A Better Me #5: God, Neurons, Emotional Balance & Life

You are set to have a good meeting with a secretary of a properous company concerning a possible employment.  But when you are with the person you get so nervous that you can hardly speak a word.

     It is the night of your dreams you are going out with your boyfriend to the most important social event ever in your life.  You try to make your appearance look very appealing.  Your boyfriend meets you at the door and his first words are: “You look beautiful.”  What a moment!

     You are on a golf-course teeing off on the first hole.  All of a sudden, about 50 meters above you, a fellow in a flying suit with a flying motor on his back, comes over you and your fellow players.  It is in the middle of your swing and you are so surprised that you miss the ball.

     You are tryng to be calm and peaceful.  Then one of your children does something that he or she shouldn’t.  You had just told them to be good, and this one is good for two minutes.  Your anger wells up and you have to battle with yourself to control it.

     You meet a person and you two spend some time together.  The person is very intelligent and outgoing.  But the conversation switches to an issue about which you have a very strong opinion and you see your opinion as being the truth.  Then abruptly the other person lets you know that he /she is totally opposed to your stance on the matter, and does not want to discuss it at all.  You feel a growing dislike for the person inside of yourself.

     You have two marvelous children whom you love immensely.  One day they are suddenly killed in an auto accident.  You receive the news in a phone call.  It is the hardest moment of your life.

     Your favorite sports team is in the championship game.  It wins the game on the last play in the last moment.  You feel so happy for the victory.

     You have to attend an event that you really dislike.  You find yourself in a situation in which you need to act as if your are enjoying it.  You dislike this attitude but you force yourself to do it.

     You feel a growing resentment against one member of your family.  You don’t want to have it but it just seems to come back over you.  You know that you have to fight to overcome it, but you think that you may be losing the battle.

     You look out over the mountains and you are absolutely overcome by the beauty.  Your happiness is full and you want to open your heart and to thank God for giving you this moment.

      Etc., etc., etc….

Welcome to the world of sentiments, tendencies and emotions!

  I.)   I hope that you will stay with me in this letter because there may well be points covered that can help us all in our quest to live in Christ as faithful sons and daughters of God the Father.  Each one of us has an intellect and a will which help us to know the truth about  God’s creation and to live in it in a way that is pleasing to our Father God. To move us to act this way we also have a series of affections, sentiments, tendencies, emotions and passions that can facilitate or obstruct our activity.  The intellect knows.  The will chooses or decides.  But the emotions move us to to know and to choose and to act.  We have specific means to regulate our intellect and our will but the emotions are often not subject-or at least not completely subject- to these means.  They can appear and sometimes even act within us before we become conscious of them.  They have a relation to the soul of the person and can be influential as they pass from the soul to the body or from one faculty of the body to another.  They need to be picked up and balanced by the person so that one’s interior peace can be recovered.   They can also move us to perform good acts and to avoid evil acts.

     There are indeed human ways to assist us in this struggle.  They can help us to clarify and purify our intellect and to strengthen our will, but before we comment upon these, let us begin from a more transcendent level.  We need help to understand and to balance these movements inside of us that can be in a way beyond our self-control.  In addition, God has called us by our Baptism not to be just good people. He has called us to be saints.

II.) So where do we start?  Science today starts with the brain, it’s contents and its functions. It also points to conscious and unconscious effects that act to shape our behaviour.  Many say that we are in a world that is only material and that nothing else can be real.  Their world is indeed very limited.  It is a closed structure that operates mechanically and they believe that anything which goes beyond that mechanical structure and cannot be demonstrated  by a scientific method, simply lacks existence.  It cannot be real.  They then go on to say that we can invent a term to describe a material process-for example, “love”-but it is just a conceived name which has no actual reality, and which we invent and apply to an exclusively mechanical process. Hence, they insist, there can be no place for an actual quality that has being and is subject to  a realistic, philosophical analysis.  Rather, they say, it is only a function of the material realities within the brain.  All reality for them is only material: one material object moving from one place to another  and producing or receiving a material result.  Material realities and their material combinations and reactions are the only things that are real to them and possess actual existence.  All else is simply a word or phrase or ideal projection that we invent, and that we apply to an actual or potential existent material process.

     I hope that we are not followers of this materialistic syndrome.  Our minds and hearts have been created by God to have a profound appreciation of the material world and at the same time to see the philosophical truth of being, and in addition to be open to a transcendence by which we can understand and possess spiritual treasures that fufill us as human persons adopted by God to be  his beloved children in Jesus Christ.                   

  III.)    So once again I ask the question “Where do we start?”.  I hope that you will agree with me that we start with Jesus Christ.  He has the fullness of human nature, without sin, and hypostatically connected to his divine nature as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.  So if I want to understand the human brain and mind and how it works, I should look to his own and indeed I will discover the truth of the human nature and the human being.

     God is completely spiritual.  Man is composed of body and soul.  He is both material and spiritual.  Adam and Eve were almost perfect in both, but they sinned and lost the preternatural gifts that God had given them.  Sin was introduced into the world and all of the disorder and chaos in our world has come from sin.  But Jesus Christ has a perfect human nature that was free from any imperfection and sin.  He is the one to look upon in order to understand what human emotions are and how they should be lived.

     Although his life on earth took place two thousand years ago, “Jesus Christ is the same: yesterday, today and forever.” (Heb 13:7)

Let’s start with a realistic philosophy of being and from there we can go directly to theology.  Jesus Christ had two natures: divine and human.  What we want to do is look directly to his human nature.  How did Jesus balance his emotions?  Here we have God acting through a human nature. We can study the Gospels and analyse his reactions.  This is important.  We have to know his life as it has been described to us in the Gospels.  But here I would suggest something more St. Josemaria can help us in our seeking, finding and loving Jesus.  He said: 

“This is the love of Christ which each of us should try to practice in his own life. But to be Christ himself, we must see ourselves in him. It’s not enough to have a general idea of the spirit of Jesus’ life; we have to learn the details of his life and, through them, his attitudes. And, especially, we must contemplate his life, to derive from it strength, light, serenity, peace.

When you love someone, you want to know all about his life and character, so as to become like him. That is why we have to meditate on the life of Jesus, from his birth in a stable right up to his death and resurrection. In the early years of my life as a priest, I used to give people presents of copies of the Gospel and books about the life of Jesus. For we do need to know it well, to have it in our heart and mind, so that at any time, without any book, we can close our eyes and contemplate his life, watching it like a movie. In this way the words and actions of our Lord will come to mind in all the different circumstances of our life.

In this way we become involved in his life. It is not a matter of just thinking about Jesus, of recalling some scenes of his life. We must be completely involved and play a part in his life. We should follow him as closely as Mary his Mother did, as closely as the first twelve, the holy women, the crowds that pressed about him. If we do this without holding back, Christ’s words will enter deep into our soul and will really change us. For “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Christ Is Passing By, Section 107, Scepter Press)

     The Holy Spirit lives within us.  He is the sanctifier of ourselves.  Please read carefully this passage above quoted. Each of St. Josemaria’s thoughts, that are expressed by his words, has a very deep meaning.  Through our reading and especially through our prayer, (mental prayer), we can become “completely “involved in his (Christ’s) life.”  We want to “be completely involved and play a part in his life.” In meditating on Christ’s life and in putting ourselves into the scenes, we can discover how Jesus balanced his emotions, and how he used them in the best way to give glory to God the Father and to please Him.

     What we want to do is to imitate Christ in our daily actions.  To imitate Him I have to know Him and communicate with Him.  But it is even more than to imitate Him.  I have to identify myself and my personality with Him.  So much so that the Holy Spirit can give me a very participation in his emotions so that I can share in his ability to balance them.

    But you should realise that what is being described is not just knowing how Our Lord acted and reacted.   It is more.  Putting yourself into a scene is living in it.  Your awareness is so sharp that you can pickup the “details’ of Our Lord’s “face” as He talks.  This can also include the details of others who are in the scene.  Then as you are seeing Our Lord’s actions and reactions, the Holy Spirit can accomplish his work of imprinting in you a participation in the human scope and depth of Jesus’ reactions.  This imprinting will help you to balance in truth your emotions in the future.  You will then act more as Jesus did, and the balance of your emotions will provide a better stimulation and support for good actions.

    It is a completely intimate thing, and many people will experience it without understanding the  nature of its presence and the extent of its reach.  Some will go to God and understand.  Others will merely experience it without much awareness of its nature.  But you will indeed experience it.  From the Father Jesus will be giving you more of his Spirit who will make your actions more Christlike and you into another Christ.

At the same time we must remember that Jesus’ emotions were at the level of the Beatitudes in their human dimension, and his suffering is redemptive and therefore personally given with a joyful  generosity.  His human intellect and will were completely related to his divinity in his personal freedom, and we can see how this affects and balances his emotions.

 IV.)    Now we need to analyse the “nuts and bolts” of our human life on this earth.  Each of us has five external senses: touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing.  These senses obtain only the data that pertains exactly to each one. The sense then sends the data to one of our interior senses which have the task to put together the individual data into a sense image that can be saved and used, presently or in the future, for abstracting concepts and forming judgments which relate to reality.  

     Our internal senses are: imagination, common sense, cogitative faculty and memory.  They enable we humans to organise our sense experience and to act on this basis of organization.

The faculty that absorbs the particular data of each external sense and unifies it into a group of  sensations is called the common sense. It generates a sense ‘perception.’  Then the ‘imaginationgives a unified representation to the sense perception.  Imagination works independently of the reality, and it conserves the sense perceptions.  Without imagination there can be no thought because something cannot be understood without some prior imaginative representation. The imagination has many conserved perceptions and it can combine these preserved perceptions in order to obtain more general images.  The intellect needs these general images in order to extract universal concepts.  The faculty that apprehends the suitability or harmfulness of an individual sense reality is the cogitative power in the human being.  This power produces what are called ‘Intentions’ because they provoke a certain movement of the will in living beings. Known realities do not attract or repel unless they are considered as being either suitable or harmful.  This faculty possesses an anticipation of the future because it implicitly distinguishes the end to which the individual is oriented. It appraises the individual aspects of the sense reality and it directs their activity on the basis of the evaluation.  This power if guided by reason and therefore capable of considering various motives for the desirability or harmfulness of things and it applies the judgment to concrete reality.  So it participates in intellectual knowledge.

It is called the intentional sense of the future.  The final internal sense is memory which can be called the intentional sense of the past.  It’s function is to conserve and re-present the evaluative perceptions of the cogitative power. It conserves and consolidates acquired experience.  

     While the sense faculties know the particular,  the intellectual faculty, the intelligence, knows the universal: the concept or idea that is not attributed exclusively to one individual. Hence the intellect denotes a passage from the sense level to the intellective level.  This happens by abstraction which brings forth the apprehension of the essence from the individual thing.  The essence is the form of the sense thing.  The mind has the task of illuminating that which is intelligible and universal in the sense image, and then it receives and conserves the intellectual form that has be abstracted.  These forms are not what the intellect knows,  (This would separate us from reality.) but rather they are the means by which we know reality.  So the intellect abstracts

the concept, but it always refers back to the concreteness and the individuality of the reality.

And then the intellect brings the various intellectual affirmations into a judgment that comes primarily from a combination or unification of previously formed judgments through the process of reasoning.

     In view of its immateriality, the intellect possesses the capacity to know itself, to be aware of itself, and to return to itself.  When we humans know something, we can perceive that we are exercising intellectual knowledge and that we are actually knowing something.  This is a consequence of immateriality.  St. Thomas explains this in the following way: “To return to its own essence means only that a thing subsists in itself.  Inasmuch as the form perfects the matter by giving it existence, it is in a certain way diffused in it, and it returns to itself inasmuch as it has existence in itself.” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 14, a.2, ad 1)

     The intellect can help in the guidance of the sentiments, tendencies and emotions.  Through the action of conscience, the intellect can present to the will that which is really true.  They will then more easily follow the conscience and then either follow the sentiments and emotions or go against them, choosing the action to be performed.  Here we can see that in our thoughts, desires and actions, the intellect, the will and the sentiments all have a role to play.

This is the moment to describe how our person, body and soul, is ordered to fufillment and perfection.  There is an intellectual appetite in our intellect to strive for possession of the truth.  There is also an appetite in our will to desire to possess the good (which is also truth).  If my intellect possessed the entire truth, it would rest.  It would have all that it seeks.  There would be nothing more to strive for.  If our will would possess all of the good that it seeks, it would also rest.   There would be nothing more to desire.  But the sentiments and their tendencies and emotions present a different picture.  If there were no sin, they would be properly ordered to the truth and the good.  But sin has brought disorder inside of, and among, the sentiments. They can proceed against the will and also influence the intellect.  They can reach a grade of intensity that confuses the intellect and dominates the free will so that the person chooses actions that can deform the intellect and and enslave the will.  Hence it is never wise to follow only one’s sentiments.

     In themselves, the intellect has an appetite toward the truth, and the will has an appetite toward the good.  Looking at this from the other side, we can see that the truth attracts the intellect, and goodness attracts the will. When the will is strong it can exert a very positive influence upon the affections and orient them away from evil and towards the good and the true.  But the will needs to desire the true good, and with God’s help through grace, at times and perhaps fairly often it needs to proclaim a strong “no!” to disordered affections and a firm “yes!” to affections that correspond to God’s will for the person.  This frequent “no” and constant “yes” in their respective areas will bring the strength and fidelity that the person so very much needs, and it will have a clear, although sometimes indirect, effect upon the sentiments and emotions.

V.) Just about everything that we experience starts from the senses and passes through the brain.  The nervous system is the pathway of instruction that permits our bodies to carry out their activities.  The proper, living cells in the brain are called neurons, which are ‘the basic elements of our behavior.  Neurons permit the brain to transport and coordinate the messages contained in our thoughts, actions and deeds. They are chords that have different sizes and lengths. But the main parts of the neurons are mostly the same.  They communicate among themselves. The nervous system can be seen as the highway and the neurons are the vehicles on that highway.

     The human brain has approximately one trillion neurons.  If one would extend the neurons and all of the chords connected to them, the line would run at least four times around the earth.  And all of this is just in one brain!

     The neuron looks like a tree, and at the beginning of each neuron there are the branch-like chords called dendrites.  These serve as receptors of electrical, coded information, called an impulse, that comes from other neurons. This coded information is then passed on to a component that is called the ‘axon hillcock’, which in turn then sends it through the axon which is the central chord of the neuron to its terminal at the other end called the cortex. Each axon is covered by a layer of fat and protein called the myelin sheath.  This insulates the neuron and prevents any short-circuiting of the impulses. 

    The transporting of the impulses through the axon is done by a proceess called ‘firing.’ In their resting state each neuron contains within itself a voltage of -70 degrees.  When the neuron receives a message its cell membrane opens up and permits enough positively changed ions to enter so as to change its charge from negative to positive.  When the positive charge reaches a critical level, the neuron “fires”an electrical impulse called an ‘action potential’ which travels from one end of the neuron to the other end.  The speed of the tranmission ranges frrom 2 to 225 mph depending upon the thickness of the mylein sheat.  When the impulse reaches the end of the neuron it is released into a synapse (the space between neurons) which contains a form of chemical that are called  neurotransmitters.  The neurotransmitters travel through the membrane of the synapse and the neuron until they reach the specifically matched dendrites of a nearby receiver neuron.  The chemical message which the neurotransmitter transmits is either excitory or inhibiting.  When the number of excitory messages is more than the inhibitory ones, the neuron  will fire.  If it is less, the neuron will remain in a restive state. There are over a hundred different type of neurotransmitters,  Glutamate, Serotinen, and Dopamine for example are neurotransmitters.

VI.)      Hopefully now we can see now how the neurons work to energize the brain with their electrical connections. The next thing to be aware of is the location of particular groups of neurons in very specific parts of the brain.  If you see pictures or drawing of the brain you will see that each section has lobes that are dedicated especially to one or more functions of the person. 

     For example the frontal lobe is directed toward planning and motor control.  At the bottom of this lobe lies the Olfactory bulb (for smelling).  The temporal lobe located in the lowest part of the brain is dedicated to hearing.  The Occipital lobe in the back of the brain is dedicated to vision.  The Parietal lobe which is more towards the top is dedicated to body sensations. The Postcentral Gyrus at the very top in the right hemisphere-(there are two halves to the brain)-is dedicated to the sensory neurons of the body, (the tongue, nose, lips face, fingers, hand, neck, trunk, foot, toes, genitals, etc.), while the Precentral Gyrus which is next to the Postcentral in the right hemisphere is dedicated to the motor system of the body, which facilitates action to almost all the parts of the body.

    Receptors on the dentrites of the recipient neuron can either open ion (e.g., electricity) channels or activate enzymes from glands for longer lasting changes.  The brain stem at the bottom of the brain and the spinal chord which flows from the stem organise life by preserving reflexes, promoting sleep or arousal, and by promoting process sensory input and motor output throughout the body.  The Thalamus in the middle of the brain acts as a switchboard for the cortex, and the Hypothalamus which is below the Thalamus regulates eating, drinking, sexual behaviour, aggression, temperature, and the endocrine, (hormone), system. 

 VII.)    Notice that in this brief and incomplete description, we have not covered the sentiments, tendencies and emotions.  Where are they and what happens to them and of course to the person who experiences them?  When one has any sense contact, the hormones and all their appropriate connections will also become charged.  

     (There is actually a rather recent program that will show the whole brain on a computer.  Then when a stimulus-in this case, a sense object-becomes apparent to a person, all of the parts of the brain that are affected by the stimulant will light up.) 

     Now the emotions, because of their nature and their force, require a system of structures to regulate them. Primarily there are two structures that play a big role here.  The emotions are directed toward the limbic system which is located at the center of the brain.  The first structure is called the amigdala which processes the emotions, and the hippocmpus which colects the experiences of the emotions and their affects and acts a a memory system for future processing by the amydala.  These are the two main structures but there are also others that assist them in guiding the emotions.  Remember, we are talking about neurons, connecting fibers and enzyme producers.

     The senses affect the sentiments and their relations.  Each sense contact will be collected and interpreted by the internal sese of the imagination and the cogitative power.  One neuron will be charged that goes directly to the amygdala where it can be analysed as a movement of a love or hate impulse, followed by a desire or flight impulse, followed by a joy or sadness impulse.

      Affections can be placed in two fundamental categories: the relation of the tendencies to their specific objects, and the reactions provoked in the subject by their activity.  In terms of tendencies, they can be of the derivative (desirable) type or of the impulsive type.  The desiderative makes a subject tend toward the possession of what is suitable sense object and the rejection of a harmful sense object. The impulsive tendency moves the subject either to run away from or to overcome the obstacles that separate him from the sense object which is pleasurable or appetising.  The impulsive tendency pertains to the suitability of the means to obtain the object.

     Addressing the object of the tendencies, St. Thomas Aquinas gives the following classification of the affections:

   In tendencies of the desiderative type:

1. With respect to the good in general: love

2. With respect to evil in general: hatred

3. With respect to a future good: desire

4. With respect to a future evil: flight

 5. With respect to a present good: joy

6. With respect to a present evil: sadness

   In tendencies of the impulsive type:

7. With respect to an achievable future good: hope

8. With respect to an unachievable future good: desperation

9. With respect to an avoidable future evil: daring

 10. With respect to an unavoidable future evil: fear

  11. With respect to an avoidable present evil: anger

(cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 23, a. 4)

     These tendencies relate to the sentiments that come from sense activities.  They are different from acts of the will.  If they are voluntary acts they will always be accompanied by affections or feelings, and sometimes be reinforced by them.  The above sense tendencies are in effect, something that happens to me; not something that I do.  The actions have moral value when they share in the activity of the intellect and the will. Sense tendency is attracted by the object and it signifies passivity; whereas spiritual tendency actively moves toward the object.

     We are referring here to the relation between affections (feelings) and the values of reality.  This relationship is partly natural and spontaneous and partly falls into the sphere of the free self-realisation of the individual.  This reality means that a person can “educate” his activity through his habits.

VIII.)     The intellect plays an important role in ordering and explaining the affections. We need to be aware of the intelligent content of the sentiment or affection. The intellect can point to a higher good.  A person could have a doughnut in front of her and be attracted to eat it.  But let’s say that her intellect tells her that she wants to have a good figure.  She says no to the doughnut. Or a person suffering a pain which she would ordinarily reject, can instead accept it for a higher good.  It is always true that seeing and accepting a higher good brings more dignity to the person.  

     Our will plays a prominent role in guiding the affections.  To want to move is anterior to the act of perceiving that one wants to move.  In that desire coming before the perception, there is a sign of free will. Also when the will seeks the good it is seeking an activity that is of primary importance to the person: namely, to love.  This is also the highest of the emotions.  When love is the central instigator of the tendencies and the emotions, the affection will be well ordered.  

     The limbic system in the person has an intermediate role between the affection and the will.  This is where the love of the good and the rejection of evil will be recognised. The passion to maintain one’s life and the primary reaction of love are the first responsibilities of the person.  The prefrontal region of the brain will also help in the guiding of the emotions.  

     So, we can affirm that the intellect and the will do have an important role in orienting and balancing the emotions.  The sentiments, tendencies and emotions are a motor for our actions.  Frequently we don’t know why they are produced and even where they come from.  They can also be illogical and disordered.  For example, they can be altered by tiredness, by interior crises of maturity, by diseases and by hormonal changes.  They are also often influenced by the culture in which we live and the social dynamics of our lives.  They can be strongly affected negatively by  disordered love of self, by the searching at all cost for physical pleasure, and by an excessive attachment to goods of consumption, (consumerism).

     Many times it is very appropriate and good to deny with our will what the sentiments may be asking for. Of course, it is necessary to deny sentiments toward evil objects.  But also often to say no to things that are good: to eat a bit less of something we like, to drink less of a beverage, to stop thinking about something that distracts us, to leave for another person that which most attracts us, to not take the best part of of the slices of food that are offered to us, to smile, to listen to another person, to forgive others, to move oneself to make acts of charity, and to forget about oneself and think of others, etc., etc.  These little sacrifices strengthen the will and this gives it more control and force in guiding the emotions.  

     Habits are also very beneficial to the will’s control and guidance of the emotions.  One needs 21 consecutive days in order to form a habit.  Once this habit is there, the control and direction of the emotions will be easier.

     Also remember that each external sense picks up its own sense data.  The common sense combines the sense data to form a perception.  The imagination and the cogitative power take the perception and form a sense image and the recorded sense images form the memory. The mental images that we have, are stored in our memory.  They can effect our actions.  For example, a bad image can come forward and control our affectivity.  Or a memory that is very painful, physically or emotionally, due to our past sins or failures can become obsessive and maintain the subject in tension.  Our sentiments respond quite frequently to the voice of our imagination.  Our imagination is related especially to our vision and it can produce an abundance of distorted or excessive images that are then stored in our memory and can be brought forth later to disturb us.  To control our affectivity, we must filter adequately our imagination, and to do this we should control our curiosity.  The sum of negative experiences produces negative reactions.  Let’s control and filter our imaginations.

     Our memory is another very important internal sense.  We must learn to conserve experiences that are positive.  Conserving negative experiences is often not good and it can even lead to the destruction of one’s personality.  If one has a happy infancy, she or he will have a much better chance to mature positively and more quickly.  Happiness has a maturing effect upon a child.  Suffering only matures the personality when it is assumed freely for love.  So the memory often has a great influence upon the affectivity.  We should “clean” it regularly by confession and by acts of contrition, and once this is done we should forget the negative actions.  Pardon and forgetfulness are signs of interior health.

     There are more aids that provide guidance, often political, for the emotions.  Things like the auto-control of anger, learning to know oneself, speaking to another person (especially spiritual direction), the importance of self esteem, having a sense of humour, and providing time and distance can be helpful.  We will cover these in future letters.

     But I can not avoid mentioning the importance of the learning process during one’s infant years (1-7).  Remember that every sense perception has an impact on the child’s brain. There are so many neurons to be produced and so many connections to be made during those years.  Everything the child experiences is important and potentially very fruitful or harmful.

    To make you mothers who are pregnant smile, I will give you a leading question:  “When was the last time that your little baby heard a Mozart Symphony while you were resting and he or she was listening from inside of your womb?!!  (Neurons and connections!!)                        

 IX.)    We have been only examining human realities so far.  But we will now move on to a brief discussion of the supernatural dimension of our affective life.  The Blessed Trinity living within us. You and I praying to God, (perhaps to one of the Three Persons of the Trinity).  Living in the Mystical Body of Christ with souls that are ‘temples’ of the Holy Spirit.  Living on grace that comes from Jesus through Mary to us.  Living lives of faith, hope and charity, with the moral virtues supernaturalized by grace,  along with the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Living and loving the Sacraments and offering and receiving Jesus Christ in the Mass. Asking pardon often for our sins and going to Confession with a certain frequency.  Trying to forget about ourselves and in Christ to give ourselves in love to God and through Him to others.  Imitating Christ and identifying ourselves with Christ and striving to become “another Christ.”

     Oops, this last sentence is an awesome challenge.  How do we do it?  Well, let’s go back to the beginning of this letter which has made its way into the size of a dust collector item!!  Take another look at the quote of St. Josemaria about putting oneself into the scenes of the Gospel and living with Jesus.  How about Jesus’ human mind?  Neurons and connections and hormones.  Jesus was fully God and Fully human.  He couldn’t have listened to a  Mozart Symphony while He was inside of Blessed Mary, but what neuron connections He must have made!  

     If we are living in Jesus, we are potentially intimate with his neurons and their connections.  We are also part of his social connections and communication.  But all of the characteristics of the above second paragraph beginning Section IX denote a transcendence.  We need to be given faith and the grace to live by it.  Let’s take an example: After an exhausting day of preaching and miracles, Jesus was returning to Capharneum in the boat with the apostles.  There occurred a strong storm that led to the apostles to think that the boat would capsize due to the waves and wind and torrents of rain.  Jesus was sound asleep with his head on a pillow in the boat.   The apostle awakened Him and asked how he could stay sleeping when the boat was going down.  Now we need to remember that the apostles, for all of their deficiencies, were very good and experienced sailors.  They were fishermen and so their words to Jesus must have had special relevance.  If Jesus were only human, he would have probably animated the apostles and done whatever he could have done to help.  But He stood up in the boat and commanded the storm to stop, and he calmed the waters.  One would think that He would simply then have returned to sleep, and he probably did so.  But first he said to the apostles; “Why are you afraid, O men of little faith.” (Mt. 8:23-27)

     What an astounding statement!  The boat was going under and yet they were to have faith that they would not perish because Jesus was with them, even though he was asleep!  Jesus was looking for faith! This is something of addition and transcendence in their minds and hearts.  How could it be measured?  (There were no computers at the time of Jesus.)  How does divine faith (and hope and charity) affect our minds?  The answer is that, technologically speaking, we do not know yet.  There have actually been two experiments that shed some light on this question.  They were similar.  One was the measuring the minds of Buddhist monks as they were contemplating, and the other was using the same system to measure the minds of some Franciscan Nuns (sisters) who were also engaged in contemplative prayer.  In both cases the only result was that the activity of the amydala and the hipocampus in all the people diminished.

     This could mean that the monks and sisters received great peace in their contemplation.  But nothing else changed in the experiment.  It makes sense when we realise that God is spiritual and the neurons are material.  But it does show that there is much less anxiety when one prays and is praying deeply.  This is likely linked to a strong interior life.  What we know is that Jesus asks for and requires that we have faith.  God’s works come partially as a result of our faith.

     One more development that we can bring to mind is the presence of divine charity in the person.  We saw that the greatest act of the will is to love, and love enables the will to control and guide our emotions better.

     Finally, hope leads us to be more daring and these two are emotions of the irascible appetite.  Both hope and daring are emotional effects of this appetite.

X.) And so it is time to conclude this “short note.”  On a human level we can say that our sentiments and emotions are mysterious qualities and movements that need to be cultivated and guided in a political manner by our intellect and will.  They help us to act, even if is to be in a way of inhibiting a process.  The intellect is ordered to the truth and the will is ordered to love.  By recognising this order and by looking for, and affirming, the principles of truth, the intellect can be a sign that stands for sentiments and emotions that can lead us to the truth and give us peace and joy.  The will is ordered to the possession and love of the good.  By willing to follow the values that lead us to the true good, and by guiding the emotions along this way, our will leads us to follow Our Lord and to receive peace and joy.

     Now, God brings us to the realm of transcendence.  Jesus who is both God and Man brings to us a higher calling that is to live in him through a participation in his life, which includes the living of a full human life with a profound participation in his human qualities, and by going beyond this to live a divinised life, Christ’s life, with a faith hope and love that comes from God the Father and whose object is God Himself.  Led by grace we are given to understand by participating in Christ’s understanding, to hope by participating actively in Christ’s Redemption, and to love by living, as God the Father’s daughters and sons, a participation in Christ’s Love, Who is indeed the Holy Spirit.

Join me next week and feel free to share with a friend.

Yours in Christ,
Fr. John