I learned recently that our minds do not have the ability to distinguish between positive emotions, such as joy, and negative emotions, such as anger or sadness. Thus, if we try to ignore or end our own — or others’ — experiences of negative emotions, this will result in our experience of the positive emotions being “blocked” as well.
In this month of May, as we focus on Our Lady and continue to celebrate the Easter season, I think this understanding of the positive and negative emotions can come under a particularly illuminating light.
No one entered more completely or intensely into the sorrows of Our Lord’s Passion than Our Lady. But no one could have entered more profoundly into the glorious joy of His Resurrection than she, either.
We can often think of these as two separate aspects of the Blessed Mother’s life, as two separate moments of entering fully into the life of her Son. Rather, these moments of the Passion and the Resurrection are deeply and intimately connected in the lives both of Our Lord and of His Mother. In fact, the Church recognizes this truth in the liturgy of the Paschal Triduum, which she remembers as one three-day celebration of the mysteries of the Lord’s Last Supper, Passion, Death and Resurrection.
In our own lives, how easy it can be to desire only to experience joy and other positive emotions and to want to do away with anything that feels unpleasant. We can even know that there is nothing wrong with our emotions themselves, that they are meant to teach us, and that the questions we need to ask ourselves concerning them are simply, “What did I do with that feeling? How did I or did I not act on it?” And yet, even knowing this, we desire strongly to rid ourselves of the negative emotions because of how uncomfortable they feel. But to do so would be to stand in the way of our ability to experience the emotion of joy.
We can look in a similar way at the joy that is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, even though this joy goes beyond and is much deeper than the simple emotion of joy. In our lives, if we seek to avoid the unpleasantness of the crosses the Lord chooses to send us, we will, in fact, block our own ability to receive the joy of the Holy Spirit. But the more accepting of the Cross we are, the more we will be able to recognize the Lord Himself at work in us in the midst of that suffering, and the more we will experience the true and lasting joy of the Lord.
Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.