Life after Epiphany

feeling emotions vs. harboring bitterness

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glowingCrucifixVarovilleThere are two major differences that I think are immediately observable between “feeling what you’re feeling when you’re feeling it” and “harboring bitterness”:

  1. Freedom
  2. Love

Feeling in its first instance is a passive act and is a morally neutral act. Essentially it involves the apprehension of some aspect of an external reality through the senses (whether external/physically or internal/emotionally.) Using a Thomistic benchmark, it does not yet even qualify as a “human act”; a non-rational being with a sensitive soul is capable of this act.

The human response to this initial sensation is where the will is first employed.

As far as I can see, in the case where someone causes a situation whereby the reality is apprehended and interpreted as emotional pain, a few things happen:

  • There is an awareness of the unpleasant sensation of pain.
  • Then there is an attempt to ascertain the cause of the pain… and the selection of an appropriate response.

Depending on the extent to which this causal chain is followed back, this is often where the wheels come off the cart. If the attempt stops at “person x did action y” then there is no major problem here. But if the attempt proceeds further back to “person x did action y because of cause z” then we’re in trouble. Attributing motives to anyone is a dangerous exercise… the suspected motives may or may not correspond with reality and the mere perception of mal-intent is enough to arouse some degree of anger or one of its variants – e.g. indignation, regardless of the actuality.Having said that, at this point, even considering the possibility of mal-intent and experiencing a sensation of anger is natural (albeit irrational, given that intention is still unknown) and this in itself has not reached a stage where “harbouring bitterness” is a problem.

When a person starts to turn the situation over one’s mind and replay it, seeking more and more to understand the cause, something for which there is inadequate data, one sets oneself in a pattern of repeated sensation and then emotional response. To attempt to ascertain a motive with inadequate data is a futile exercise and as such the person is no longer operating in a rational way.

1. Freedom

This irrational, cyclical pattern establishes a slavery of sorts. It’s a slavery to the desire to know a question to which the answer is unavailable. It’s also a slavery to an emotional response to supposition rather than reality. If the irrational nature of the internal behaviour was demonstrated to you, and you were free to break out of the cycle, you would. Your will can only choose what your intellect paints as the good. The problem is, you’re not free. You impede your sight by the compounding of the emotional response and your ability to correctly apprehend reality is hampered. Since you cannot apprehend reality correctly, your intellect has incomplete or incorrect information. Therefore it cannot correctly inform the will. Obviously its not as linear as this in reality, but this is an approximation of what’s going on.

FEELING precedes the response. Feeling allows for freedom, because it is a morally neutral act, but the subsequent acts that take on a moral value are as yet undetermined.

Bitterness, or resentment, has a moral value. It is an act subsequent to the feeling. (And, not subscribing to post hoc ergo propter hoc, there is no assigning a necessary causal link between feeling and responding with bitterness/resentment. ) In reality, I believe that bitterness/resentment is caused by the cyclical pattern of behaviour that I have outlined above. So there is an act (or many) between initial feeling and the resultant bitterness, and this/these has/have moral value too. As far as I can see, bitterness/resentment could be characterised by the simple act of allowing this cyclical pattern to continue. Allowing slavery to continue.

FEELING doesn’t impede freedom. Bitterness does.

2. Love

OK – so at this point, out comes the obvious Scriptural description of some of the characteristics of love:

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

And so we’re positioned for a syllogism:
1. Love is not resentful. (1 Cor 13:5)
2. A thing can’t be and not be at the same time.
(Aristotle, Metaphysics Book 11 Part 5)
conclusion: Therefore love and resentment are mutually
exclusive realities. (1 + 2 really does = 3!!)

This means If one performs an act that is characterised by love, then it is not characterised by resentment. The converse is also true.
Given that the Great Commandment is an injunction to love, then love is the due good of any act. Given that resentment is tantamount to an absence of love, it is an absence of the due good, i.e. evil. Bitterness/resentment is, quite simply, a sin against charity.

therefore… note to self!!

Analysing a scenario where someone has hurt me is normal. Working through what happened and testing various different possibilities (even on the level of motives) is normal. In most cases it is not possible to know what the other’s motives are, so once possibilities have been tested, to continue to wonder is futile. It creates the risk of bitterness/resentment – an occasion for sin.

Replaying events and causes and motives – this is to be avoided. Having considered all data and seen that insufficient data exists to draw a rational conclusion, the only course of action is to LEAVE IT, to embrace it as God’s Will, to see that whatever the circumstances, God has allowed this to happen in His Providence for my ultimate good. Any other perpetrators/agents involved need to be disregarded. This is how God wills the situation to be, and I seek to do His Will in all things.

As for FEELING it – that’s fine. To feel it, to suffer it in union with Him – that is profoundly human. Whatever it is – well its bound to be such a little thing, really, in the context of His Cross.

Best thing to do is to THANK Him for this opportunity to suffer for Him even in a small way, and then to move on, to choose to leave the past in the past, and to live in the present moment.


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