Garrigou-Lagrange reminds us that one can have a dominant passion which must be dealt with before one can grow in the virtues.
For example, I have seen grown-up people, even the elderly, wrapped up unhealthy fear, or middle-aged people caught in anger.
Some people have a dominant passion which becomes a real vice, like gluttony or greed.
I cannot make up in this blog for fifty years of a lack of teaching on the importance of not living a life controlled by the emotions, the passions.
Once, however, a person has been through the painful process of purification, the passions which are also purified, contribute to the growth of holiness in the person. For example, missionaries find that they have a passion for spreading the Gospel. One can love Christ passionately, and at first, as St. Bernard writes in his sermons which I am reading, even in a carnal way. But, soon, one passes beyond imagery into a level of purity in loving Christ. The emotions or passions are then purified to a degree where these no longer hinder the growth in the interior life.
Such happens in the Dark Night of the Spirit, when all imagery, all preconceived ideal and subjective thoughts about God die.
A middle-aged man said to me about a month ago something, which of course, I contradicted. He said that we live like animals through our passions.
He was justifying years of fornication, drinking and not going to church on Sunday. He has limited his soul to that of an animal.
He is living in a state of spiritual death. But, those who seek God in perfection need to be warned as to not jumping ahead of where they really are. I have warned against this before. In fact. some spiritual directors do not let their people read the mystics at all. One can imagine one is in a different place than one really is. I have highlighted some of the passage below in boldface type.
Here is Garrigou-Lagrange:
THE PASSIONS FROM THE ASCETICAL POINT
According to the principles we have just recalled, we shall
consider the passions from the ascetical point of view in their
relation to the interior life. From these principles it follows that
the passions, being in themselves neither good nor bad, ought not to
be extirpated like vices, but should be moderated, regulated; properly
speaking, they should be disciplined by right reason illumined by
faith. If they are immoderate, they become the roots of vices; if they
are disciplined, they are placed at the service of the virtues. A man
must not be inert and, as it were, made of straw, nor should he be
violent and irascible.
Little by little the light of reason and the
superior light of infused faith must descend into our sensible
appetites that they may not be like those of an animal without reason,
but those of a rational being, of a child of God, who shares in the
intimate life of the Most High.
We should direct our thoughts to Christ's sensible appetites, which
were pure and strong because of the virtues of virginity, patience,
and constancy even to the death of the cross.(7) Let us also think of
the sensibility of Mary, Virgin most pure and Mother of Sorrows,
coredemptress of the human race. We shall thus see how our sensible
appetites ought to be ever more and more subjected to our intellect
illumined by faith, to our will vivified by charity, and how the light
and living flame of the spirit ought to radiate over our emotions to
sanctify them and place them at the service of God and of our
neighbor. St. Paul exhorts us, saying: "Rejoice with them that
rejoice; weep with them that weep." (8) This is characteristic of the
saints; they manifest admirable delicacy of feeling for the afflicted;
at times they alone can find words which uplift and fortify.
this point of view, the passions must be moderated, not materially but
proportionately to what reason requires in relation to a more or less
lofty given end to be reached in given circumstances. Thus, without
sinning, a person may experience great sadness, great fear, or lively
indignation in certain grave circumstances. We read in Exodus II that
Moses, seeing the Israelites adoring the golden calf, crushed this
idol to dust and punished with great severity those who were most
guilty. In the First Book of Kings,(10) the priest Heli is reprimanded
for not having become indignant at the evil conduct of his sons. On
the road to perfection, those who are naturally meek must become
strong, and those who are naturally inclined to be strong-willed must
become gentle. Both are climbing toward the summit by different
To drive a horse well, now the bit must be used, and now the
whip; the same applies to the governing of the passions. At times they
must be checked, and at other times awakened, jolted, in order to
react against sloth, inertia, timidity, or fear. At times a great
effort is required to break an impetuous horse; the same is true of
disciplining certain temperaments capable of great things. How
is to see these temperaments transformed by the profound impress of a
Christian character after ten or fifteen years of self-discipline!
With a view to the interior life, one must be particularly
attentive, above all at the beginning, to a special point: that is, to
be on guard against precipitation and also against the dominant
passion, that it may not become a predominant fault. As we have
already spoken of the predominant fault, we here insist on
precipitation to be avoided or, as the expression goes, on
impulsiveness, which inclines one to act without sufficient
With rash haste many beginners, otherwise very good, at
times wish to make too rapid progress, more rapid than their degree of
grace warrants. They desire to travel rapidly because of a certain
unconscious presumption; then, when trial comes, they sometimes let
themselves be cast down at least for a moment. This condition is
similar to what happens also in young students at the beginning of
their curiosity in their work; when it is satisfied or when
application becomes too painful, negligence and sloth follow. As a
matter of fact, the happy medium of virtue, which is at the same time
a summit above two opposing vices, like strength above temerity and
cowardliness, is not attained immediately.
Properly speaking, what
is precipitation? St. Thomas (11) defines it as a manner of acting by
impulsion of the will or of the passion, without prudence, precaution,
or sufficient consideration. It is a sin directly opposed to prudence
and the gift of counsel. It leads to temerity in judgment and is
comparable to the haste of one who descends a staircase too rapidly
and falls, instead of walking composedly.
From the moral point of
view, one should descend in a thoughtful manner from reason, which
determines the end to be attained, to the operations to be
accomplished without neglecting the steps that intervene, that is, the
memory of things past, intelligent attention to present circumstances,
shrewdness in foreseeing obstacles that may arise, docility in
following authorized advice. One must take time to deliberate before
acting; "one should deliberate slowly and without haste," as Aristotle
used to say. Afterward one must sometimes act with great promptness.
If, on the contrary, a person is inclined to action by the impulse of
the will or of the passion, while neglecting the intervening steps we
have just mentioned, the memory of the past, attention to the present,
foresight of the future, and docility, such a person stumbles and
falls. This is inevitable.
What are the causes of precipitation? As spiritual writers say, this
defect comes from the fact that we substitute our own natural activity
for the divine action. We act with feverish ardor, without sufficient
reflection, without prayer for the light of the Holy Ghost, without
the advice of our spiritual director. At times this natural haste is
the cause of extremely imprudent acts that are very harmful in their
Natural haste often arises from the fact that we consider
only the proximate end to be attained today, without seeing its
relation to the supreme end toward which we must direct our steps.
Seeing only this immediate human end, we direct our efforts toward it
by natural. activity, without sufficient recourse to the help of God.
We can see in the training that Christ gave His apostles how often He
warned them against this precipitation or natural haste, which causes
a man to act without sufficient reflection and without a sufficiently
great spirit of faith. Some pages back, we recalled that James and
John on returning from their first apostolate, during which a town
refused to receive their preaching, asked our Lord to send fire from
heaven on this village. With divine irony, Christ then called them
Boanerges,(12) or "sons of thunder," to remind them that they should
be sons of God and, like Him, should also be patient in awaiting the
return of sinners. James and John understood; so well indeed, that
John at the end of his life could only say: "Love one another, this is
the commandment of the Lord." In Christ's school, the Boanerges become
gentle; yet they do not lose their ardor or their zeal, but this zeal
becomes patient, gentle, and less fiery, and bears lasting fruits, the
fruits of eternity.
We would do well also to remember how St. Peter,
who was called to a high degree of sanctity, was cured of his rash
haste and presumption. When our Lord announced His passion, Peter said
to Him: "Although all shall be scandalized in Thee, I will never be
scandalized. Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, that in this night
before the cock crow, thou wilt deny Me thrice." (13) Humbled by his
sin, Peter was cured of his presumption. He no longer counted on
himself, but on divine grace by asking to be faithful to it; and grace
led him to the very heights of sanctity by the way of martyrdom.
precipitation we are speaking of sometimes leads young, generous, and
ardent souls to wish to reach the summit of perfection more rapidly
than grace, without any delay en route, without taking into
consideration the intermediary degrees and the mortification necessary
for disciplining the passions, as if they had already reached divine
union. They sometimes read works on mysticism with avidity and
curiosity, and gather from them beautiful flowers before fruit has
time to form. They thus expose themselves to many illusions and, when
disillusionment comes, they expose themselves to the danger of falling
into spiritual sloth and pusillanimity. We should walk at a good pace,
indeed with an ever firmer and more rapid step in proportion as we
draw near to God who attracts us the more, but we must avoid what St.
Augustine calls "great strides off the right road."
The effects of
this haste and of the self-satisfaction that accompany it, are the
loss of interior recollection, perturbation, and fruitless agitation,
which has only the outward appearances of productive action, as glass
beads counterfeit diamonds.
The remedies for precipitation are
easily indicated. Since this defect comes from the fact that we
substitute our natural, hasty action for that of God, the chief remedy
is to be found in a complete dependence in regard to God and in the
conformity of our will to His. For this, we must reflect seriously
before acting; pray humbly for the light of the Holy Ghost, and also
heed the advice of our spiritual director, who has the grace of state
to guide us. Then gradually precipitation will be replaced by habitual
docility to the action of God in us. We shall be a little less
satisfied with ourselves, and we shall find greater peace and, from
time to time, true joy in God.