But where, and how, did Jesus access this power to stay still and non-violent in the presence of his enemies? And if he, our Lord Jesus could, and did, can we?
In order to answer this question, I must speak about a taboo topic—don’t worry, I am not going to talk about the election; I want to talk about our emotions. First, a basic, very useful definition of emotion that I found in the Oxford Dictionary: an emotion, it tells us, is “an instinctive state of mind derived from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.” We are designed with emotions; they are hard-wired into us.
In our daily life and in our families we can see that some people tend toward certain emotions. Some people, we say, are “good” at being happy; others, we observe, tend toward sadness, depending on what happened to them, or on what is happening to them now. But the definition also tells us that emotions are “an instinctive state of mind.” This does not mean we make them up; but rather, that as our mind is our primary engine for engaging and knowing the world, emotions have a lot to do with how we engage others. “Instinctive” means that emotions are primarily about survival, about self-preservation. We are meant to survive, and our emotions help.
Where we tend to get ourselves into trouble is with the “hard” emotions, the ones that seem difficult and impenetrable to us, those emotions we’ve pegged as messy, and not pretty, the ones which, if not checked, acknowledged, or loved, even, can overrun our lives and cause havoc; resulting in us becoming hard and inflexible ourselves
For example, if on a given day we feel sadness, and especially if we do not know why we are feeling sad, then we might try to unload the emotion rather quickly by spreading the misery: we throw the sadness out and let it land where it may, and on whom it may. Or we throw our anger out and let it land where it may. In other words, we try to quickly to rid ourselves of what we dislike about ourselves in that moment, our emotions.
But this often backfires on us: If we react instinctively to life only through anger and this anger leads us to judging others for their imperfections, for getting in our way of having a perfect day, or a life with no problems, then you can bet that others will see us as only an angry person, as someone stiff and inflexible.
Or we go the other way, the way of extremes, and try to shut down our emotions, because they just seem to create problems for us. Or, and this is common among some of us Catholics with messy, painful emotions, we try to be perfect. But this is futile: we cannot unwire ourselves from our emotions. We need them as much as we need air, food, shelter, good health, and love.
Jesus, I believe, was not trying to be chill, detached, or even passive. All the Gospels show us that he was a man totally engaged with, and aware of, his circumstances, his moods—yes, Jesus had moods—and especially of his relationships with others. In other words, of his emotional terrain.
All the Gospels show us a man of feeling, one who cried, felt fear, and at the end of his life, felt a profound sense of sadness and abandonment. Oh, and compassion. “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” And love: “Woman, behold your son.”
So when Jesus did not fight, or resist, the traps set for him by the Sadducees and Pharisees, it was because of how he experienced, understood, and chose to live, his life—all of his life, in fact. It was because of how he chose to manage, and live with, and through, his emotions. He chose to live a life of non-violence and transparency, so he communicated in a non-violent, transparent way—even in the face of difficult circumstances. He did not deny his emotions, or become defensive, or use his emotions to go on the offensive.
Now, we know for a fact—this is in the Gospels—that he could and did get angry, and acted on that anger: For example, he cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem; he chastised Peter and the Apostles; he stood up to the Sadducees and Pharisees, especially when they stood in judgment of the poor; but all his emotions were, in fact, in the service of the Holy One. All of his emotions made him a man quite aware of, and alert to, his circumstances, his moods, and his relationships with others.
So, to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this homily: Yes, we can manage our emotions, if we are willing to learn from them; if we acknowledge them as an important part of our human-ness; if we do not panic when they emerge; if we stand by them and accept them as energy that can lead us into the way of peace.
As he saw all of life as sheer gift and sheer grace, all coming from the great fountain of Holiness, God, Jesus did not have to go to that place where he became desperate, or defensive, or proud and arrogant about something that was “his,” his holiness, his life, or his agenda, because for Jesus, God Himself was the ground of his being.
All that happens to us, happens in God, with God, and for God. All that happens to us, all that we are, and feel, and all that we are becoming, we are and become in Christ, with Christ, and for Christ.
All that Jesus was, and felt, and even struggled with, was infused with love, colored through and through with love; so it is with us: Nothing, no part of us, even the messy, confusing and unsettling emotions we carry and express are infused with the power of God, the power of love and compassion. So we can, like Jesus, let this love and this compassion infuse our emotions, so that in all things, and with all things, we can live for the Father, and love His Son, so that through us God can infuse the world with his Holy Love, the Spirit, and redeem the world and heal it, for it is in need of healing, especially now.