My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. -Psalm 84:2
The term “passions” refers to our affections and feelings. Many Catholics might be tempted to give “passion” a negative connotation, as though it meant only the “bad passions” that we have to fight against and conquer—thus a saint would never be consumed by passion. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the passions in themselves are neither good nor bad; their moral value depends on the direction we give them.
There are many passions that influence human action. The most fundamental one is love, which inclines us toward the good and union with the person loved. Desire moves us to set out to attain a good that is absent. Joy is the result of attaining this good. Hate is opposed to love and arises when something is seen as evil; aversion is opposed to desire, and sorrow to joy. Daring spurs us to seek what is good despite the difficulties involved; fear leads us to distance ourselves from an evil that is difficult to avoid, while anger spurs us to resist forcefully an evil we confront.
The saints were never apathetic when faced with true human values. On the contrary, the saints are marked by a passionate love for God and for everything humanly noble. Our own pursuit of holiness will involve controlling, purifying, and ordering our passions as we strive to love only what leads to God.
Disordered passions weaken the will in the struggle for virtue and often leave behind a trail of filth. St. John of the Cross points out that disordered passions “are like restless and discontented children, who are ever demanding this or that from their mother, and are never contented.” (The Ascent of Mt. Carmel)
The Lenten Season is a good time to reflect on these things. What do I desire? Where do I find joy? Am I restless and discontented? As you consider what sacrifices and mortifications to enter into this Lent, be daring in embracing what elements of your life could use some purification.