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Thursday, December 27, 2007

What a Feelin'!

Just last week, I met a guy who is converting to the Catholic faith. (Unfortunately, he is doing so at a parish that often doesn't provide authentic Catholic liturgy, so we can only pray the catechesis is even somewhat solid!)
In any case, at this parish, he is catered to in his "feelings" because while he is very learned scripturally, he is also very much involved in his non-denominational Christian worship. He does not want to leave his friends and family behind. (Apparently he forgot that Jesus admonishes us to leave our families and friends behind when we are called...)

His entire basis and spiritual point of reference was of "feeling". So I told him that it's not about "feeling". That there's more, and it goes far deeper than feeling and emotion. He acknowledged this, said that he is converting because he believes in the Catholic faith and he FEELS "peace" when at Mass.

Granted, that says a lot, but at the same time, for someone whose most important factor of worship and knowledge of God is "feeling", well, his barometer needs readjustment.

I know that God uses emotion to draw some of us to Him...but it's not emotion that draws us in deeper.

I tried to explain spiritual dryness, but he never let me finish...he always interrupted, said that people have told him about dryness, but he just "feels" that what he is doing is correct, etc. He was all about the warm and fuzzy feelings in his spiritual life; and because of this, no one else's advice or information, including the Saints, was valid.

And I was fine with the fact that his "feelings" were valid, and told him so. My pure advice to him was this: At some point, you are going to come to a spot were there is no emotional response. And because you're so used to that fire in the heart, when the first episode of dryness hits, you're going to think you're doing something wrong because you're not actually "feeling it" anymore. And going to church on Sunday is going to be a chore (whether you are Catholic or Protestant), and you'll go not because it feels good, but because you love God. It's the conviction of faith that keeps you, not the emotional support of good fuzzy feelings.

He didn't want to hear it. Thank God, Father, who was present at the time and had apparently been listening to at least some of this conversation, broke in. He used his Vocation story; his sense of peace with his call to the priesthood, as well as the dry periods. But it was the "peace" that never stopped...even when the emotions have. Because "peace" goes beyond feeling. He acknowledged the purification of spiritual dryness, but that peace of Christ overcomes all of it.

What some people don't understand, though, is that "peace" isn't an emotional response to anything; it is devoid of emotion. "Peace" is purely abstract, purely objective, and purely of God...because one can experience (not "feel") peace even amidst the worst of the storms life has to offer.

There WILL be spiritual and emotional tumult; but when we are within God's Divine Plan...there will always be peace, even when we are not able to sense God's presence in the very darkest of trials.

Please keep all converts in your prayers, all of those fighting spiritual battles, and all those who are truly entering the "dark night."

Purify us, Lord, in thy mercy.



Adrienne said...

It sounds like he is in one of those "touchy/feely" RCIA classes. A perfect perscription for disaster.

Adoro said...

Actually, he's from a "touchy feely fire-in-the-gut" religion, and I'm not sure RCIA has anything to do with it. But that said, a lot of RCIA programs don't do a lot to tell people that conversion isn't about "feeling", although God does often use emotion to reach us.

Nancy said...

I'm a recent convert to the Church from a Pentecostal background and I know very well how my faith was dependent on "feeling"; when I wasn't on an emotional high my commitment really lagged. I think this is a byproduct of faith being disconnected from reason, and being in a denomination that had strong anti-intellectual currents was something I wrestled with even when I was practicing my faith devoutly. Of course, as a Catholic now, I can see the head and the heart are not in opposition, but must go together in drawing closer to the Lord.

And another aspect that has kept my faith rooted regardless of how good or bad I'm feeling is the reality of the Eucharist. Lately I've been wondering how much of a role the lack of an understanding of Eucharist (and sacramental theology in general) plays into this kind of appeal to emotion. The longer I'm a Catholic I see that not having the sacraments in my Protestant past left a big gaping hole that they could only attempt to cover with things that didn't really fit, whether it was emphasis on dynamic preaching, the latest hot praise and worship tune, multimedia presentations, etc. That's not to say that emotions are bad for a Catholic; sometimes, I'll be kneeling in thanksgiving after receiving Holy Communion and I'm pretty emotional. But my spiritual experience isn't dependent on it.

And the peace I'm experiencing probably stems from the understanding - however fuzzily - that at this tima and place in my life I am where God wants me to be and that's very reassuring even when I'm going through all sorts of ups and downs.

Melody said...

It sounds like he is a good person, who sincerely wants to do God's will in his life. The fact that he is attending RCIA shows that he is part of the way there. I will pray that he will be open to God's grace to help him sort out the issues he is facing.

angelmeg said...

EVen when I was at my most spiritually dry I felt peace when I was at mass, so his peace may never leave.

Trust that God is leading him, you don't have to be his savior, he already has one.

He will seek the truth and all the other information he needs to remain a good Catholic when he needs to do so.

RCIA is a process of conversion of heart not a training program in Catholic minutia. I think he is in a really good place for this point in the process.

Adoro te Devote said...

Nancy ~ Welcome home! And thanks for your comments....I think you said EXACTLY what I was trying to point out, and you did it much better. Faith and Reason HAVE to go together; if one is being led ONLY by emotion, they will find nothing but emptiness because emotions can't endure. Faith DOES - with Reason.

melody ~ I agree, I think he's a good guy, and he's learning as he goes, but believes his home is in the Church. That's awesome.Please keep praying for him...newbies need all the help they can get! ( do the rest of

angelmeg ~ Believe me, I KNOW God is leading well as the friend of his who had brought him to our gathering that evening. I really just used this small snipped of a much longer conversation to bring up that important point that feelings aren't faith. Even some Catholic get onto the emotional rollercoaster and think they're doing something wrong if they, for example, don't weep at Mass anymore, etc. And that is a very spiritually dangerous attitude to take, whether for a "seasoned" Catholic or a newcomer to the Church.

My guess is that one day, when he's ready, this guy is going to pick up the writings of the Saints and is going to be blown away by their observations. (in a good way!)

The good thing about our conversation is that we were not in an RCIA class; it was a bunch of Catholics and this inquiring soon-to-be- Catholic so it was the PERFECT place to discuss what you call "Catholic minutia". In class, perhaps it would never come up. I don't know...I can't teach it anymore as my new job requires me to be present there, and there is little teaching involved in my position. In any case, even if I was still teaching RCIA, he is going through a different parish.

But my point wasn't to "teach" him anything; in fact, my comment to him was actually completely taken off track in the course of our conversation, and that's where this post evolved from, unfortunately I don't have time to state the rest of it AND make the point we are now discussing.

Nancy understood perfectly...see, one of these days I'll be able to just condense things like that and make much more sense! LOL!

Anonymous said...

Yes, there's nothing wrong with feelings. But it's not a well-balanced diet all by itself. (Which is why nice and intense feelings are often compared to mother's milk by spiritual writers. Perfectly nourishing in the beginning and a good start, but not what you'll live off the rest of your life.)