02-16-2014Weekly ReflectionFr. Will Schmid

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As human beings, we are emotionally invested in the world as much as we are physically and intellectually. We experience all kinds of emotions everyday and sometimes we are unsure what to do with these emotions. Jesus knows that our emotions play an integral role in the way we live our lives. In a way, today's Gospel (Matthew 5:17-37) is a beautiful teaching by Christ on the role of emotions in the human person. Yet, Jesus' teaching is easily misunderstood and needs some clarification.

First, it is important to understand that emotions are morally neutral: they are neither good, nor bad by themselves. Rather, emotions become good or bad based on two things: (1) the object they are directed toward and (2) the degree with which they are ordered toward their object. What does this mean?

An emotion is considered a good one if it is the proper response to a particular stimulus. For example, anger is an appropriate response to an act of injustice, or grief is an appropriate response to the death of a loved one. These are appropriate corresponding emotions. An example of an improperly ordered emotion would be anger directed toward the birth of a child. Anger is not the reasonable or appropriate response to that particular stimulus.

However, even when there is an appropriate response, the degree or level of response also effects the morality of the emotion. For example, if a child intentionally neglects their household chores, anger is an appropriate response. The child did not respect the authority of the parent and did not perform their proper duty. However, too much anger in response to the child's neglect of the household chore would be sinful. The degree must also be appropriate for an emotion to be moral.

Second, we must also remember that emotions are always to be tempered by love. Love is defined as, "willing the good of the other." A proper emotion is always ordered toward the good of the other person and never merely for one's own sake. As Christians, we can never seek to bring harm to another person to satisfy our own desires. Such an act would be deprived of love. For example, it is acceptable for a parent to punish their child for not performing their chores. However, it would be sinful if the intention behind the punishment was to bring harm to the child merely for their own satisfaction. A just anger is always tempered by love; it is always ordered toward the good of the other person. The punishment of the disobedient child must be for the good of the child if it is to be an act of love.

The specific examples in the Gospel today are examples of unjust anger and lust. These examples are not ordered toward the good of the other person. They are ordered toward selfish desires. The anger in the Gospel is a sinful vengeance ordered toward harming the other person. The sexual desires behind lust are not ordered toward the good of the other person but the objectification of the other person.

As we seek to be better disciples of Christ, let us ask for the grace to have properly ordered emotions. Let us ask for the grace to refrain from acting when we are overpowered by an emotion. Let us ask for the grace to be stronger agents of love.

Peace in Christ, Fr. Will