Emotions Should Never Get in the Way
Father Richard Kunst
Through most of the month of May, the Easter season continues, so it is appropriate to think in a particular way of the Resurrected Christ during this spring season. In the Gospel accounts of the resurrection, we see the authors go to great lengths to show that Jesus was resurrected in body and that he was not a vision or a ghost. St. Thomas puts his fingers in the wounds of Jesus in John’s Gospel, and in Luke’s Gospel Jesus eats a baked fish in front of the Apostles, not because he was hungry but to prove the point that his was indeed a bodily resurrection. The Gospels stress this to show that Jesus was, indeed, physically resurrected, because already in the earliest years of Christianity there were Christians who were doubting this truth.
In Luke’s version, Jesus appears to the Apostles as a group in the Upper Room right after the Emmaus account, when two of his disciples are walking on the road talking to Jesus without recognizing him. When they finally do recognize him in the “breaking of the bread,” they run back to Jerusalem, to the place where the others were gathered, and then Jesus appears to all of them.
In Luke’s explanation of the appearance, the sacred author, besides stressing the physical nature of the resurrection, also stresses the wide range of emotions the Apostles were experiencing at seeing Jesus, as we might expect. In one paragraph, Luke uses words such as “startled,” “terrified,” “troubled,” “questioning,” “incredulous,” “joyful,” and “amazed” to explain the emotional response to Jesus being alive again and in the flesh.
We can certainly appreciate why the Apostles would have such an emotional response, since it was Easter Sunday evening, and they were all fully aware that Jesus had been brutally killed the Friday before. Any one of us would probably have similar emotions if we knew someone was dead only to see them alive three days later.
This paragraph in Luke is great, because it shows the very human side of these often feckless men who followed Jesus for three years and then spread the Gospel worldwide after Pentecost. Whenever the Gospels focus on the emotions of the characters, it makes it easier for us to relate to them, since we all have an array of emotions in our daily lives. Their emotions were pretty much in the forefront of their witnessing the resurrected Jesus, but the Apostles’ emotions did not get in the way.
I mention this because, unlike the apostles, many of us can in fact let our emotions get in the way. What do I mean by that? Our emotions are very much a part of who we are, but they are also pretty surface level; we are more than our emotions. When it comes to our prayer life and our spirituality, far too many people get tripped up by emotions. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say they don’t get anything out of Mass, I would have a lot of nickels. If I had a nickel for every time someone said that they don’t feel anything when they pray, I would have even more nickels!
Our emotions should not be the barometer to determine how or when we should pray. In fact, we should not even be concerned about our emotions when it comes to our prayer life, because our relationship with God needs to be much more than where we are at emotionally.
St. John of the Cross, the 16th century mystic, said that the best type of prayer is when we don’t get any good feelings out of the prayer, because then we are praying for the love of God rather than praying to get good feelings. So if you don’t feel like you are getting anything out of your prayers, then that’s all the more reason you should keep praying!
Think of it this way: If you have been married, remember all the butterflies you had in your gut when you were first dating your future spouse or even the first months and years of marriage. Eventually those emotional butterflies go away, but hopefully you didn’t then quit the relationship! True love is when we stick with the relationship despite not having the warm fuzzy feelings we may have had at the beginning.
Our relationship with God should be no different. We don’t stick with it because we get good emotional feelings any more than we stick with our spouse only to get the warm feelings. Love transcends emotions, both when it comes to our human relationships and our relationship with God in prayer.
The Gospels do a great job in painting the picture of the Apostles’ emotional response to the resurrected Christ, but that is not where the Apostles’ relationship to Christ stayed. When we spend time with Christ in prayer we too need to make sure that our relationship with him is not based solely on emotions.