By Fr. Thomas M. Santa, CSsR
Why do human beings experience love? Why am I capable of loving another person? Why do I find some people so appealing, so attractive, that I look forward to their return when we’ve been separated? Why do I extend the benefit of the doubt so easily to someone I love but not so easily to others?
Why do I feel physically and emotionally connected to people I love? Why does my heart skip a beat when I see them? Why are their thoughts and concerns often my thoughts and concerns? When they feel pain, why do I share it? Why am I willing to try something new or unusual if they invite me to do so, when my natural reaction is to resist such opportunities?
Why are human beings naturally attracted to relationship? Why is it so important that we connect with other human beings? Why are we willing to trust and be vulnerable on the chance it will lead to some expression of intimacy? When a relationship fails, what makes us get up, dust ourself off, and try again? Why can’t we just walk away and be satisfied with our isolated self?
Why are human beings hardwired for -relationship? Why do we intuitively understand that something is out of whack with a person who is isolated, disengaged, and alienated? Why do we so often mistrust solitude or aloneness in another person even though we often perceive the same situation in our own life as a very wise and healthy choice?
The feelings, emotions, perceptions, judgments, and experiences that make up all human relationships also make each of us human. We╒re not truly human, fully alive, and integrated unless we can recognize each of these components at work in our lives.
Here’s something to reflect on and pray about: If human life consists of these components, and if healthy integration of each component is necessary for us to live to the fullest, doesn’t that mean these components are gifts from God; blessings, graces? Aren’t we pleasing God and fulfilling God’s plan when we acknowledge what we feel, learn from our successes and failures, and continue to grow in God’s love for us and in our love for God?
The obvious answer is yes. How else could we be human if not for the experience of relationship and the ability to fall in and out of love with all of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions?
At the same time, we must also admit that because real power, mystery, and awe are necessary to the human experience, some real fear and anxiety must be considered. Anything that influences our thoughts and behavior in unguarded and uncontrolled moments is potentially harmful.
Some people say that the best response is to live a measured, controlled, and disciplined life. We assume we╒re not at the mercy of our thoughts and feelings, that our emotions needn’t rule us, and that we choose how we act and what we do and don’t prefer.
In this way of thinking, every thought, feeling, emotion, judgment, and perception must be measured, and the emphasis quickly moves away from the natural ebb and flow of the human experience. We dedicate ourselves to determining whether each thought, word, and action is pleasing or displeasing to God. If we imagine it pleases God, we consider it to be an ordered thought, feeling, or emotion. If we imagine it displeases God, we consider it disordered. Order brings grace; disorder reeks of sin.
But who really lives an ordered life? Are we not all in some fashion fundamentally disordered? From a theological perspective, this fundamental disorder is perceived as sin, some of which is original, but most of which is anything but original. Is every thought, word, and action sinful in some manner? Can anything just be natural, reflective of the way God created us?
For many people with scrupulosity, the daily struggle of trying to attain perfection—a well-ordered and well-managed life—is the ultimate dream. Unfortunately, it’s also the ultimate fantasy. No one’s life is so well ordered and well managed that she never experiences an unwanted thought, feeling, or emotion, including the most intense.
Intensity isn’t an indicator of sin. Intensity is rather a simple measurement of feeling and emotion. Some heinous sins are committed with no feeling whatsoever before, during, or after their commission. Intensity is not a good measurement of morality.
Can a person with scrupulosity understand that an intense experience can simply be a feeling and nothing more? The not-so-obvious answer is yes, it is very possible. Wherever grace abounds, the healing power of God will be made manifest.
People of faith never abandon belief in the power of God’s grace, not even when we╒re feeling the most intense feelings. In fact, I believe that in the intensity, grace is all the more abundant—not sin, but rather grace.