St. Augustine Catholic
The Nativity Story
Covered in Prayer
All May be One

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spiritual fitness

are you harboring pirates?  
don’t let your emotions steal your will

by Father Bill Ashbaugh

A strange thing was happening at the parish. The poor box was almost always empty. Unfortunately, it was not because we were distributing money to the poor. It was just empty. Yet we knew our parishioners were generous. Something fishy was going on. Could it be we had a pirate aboard the ship? If so, how could he get at the poor box? It was located 10 feet beneath the floor of the church. People dropped money for the poor down metal tubes and it was collected in the box located in the church utility tunnel. How could the thief get at it?

In one experiment, we dropped a $10 bill down the tube just to see if it made it to the collection box. Yep! It was there alright. But within a few days it was gone.

About the same time, our maintenance man was exploring the tunnels and came upon something very unusual. Someone had managed to crawl through a small opening in one of the tunnels and had set up a little home down there; pillows and blanket from the rectory, a clock from the school, candles from the sacristy, and a little jug from the kitchen. Incredibly, someone was actually living there from time to time. Our pirate became known as Tunnelman. Tunnelman was a genius at slipping in and out of the church tunnel undetected and grabbing what he could from the poor box or other places in the church and school. Like a pirate, he had collected quite a treasure. As sympathetic as we could be to the man’s plight, it was not a good thing to harbor Tunnelman. He had to go. Before too long, the man was caught. He had broken parole and was sent back to jail. Please pray for Tunnelman.

Well, there is a little bit of Tunnelman in all of us. We can grab and hold on to things that will hurt us in the end. Tunnelman got into trouble - not because he was living in the church tunnels - but because he was a thief. He stole and harbored things he felt “entitled” to. At a base level, he loved the wrong thing.

We all can do that. The problem is our feelings. As good as they can be, they can also pirate our reason and move us to make bad choices. Anger can overtake a person and move him to do violence to another. We can even feel good about it. “After all, she hurt and offended me. I am entitled to be angry.” We can love our own pride, and brood over our injuries. We can be moved by pleasure until we are caught in addictions, or drown in sorrow until we put ourselves in the grave. We get into deep trouble when we love the wrong thing. Our emotions can pirate our reason and will - and take the whole ship down. What can we do? Make your emotional pirates walk the plank!

Spiritual exercise: ending emotional piracy

Before we dive into this, it may be good to review briefly the role of emotions in the moral life. Emotions, considered apart from actions, are morally neutral. We are designed to feel joy, sorrow, fear, anger, love, hate, desire and many other emotions. The problem lies in how those emotions are associated with behaviors.

At Christmas, we think of the birth of Jesus our king. That event brings joy to those who believe - but for others, like King Herod, a very different emotion arises. Herod wanted the child dead. One wonders what emotions were consuming him?

1. Be attentive to your emotions: Take some time at the end of the day and review the role emotions played in your behavior. Name the emotions and consider how they helped or hindered you in following Jesus and keeping his commandments. Could you identify any that were “pirates”, thieves of your reason or your will to do good? We need to be attentive to our emotions.

There was a story of an old priest who would grow angry if the phone rang late at night. But he had grown in spiritual maturity and grace. So, fortunately for the soul on the other end of the phone, whenever this priest answered a late-night call, he would be as sweet as could be. You would think he was talking to the Blessed Mother. He knew his anger was out of line, and he really did love people. He did not let his emotions rule his behavior.

2. Read Matt 21:28-31. Consider the emotions that each son might have been experiencing. Their father asked them to go and work in the vineyard. The first son did not like the request and said, “No.” What emotions could possibly be at work? He changed his mind. Why? The second son said, “Yes, sir!” but never went, probably because he did not “feel” like it. When have we acted like the first son? Or the second son? What emotions were we dealing with?

3. Read Luke 22:39-46. Consider Jesus’ agony in the garden. What role did emotions play in his agony? Consider his words, “No greater love is there than this than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Also ponder, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death.” When have we been in agony about something? What moral teaching of the church do we most struggle with and how do our emotions affect our view? Remember, emotions are morally brainless. We don’t want monkey pirates steering our spiritual ship! Our actions are right or wrong depending on how well they conform to the heart and mind of Jesus Christ, not how we “feel.” We have to use our reason and look to Jesus Christ and his church for moral guidance.

4. Surrender your emotions to Jesus. Come before the cross of Jesus, or go before the Nativity scene and pray: Jesus, I love you. Jesus I adore you. Help me to receive your love so that I may love. I surrender myself to you, my Lord and my king. You are my God and all. I surrender to you today all of my emotions. Purify them, Lord. Strengthen and deepen emotions that will lead me to you, and free me from evil loves. May I love what you love, desire what you desire, feel joy in what makes you happy, and sorrow for what sorrows you. My happiness resides in you alone. Jesus, grant me your peace. Amen.

I know one person who struggled with the emotion of fear. She was afraid to be in front of a group of people, and so did not lector, even though she had a good speaking voice. After a prayer of surrender, she went ahead and volunteered to lector. She went through a mini-agony in the garden on her first time up, but after that Jesus made things much easier for her. Her fear diminished greatly. Jesus will do that for us, no matter what we are struggling with. Trust him.

In time, as God converts us and our hearts and minds become more like Jesus, our feelings will change. We will more readily love what God loves, not just with our minds, but with our emotions as well. As the psalm says “My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Ps 84:2)

Email your questions and comments to:

Father Bill Ashbaugh