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What Moves Us?

On this Sunday, we hear how the Niniveites heard the preaching of Jonah and repented of their evil ways (Jon 3: 1-5,10), do we repent when we hear the preaching of Jesus? (Mk:1:14-20)


When one considers St. Augustine’s own conversion, one finds two stages: an intellectual stage and an emotional stage. In the first stage, the intellectual stage, Augustine turned from misguided notions to Christian truth as explained by St. Ambrose in his preaching. The second stage, the emotional or affective stage, ends with the scene of the garden when he heard from children to pick and read the letter to the Romans that he carried with him at the time. When Augustine experienced this spiritual event, he found himself in the middle of an emotional crisis. He knew that God wanted him to live a chaste life, but he found himself unable to do it, and so he had prayed in anguish: “Come, Lord, act upon us, rouse us up and call us back! Fire us, clutch us, let your sweet fragrance grow upon us. . . . Let my bones be penetrated with your love.” (Confessions 8.4.9)


At the time of his emotional conversion, Augustine found himself divided and this division caused him great distress. It is no surprise that later in life, perhaps upon reflection of his own experience, St. Augustine concluded that unless our emotions are touched, there cannot be authentic conversion (Tractates on John’s Gospel 40.5). In one of his early works, Augustine conceived of delight as what orders our soul: “Delight orders the soul; where the soul’s delight is, there is its treasure.” (On Music 6.11.29)  What we delight in moves us toward it (On Psalm 121.1). God works in us by healing how and in what we delight. This process is often hidden, unconscious, and as we see in St. Augustine’s life, it takes time.


 St. Ignatius of Loyola had very similar views on the importance of emotions, and he sought to find the dynamics of this process. The will, for both St. Ignatius and St. Augustine is what moves us. We might call it motivation nowadays. In the first two numbers in the “Rules for the discernment of spirits”, St. Ignatius explains that “with people who go from one deadly sin to another” (Spir Ex 314) the evil spirit supports such a person in stirring positive emotions; whereas the Holy Spirit provides negative emotions so that a person abandons delighting in sin. And, in turning toward God, it is the Holy Spirit who reinforces us with positive emotions (Spir Ex 315), so as to encourage us to continue on our journey to God. And in this orientation toward God, it is the evil spirit who plants doubts and elicits listlessness to abandon God’s way.


In one of his last sermons, preached in the last year of his life, St. Augustine spoke of what motivated him to do anything, and a desire to live in Christ with his people is revealed: “What, after all, do I want? What do I desire? What am I longing for? Why am I speaking? Why am I sitting here? What do I live for, if not with this intention that we should all live together with Christ? That is my desire, that is my honor, that is my most treasured possession, that is my joy, my pride and glory . . . I don’t want to be saved without you.” (S. 17.2)


Fr. Carlos Medina, O.S.A.

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