Human Will III: The Will and the Emotions.

 

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Let’s explore St. Augustine’s ideas a bit more.  We are trying to understand the will.  In the late fourth and early fifth century, when Augustine lived, the issue at stake with regard to the understanding of the human person would have been a question about the locus of the true self.  Is the true self in the mind, the intellect, the soul’s rational power?  At that time, the answer to this question would probably have been yes.  The self that knows, believes, speculates, reasons would have been considered the self’s core.  But, we have Augustine to thank for shifting this emphasis.  With Augustine, it becomes the morally responsible ‘I’, who loves, fears, struggles and chooses – in other words, the will – that is the centre of the personality and the true self.*  This means that for Augustine, the emotional life is an aspect of the will.

The emotions, however, must be rightly ordered, and not running away with us, helter-skelter, all over the place.  What do I mean?  Perhaps a two-year-old is the best example of emotions that run all over the place.  Whatever the two-year-old wants is what she intends to get, even if it means grabbing a toy from her playmate one minute, with a fierce, ‘Mine!  Gimme!’, and throwing it down the next moment in disgust, ‘Don’t want it!’ and proceeding to an operatic-style tantrum the next moment, and so on.  Although adults usually acquire social skills that cover such emotional chaos, we can often become aware that our emotional life has only become more sophisticated with time, but its two-year-old tendencies are still alive and well within us.

For Augustine, the good news is that the will and the emotions can work not in opposition to each other, but as one.  But there is a requirement here: St. Augustine saw that the will is not able to be healthy, choose rightly or be strong without God.  On the first day of these postings I quoted a prayer attributed to St. Augustine.  In this prayer, he testifies that God is the strength of our will, and the unifier of our emotional life.  If our will is able to be strong, if our emotional life is able to be rightly ordered, it is because we have allowed God into our life – indeed, into our very soul.

*These ideas are explored in a beautiful article by Bonnie Kent, ‘Augustine’s Ethics’, in The Cambridge Companion to Augustine, edited by Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

SJC

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17 November: Ignatius’ Reflection on World Youth Day: Adoration.

mercy.carving. (328x640)Ignatius is writing about the gathering he attended before going to Krakow; do read the rest of his reflection at as a little child !

Everyone smiled and said hello to everyone. And I felt embraced by an inexplicable love. I really experienced the joy of the gospel, and the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the evening, we all learned Hungarian folk dance, and had three hundred of us dancing around the hall in these great circles and lines, soaked in sweat, jumping about, and smiling like madmen. It’s an image of Heaven.

My highlight of the pre-encounter came at adoration. Even amongst such love, I was somehow able to start feeling alone and unlovable again. It wasn’t too strong a feeling, but I did feel cut off…

Then, some of my friends began a beautiful piece of theatre/prayer, centred around mercy and removing masks to be loved. At the end of this, the Eucharist was brought out for a time of adoration. A screen blocked me from seeing Jesus as He began proceeding from the tabernacle, and as I tried to prepare myself to see and adore Him, I didn’t feel any closeness to Him. I didn’t feel like He was really present at all, and I worried what this meant.

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Then He came past the screen, I saw Him, and I knew it was Him, right there, in love for me. I felt His loving gaze, and it broke me apart. I cried a lot, and didn’t wipe away the tears, because I didn’t want to lose a thing. I kept repeating ‘Jesus, you love me` and ‘Jesus, I love you`. I desired nothing but to belong entirely to Jesus, to love Him and be loved by Him, at any and all cost.

Detail, Door of Mercy, Zakopane, MMB; Pilgrims at Krakow (Ignatius).

 

 

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October 10: CONSCIENCE III: Under the Microscope

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There is good news and bad news about our conscience.  The good news is that our conscience has an affinity with what is good, and on this level of our being we “are alone with God whose voice echoes in our depths,” as The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us [no. 1776].  This wonderful “sanctuary” is given to us by God, we only need to put aside our many distractions in order to enter it.

But, if that is so, then why do good people sometimes go off the rails?  Surely, so much God-given moral integrity should keep us pretty steadily on the right path in life, once we have made the decision to take it.  Thus, the bad news about our conscience is this: its wisdom can be ignored, as St. Thomas Aquinas remarks [Summa Theologia, I, 79, 13].  He points out that conscience is not like our intellect and our will, because these two faculties of the soul have permanence; the powers of our mind and will are always functioning and cannot be laid aside.    Conscience is something else again.  It requires, St. Thomas implies, a certain depth of spirituality in order to do its work well; otherwise, its promptings can simply be tuned out.

Why is this so?  Recall, we do not live in a state of harmony within ourselves.  The true voice of conscience can be out-shouted by other parts of ourselves: our emotions, for example, can, and often do, overwhelm us and can make the judgement of conscience difficult to discern.  My emotion of anger, say, when someone offends me, might cause me to fail to take into account the fact that the offender did not intend to cause hurt.  I may find myself lashing out unreasonably, without listening to my own conscience telling me to give the other person a chance to explain.  Or, say, my greed for a new, stylish pair of shoes might be more insistent than the voice of my conscience telling me that I cannot really afford these designer stilettos, and I shouldn’t add the price of them to my credit card debt.

What do we do about this state of affairs?  Perhaps we need to view our conscience as we view our muscles.  Weak muscles need exercise in order to become strong.  Our conscience is something like that.  Ignore its voice and the voice becomes weaker and harder to hear.  Seek to follow the voice of conscience, and its guiding voice will strengthen and become easier to discern.  

SJC.

 

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24 September: Intergalactic Discoveries, XII: Going Native.

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Alfie and Ajax were certainly changing, as T had observed. Inducing the Builder’s Dog to walk on duckweed was almost saying that which was not, and without Mrs Fox’s kind-hearted motive. Indeed motivation and emotions had bubbled up more and more frequently for the dogs as well as for T, frustrated in his mission to California.

On his return to Kent he was philosophical about it. ‘Not worth losing sleep over it. Let’s get back to Margate and regroup.’

For the dogs – or pseudo dogs – life was exhausting. People wanted to touch them, dogs wanted to chase them, cats hissed and spat. A far cry from the Ossyrian way of life, in atmospherically controlled dwelling pods, eating a scientifically designed diet, performing the social protocols according to seasons no-one had experienced since the Great Descent to the SubOceanic Halls and Pods.

Surface life on earth was painful and joyful in ways unknown in the plankton-lit world of Ossyria but how could they explain this to their co-citizens? How to describe an ache that was not a result of injury? The taste of forbidden food – and why was it forbidden? ‘A little of what you fancy does you good!’ Mrs Fox had said. The sensation of physical contact – at first unsettling, then craved. Alfie had grown to seek out Abel’s touch, and had taught Abel to be gentle by relaxing himself and thinking in tune with the little boy. There was little room for such fellow-feeling in the Pods, designed in long-ago desperate times for survival, not thriving. Why were all three less than anxious to return to their lives as Director, Droghmirrxz and Bogmerlg?

 

This follow-up report would be much more difficult to write than their first two had been.

WT.

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