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May 12, 2020

How Does God Heal Us Emotionally?

Dr. Edward Sri

Even in Catholic circles, it’s not uncommon to hear, “Emotions are neither right nor wrong.” But would St. Thomas Aquinas fully agree? In this week’s episode, Dr. Sri encourages us to seek emotional healing from God so that our desires and reactions to everyday situations are firmly rooted in Christian virtue.  

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Snippet from the Show

“Love is to rise above our emotions.”
St. Thérèse of Lisieux 


Can we say that certain emotions are good? Can we say certain ones are bad?

What Jesus Teaches about Anger

You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.

Matthew 5:21-22

While there is such a thing as just anger, Jesus forbids us to lash out against people unjustly. He teaches this in the Sermon on the Mount, going as far as saying that expressing your anger unjustly will lead you to the “hell of fire.” When was the last time we lashed out at someone just because we were having a bad day? 

What Jesus Teaches about Lust

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Matthew 5:27-28

Jesus teaches the same thing concerning adultery in Matthew 5:27-28, pointing out that it’s not enough not to commit the act of adultery. We must also avoid looking at anyone with lust in our hearts. Just like with anger, Jesus shows us the harm that certain emotions can do in our heart and in the hearts of those around us.

Obedience vs. Love

Think of the lives of the saints and how they might have handled anger: Do you think they would often jump to lashing out at those around them each time something went wrong? They loved Jesus with their whole hearts and lived their entire life for him, and that included following his commandments concerning emotions. Jesus doesn’t want us to just be obedient to him, he wants our hearts fully given to him. The more we give out hearts to the Lord, the easier we’ll find it to follow his commandments, and the easier it will be to follow him.

The Virtue of Continence

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that the virtue of continence helps us temper our disordered desires or emotions. For example, continence may help one contain his or her explosive temper or lustful urges. Think of it like an emergency break in your car: Your breaks don’t fail often (or maybe they do), but when they do fail, you’re sure glad you have the emergency break.

Healing Our Emotions

Even though we can resort to using continence to control sinful urges or hurtful impulses, we don’t want to have to use it all the time. Wouldn’t it be better if we wanted to follow God’s commandments? God wants to get to the root of our sins and heal our desires, aligning them with our emotions. When noble desires eclipse our less-than-praiseworthy feelings and emotions, we begin to show signs of Christian virtue and holiness.

St. Thomas Aquinas on the Four Levels of Virtue (and Vice)

St. Thomas profiles four types of persons, and where each stands in relation to virtue or vice:

Stage 1: The Vicious Person

  1. Desires: His desires are disordered and aimed towards sin.
  2. Acts: He acts upon his desires according to his own pleasure.
  3. Justification: He doesn’t think what he’s doing is wrong.

Stage 2: The Weak-Willed Person

  1. Desires: His desires are disordered and aimed towards sin.
  2. Acts: He acts upon his desires according to his own pleasure.
  3. Justification: He knows what he’s doing is sinful and wrong.

Stage 3: The Self-Controlled Person

  1. Desires: His desires are disordered and aimed towards sin.
  2. Acts: He does not act upon his desires out of pursuit of the good.
  3. Justification: He knows what he’s desiring is sinful and wrong.

Stage 4: The Virtuous Person

*the virtuous person still faces temptations

  1. Desires: his desires are ordered and aimed towards the good
  2. Acts: he acts upon his desires because he knows they are aimed towards the Lord
  3. Justification: he knows what he’s doing is aligned with the way of Jesus

How Does God Heal Us Emotionally?

So we’ve looked at the different stages of pursuing virtuous desires, but how do we get from one stage to another? Here are some practical ways we can seek emotional healing from God: 

  1. Pray: Pray for God to heal your emotions, whether of anger, lust, or anything else you’re struggling with.
  2. Frequent the Sacraments: Visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and frequently visit confession and Mass.
  3. Be Patient with Yourself: A lot of us are probably between stages two and three, but moving through these takes time. Be patient with yourself.
  4. Read the Lives of the Saints: You will find hope in the lives of the saints, because they were human just like us, but choose the good.

Resources

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