Monday, August 4, 2014

Real love happens when it refuses to depend on feelings

A common comment made by newly baptized adults months into their baptism is quite often that the wonderful and warm feelings which they experienced at the Easter Vigil Mass are no longer there.  Some even wish that they had that experience each time Mass is celebrated, to which I would silently say to myself “for your sake, I hope you will not”.  Am I being a killjoy?  On a certain level, perhaps.  But on another level, I am hoping that they will reach a certain maturity in love that shows itself beyond one’s feelings.

In a similar way, I have also been rather pointed in my wedding homilies, where, though I wish the couple the blessings of God, I have also mentioned that I hope the good feelings that make the couple feel so much in love during the honeymoon would end very soon, so that love that is not hinged only on good feelings and romance can begin to be lived out in their everyday lives.

Like many spiritual masters, I do strongly believe that love and prayer share something in common – both of them need a ‘ritual’, which becomes a solid container on which to build a rhythm that can be sustained in the long run.  There has to be a certain routine and ritual which we willingly enter into with little irregularity or unusualness and with a certain constancy. 

One of the main problems with us human beings is that we are easily distracted in our best efforts.  We tire easily, many of us are not automatically or spontaneously creative, and even if we are, we are not often operating on that high level simply because we do not have that sustained high energy all the time.  Our minds are just not wired that way.

Many years ago, I was privileged to visit a Trappist Monastery in Massachusetts in North America, and followed their work and prayer timetable for about a week.  Their whole 24-hour day was broken up into three 8-hour segments, one for work (and study), one for prayer, and one for sleep.  There was plenty of routine for monks to follow, and it was not hard to perceive that there was a rhythm and a  purpose in this rule.  Part of the reason this seemed to be so ‘rigid’ is because monks know that following a discipline calls for the living out of love beyond feelings, and the living a deep prayer life also requires of one to pray even when one does not feel like praying.  The routine and the rhythm thus helps to keep the monk grounded in his commitment for the Lord expressed in his commitment for life. 

It is when love is largely dependent on fleeting feelings that one begins to give all sorts of seemingly legitimate reasons for not loving when those feelings are no longer present nor as strong as when the commitment was first made.  Those of us in the Marriage Encounter movement have always said that love is a decision, and decisions cannot be dependent on merely feelings.  When love is a decision, it goes beyond feelings and beyond romantic ambience.  It becomes something that is based on our will, which should be much more solid than our feelings alone.  This is the living out of being true to one’s spouse “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, all the days of one’s life”.  After all, there will be many days when one doesn't feel like being loving, when one doesn't feel very much like forgiving, and when one doesn't feel like sharing.  

There are many misconceptions regarding prayer, liturgy and yes, even love, which plague many a modern mind so used to being ‘relevant, engaged and entertained’.  But if prayer, like love, is to be lived out as it should, then it has to be something that is long term with certain rules that give us strong guidelines to follow.  If as persons we find it a great challenge to be engaging all the time, to be full of insights all the time, and to be interesting 24/7, we will slowly begin to realise with the advent of maturity, patience and mellowness of heart, that there is a virtue in routine and rhythm. 

Whenever I hear about the complaints coming from congregants that our Latin Rite’s celebration of the Eucharist is so staid and boring, compared to some of the newer ‘mega’ churches which will remain nameless, it pains me that I have not enough time to share with them the wisdom of consistency and routine in worship, which helps us all to be steadfast in the love of God in our daily routine of life.   When we forget that the basis and fundament of our celebration of the Eucharist is that of a divine sacrifice, we tend to make the mistake to think that it is the other 'feel good' factors that should make the Mass a 'solid' celebration, as some may wish to call it.  It was St John Paul II who once said "the mystery of the Eucharist is too great a gift to admit of ambiguities or reductions, above all when, 'stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal banquet."

How is love good when it is a routine?  How can it then be real?  Perhaps a personal example might explain it with some degree of clarity.  I have a dear aunt who is in a nursing home and who suffers from severe dementia, and doesn’t communicate with nor recognize her visitors.  When I was still healthy and strong before cancer came a-visiting, I would start my one off day a week from priestly duties each Thursday with a visit to the nursing home, and stay with her till her lunch time,  I did this with dogged regularity despite her not recognizing me.  What was more important was that I knew who she was, and that I recognized her for who she was.  I guess it was my living out of a decision to love and to be consistently routine in carrying this out. It was way beyond something that was based merely on feelings or emotion.  There was little chance of any deep conversation, nothing particularly cerebrally meaningful that could be seen with the eye, with little if any, emotional satisfaction.  But there was a connection which went beyond any of these, far more important than feelings can evoke.

Our celebration and dogged regularity at Sunday Eucharist and prayer needs this kind of routine as well, if only for the connection that it provides as well – where we give the chance for a divine connection made possible by the Divine Connecter who is God. 


  1. Stagnated, I was encouraged to change my prayer 'content' which i have been 'practising' for a long time and because it has become 'mechanical', the change has unsettled me so much so that the thought of abandoning my prayer routine becomes attractive.

    Thanks frLuke, for this statement "There has to be a certain routine and ritual which we willingly enter into with little irregularity or unusualness and with a certain constancy." Here i come O Lord, daily, continuing our scheduled hour, albeit with a revised tempo,


  2. I liked the analogy of the love for a spouse/aunt with the mass - great post!


  3. Thank you Fr Luke. You have once reminded me the beauty of the Eucharistic celebration, nothing fanciful and pleasing, just pure act of love.


  4. Speaking from the 'married' perspective and having been married 19 years this coming sep14, feeling must surely exist but a more mature and stronger one burning for each other. The feeling comes from being together so long and having gone through and given so much to each other and the children. This is not fleeting but is a natural bond developed and strengthened over the years. But I do agree that everything hinges on the commitment made 'for better or for worse.....til death do us part....'

  5. This reflection is so interesting. I recall my posting in nursing home and dementia day care centre during my gerontology study. The dementia patients are so happy, carefree and childlike. They simply believe that everything is so really and mainly depend on the caretakers to look after them. Of course, the severe dementia patients are not engaging at all in communication. However, they have full of feeling and yet cannot express themselves well. They have lost their vocabulary and words to communicate. The only way to communicate with them is to look at their eyes, stroking their hands while try to communicate with them. Deep inside their hearts, they know that they are being loved. They do want people to be with them.

    To be participated fully in the Eucharist, once have to be a childlike and believe that the God is present during the Mass.

  6. This reflection made me have some soul searching. Everything do change especially feelings. I was diagnosed with renal problems two years and I witness my husband and family commitments towards me was and present wonderful. They stand by me giving all the strength and help I needed for. For better and or for worse they stand by me

    Pray for you and wish you have speedy recovery

  7. Hi Father. Glad that you are feeling well. would just like to comment that I dont really agree with your view on this issue. unlike the monks who most likely dont live in a 'real' world of deadlines, stress, interpersonal relationship problems etc we, mere mortals, need to be uplifted by an inspirational song/hymn, special prayers, a pat on the back and even better still, an encouraging homily from the pulpit. I have been married for almost 30 years now and my spouse and I attribute our 'sucessful" marriage to having attended Marriage Encounter where we were taught to be sensitive to each other's feelings and not take each other for granted. we still need to explicitly say "I love you' and go out on special dates so that on our 'dry' days, we can fall back on these special feelings and never go to bed angry. we have also taught our kids to be expressive in their love and saying 'love you Mom and Dad' is second nature to them, such that in those times of doubts and family conflicts, things can be quickly resolved as we remember how we have been uplifted and affirmed by one another before - so anger dissipates quickly. that is why the novena sessions at Novena church and Charismatic sessions are so well-attended as people need to sing uplifting hymns and say prayers that are meaningful to them. i think before we can reach the level where we dont have to depend on feelings anymore to continue to love, we need to give and receive an oversupply of these good feelings first. this I find is especially so with our youth who are still searching for answers about God and life. We need to work on their feelings and overlove them before they can reach the stage where we can tell them not to depend on feelings, which requires maturity somewhat. to conclude, i would like to state that most priests fail to realise that they have the power to uplift the masses just by a inspirational homily --- something which we lay people need after a long and hard week -- on top of God's graces received during Mass

    1. Dear Amelia

      Thank you for your comment. I truly appreciate every comment that is posted, as it takes a lot of time and effort on the part of my readers.

      I can fully appreciate your views on how important it is for one to give an 'oversupply' of good feelings. I am not averse to one supplying these feelings in any relationship because it means that the person is creative in his or her loving. Our giving ways should never stop in any relationship, and it is good thing to do. However, it is what happens on the side of the recipients that is often the 'problem'. If our being happy and contented depends so much on receiving these feelings all the time, and we are only responsive when these feelings are present, my point is that we may not have matured as we ought. It is when we continue to be loving and charitable and kind despite not having these feelings coming our way that shows how real our love (for God and for neighbour) really is. I am really happy to see that you have benefitted and still are benefitting from the teaching points of the ME movement. Do continue in your efforts of love as a decision.

      However, I do have to say something in defence of the many monks who may easily be misunderstood in the living out of their vocation in the monastery. There are many people who like you, think that just because monks live in silence seclusion behind the walls of the monastery, that they do not live in a 'real world of deadlines, stress and interpersonal relationship problems' as you elucidated. I beg to differ. In fact, in such a real environment where each monk is daily challenged to truly face his real self and identify the false self, there is just as much stress in living out the real challenges of authentic interpersonal relationships where one has to be as genuinely human as possible, without the politics of playing 'people' games. It is a common fallacy that monks have a much easier time in life than the laity living outside the walls. Each vocation, no matter what it is, when lived authentically, has its deep challenges and difficulties which when faced with an authentic desire to grow and mature, becomes our individual pathways to heaven.

      Once again, thank you for your comments.

      Fr Luke