Meditations for Layfolks - Feelings

Consider the immense power that feelings have over us! Our whole attitude to life, our efforts at improvement, or the ceasing of all effort, are unfortunately very largely affected by our feelings. Prayers are often taken up and then dropped simply because we do not feel in the mood. We seem to think that God is pleased, not by our prayers but by how we feel during our prayers, and suppose ourselves to be saints when we feel saints, and sinners when we feel sinners; while probably the very opposite is true, for on the whole we may be certain that we are never nearer to God than when we feel furthest away from Him. I find myself distressed when my thanksgivings after Communion are dull and cold, when I do not experience any of those waves of emotion with which, I fondly imagine, everyone else is thrilled. Perhaps if I looked into every other soul in the church I would find them very much as mine, and if I looked into the heart of God I should find that He was content. But first I have to impress upon myself the fact that I have very little command over my feelings indeed, I suppose that is really my very complaint, whereas it should be my excuse. I should like to feel the sweetness of His Presence and I do not feel it. Is that my fault? Not at all! for evidently I do want to feel it; therefore, as far as I am concerned, I should be experiencing the very raptures of the blessed. The reason, then, that prevents me is evidently beyond my control. Instead, there fore, of losing heart, let me take heart, for the cause of the trouble is not mine to remedy. It is probably some external thing, weather, health, digestion, that adds or takes away my feelings in my prayers.

If, then, I cannot produce at will the several emotions proper to the occasion, the fault evidently does not lie with me, is in fact no fault at all. I cannot be held responsible for lacking what is not, indeed cannot be, under my control. Inability therefore to feel devout, to enjoy one's prayers, to find pleasure in visits to the Blessed Sacrament, to taste the sweetness of Holy Communion, to discover sensible sorrow for my weekly or monthly tale of sins, to thirst after the rewards of Heaven or even to understand that they are rewards at all, to appreciate with proper devotion the pageant of the Mass, etc., is not sinful, since it is not wilful, deliberate. Try as I may, I cannot command these feelings. The speaker whose kindling words rouses my enthusiasm and works me up to a pitch of emotional frenzy has more command over my feelings than I have myself: in fact, I might almost make it out as a principle of psychology that others have always more control or more effective influence over my emotions than I have myself. They are more likely to compel me to weep, to love, to laugh, than I can force myself to do. But then I must deliberately realize that religion cannot be built up out of such frail and uncertain material. The City of God rests upon foundations surer than these that ebb arid flow: it is upon the reason and the will that the whole fabric must be reared. As long as my will is turned to God and endeavours to keep hold of Him, to follow His teaching, to obey His law, I am doing the best I can, and He can expect no more of me than that.

Can I not really go one step further? Not only can I not control my feelings, and not only therefore does their absence prove no sin to me, but is it not very much better for me that these should rather be against me than with me? Are not my prayers really more valuable just because they have no such accompanying thrills of pleasure? For consider that the object of the Christian life is union with God, and that this union is for the Christian achieved by self-surrender, which is itself stimulated by the example of Christ and by His merits communicated through the sacraments. Now to obtain self-surrender I must above all else be unselfish, and therefore probably shall have to battle against all the instincts of my nature. My talks with God, my prayers, sacraments, etc., must be supernaturalized, deliberate; but if these pious exercises brought with them such torrents of delights, would there not be a danger of my taking them up, not because they were a duty but because they were a pleasure, not because I wished to be unselfish but because I thought only of myself? But actually I have no such temptations. If I persevere in my prayers, then my efforts are certainly supernatural, for there are no natural motives for continuing them. I get no delight, no repayment; of oiy good works it cannot be said as once it was to the Pharisee, that I "have already had my reward," for so far I have found no reward. To go through all my exercises of piety is, moreover, my only way of love: not that sensible love which keeps me alive and active in my human friendships, but a deeper love that follows upon duty done, a love that hastes after its Lover, not for the consolations that He gives, but for Himself.

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.