It was at the height of the clergy sexual abuse scandals in the United States. I was having a conversation with a lady who asked me what I was doing in Boston at that time. I replied that I was a Catholic seminarian and religious preparing for priestly ordination. I remember the shock on her face and her wry reply to me, “Well, I guess we all got to follow our hearts wherever they lead us.” Simply follow your heart? Is that all we need for fulfillment in this life?
It is definitely not enough to simply follow our hearts’ passions because these passions are easily disordered. They are easily and often disordered because they depend on our feelings and imaginations as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Feelings or passions are emotions or movements of the sensitive appetites that incline us to act or not to act in regard to something felt or imagined to be good or evil.”(CCC 1763) Because we easily ere in regards to what we feel or imagine to be good or evil for us, simply following our hearts’ passions leads to disastrous consequences.
St. James shows us some of the disastrous consequences of simply following our passions. It leads to inner conflicts and divided communities, “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?” It also leads to inner frustration, “You covet but do not possess.” Unbridled passions prevent us from living in peace with ourselves or with others, “You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.” We cannot even pray appropriately and receive anything in prayer because of our disordered passions, “You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
What then are we to do when we are experiencing strong passions? What do we do when we experience raging desires for things that we hope will bring us pleasure and joy? What do we do when we experience hatred, aversion, and fear in the face of something we feel or imagine as evil? How do we response to that feeling of sadness and depression that accompanies the experience of evil in our lives? The last thing we want to do is simply follow our passions.
The Catechism also describes how we are to respond in the face of these passions, “It belongs to the perfection of the moral or human good that the passions be governed by reason…The upright will orders the movement of the senses it appropriates to the good and to beatitude; an evil will succumbs to disordered passions and exacerbates them.” (CCC 1767,1768) Our passions must be governed by reason and they must be subject to an upright will. Thus, our only hope in ordering our passions is to submit our whole being – reason, will and sense appetites – to Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word, whose will alone is upright enough to orient our passions to what is good, true and beautiful. In short, we must follow Jesus with passion instead of blindly following our passions.
Jesus was not just predicting His own death and resurrection when He said to His disciples, “The Son of Man is to be handed over men and they will kill Him, and three days after His death the Son of Man will rise.” He was also revealing to them the greatest passion of His heart: to serve His Father even to death on the cross for our salvation. He shows us the path to true greatness is passionate and selfless service of others out of love for His Father.
The disciples were not ready or willing then to share in the passion of His heart so they were easily overcome by their own selfish ambitions and rivalry, “They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.” Jesus did not chide them for seeking to be great. We all desire to be great because we are all created in the image of a God of infinite greatness. But how do we become truly great? Jesus simply taught them that the way to true greatness was not in merely following their desires for greatness, but in sharing in His passion for selfless service, “If any one wishes to be the first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
We share in Christ’s own passion for service in three ways. Firstly, we serve all persons, without distinction because we serve them all out of love, “Freely you have received, freely you are to give.”(Mt 10:8) Secondly, we humbly accept what comes our way as we serve. We accept the conditions, consequences, and costs of our service, “After you have done all that you are commanded to do, simply say, ‘We are unworthy servants.’ We have only done what we were obliged to do.’”(Lk 17:10) We do not have any entitlement to any remuneration. Thirdly, we allow God to reward us for our service, “Whoever receives one such child as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” (See Mk 9:30-37) By bringing us deeper into communion with the Triune God, God rewards us generously for our littlest service out of love for Him. Communion with God! What can be greater than that on this earth?
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are not the Immaculate Conception herself (which we are not and never will be), we cannot simply follow the passions of our heart. Doing so leads us to seek for a greatness that we want for ourselves and has nothing to do with the will of God for us. This is a proven recipe for frustration, despair, and wounded relationships.
We must rather seek to follow Christ with passion till the point that we allow Him to mold the passions of our own hear too and lead us to true greatness through selfless service to others. We must begin to bring the passions of our hearts humbly and honestly to Him with that determination to follow Him closely. We then allow Him to enlighten our minds and move our wills according to His own heart. He will help us to become passionate for the same things that He was passionate about. Imagine the great freedom, inner life and hope that is ours when we share in the passion of His heart until we actually love what He loves and deeply resent what He resents.
Today, we witness the many forms of unbridled passions in the Church and in the world and very little of that passionate following of Jesus. Think of the horrible clergy sexual abuse scandals, the wicked cover-up of the hierarchy, the gruesome massacre of the unborn, the promotion of homosexual predators among the Church’s hierarchy, the growing acceptance of homosexual unions and fornication, heresies that are left uncorrected and even promoted, corruptions that are ignored, addictions that are not addressed, etc. Unbridled passions are apparently running amuck in the Church and in the world with terrible consequences!
There is a great desire for greatness and little desire for selfless service to others out of love for Christ. Hence, we have in the Church what St. James rightly warned us about, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.” We are futilely trying to become great by letting our passions dominate us and lead us to grasp, covet, envy, compete, and fight others. We do not want to follow Jesus’ way to greatness, “He did not regard equality with God something to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form a servant.”(Phil 2:6-7)
The Paschal mystery is made present in each Eucharist, allowing us to not only receive Christ, but to also share in His heart’s passion and receive the grace to follow Him with passion. He wants to lead us to true greatness, the greatness that His Father willed for us for even before we were born. He served, died, and rose from the grave that we can be children of the great God. But we cannot enter into that greatness by simply following our disordered hearts’ passions. We will enter into that greatness by always following Christ with passion and letting Him order our passions aright.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!