My family is on vacation in Myrtle Beach. At lunch we began discussing the deaths of two boys who had drowned in the ocean off of a beach near us in the past week. I found myself sorrowful. My sorrow was deeper than I expected for not having a connection to these boys. I love people and believe in their dignity, but this sorrow was also connected to the death of another boy, Sal Rose. He was going into 8th grade, and had a sudden brain aneurism. I did not know Sal, but am a part of his parish community. Through the knowledge of his suffering and praying for him, I encountered my own desire for him to experience life. In my sorrow of the possibility of Sal not being able to grow up, memories of the love and care I have received from others were opened to me. I specifically realized how these people nurtured my maturity, faith and ability to love. This encounter with my desire was a gift for me. It is also a fruit of Sal’s suffering. The sorrow I experienced as we talked about the boys who had drowned revealed a grief still present in my heart after Sal’s death. It revealed an affection I had for him from this gift he had given me.
The human heart communicated through the affections reveals the inner portion of an individual’s life. Our affections are personal responses. They communicate the life within each of us. For example, the sorrow I experienced at the dinner table over the boys’ deaths was a personal response to sudden death. It also communicated to me grief lingering after Sal’s death, the universal fact that man was not destined for death, and a renewed memory of the gift of my life. Our affections reveal so much to us. In The Dietrich von Hildebrand Lifeguide, Dietrich von Hildebrand explains, “It is in the affective sphere, in the heart, that the treasures of man’s most individual life are stored” (37).
We may have the experience of believing our emotions are arbitrary and need to be controlled by the intellect and will. This seems to be true because we experience disordered affections. For example, a family is struggling financially, but they have an affection for a new luxurious car. They buy it, thus increasing their financial burden. Upon receiving the car payments in the preceding months, the father may become very angry with himself. “Why didn’t I think about this? Why didn’t I choose a different car?” but he may not ask “What was I to do with my affection for this car?” We address our intellect and will thinking we can’t address our affections. Using our reason and will, we can address our affections. Where we once saw affections as arbitrary, we can instead describe them as spontaneous. Spontaneity doesn’t take away from affections link with man’s true, innerself. Thus it doesn’t seem that affections should be controlled with the intellect and will, without an understanding and a reverence for them. If the father were to understand his desire for the car, it seems this answer would give him the freedom to have compassion on himself, sell the car back, and respond to the affection for the car in a different way. Instead of ignoring and overpowering, intellect and will guide and inform the affections.
In the first part of the article, I’ve tried to show that affections communicate man’s inner self, and are worthy of attention. With this groundwork, I want to look at ways we can give affections our attention that would be helpful in our quest to love. In a lecture by Dr.Maria Wolter, a philosophy professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville, she explained three ways to order our affections: through the reason, the will, and indirectly through beautiful things. The first lense through which we can give attention to our affection is through our reason.She gives the example of a child crashing his father’s Jaguar. When the father’s rage is ordered to the car with little concern for his son, he can look at his affection for the car through his reason.. His reason says that his son has more value than his car. It can help him temper his rage and make his concern for his son primary. In this example, the man is in dialogue not only with his intellect-my son is more important than the car-but also with his affections-I really do love my son more than this car.
The second help in ordering our affections is the will. The will can disavow disordered affections, and can sanction affections that are true and good. For example, if a woman is envious of her sister getting married. Instead of repressing this feeling, she can disavow it. Instead of shame driving her to try to ignore the feelings of envy. Instead of the feelings of envy leading her to shame and an attempt to ignore her feelings, an engagement of our will with our affections requires her to face the feeling head on and decapitate it. This is what Hildebrand describes as disavowing an affection. His proposal to disavow seems to say, “do not be afraid when these feelings arise!” We’ve probably encountered Dr. Wolter’s explanation, “disordered feelings left to themselves grow and spread,” but engaging them with our will can help us to disavow them without fear and repression. On the other hand, appropriate affections need to be sanctioned. For example, love for one’s spouse needs to be sanctioned claiming this feeling as one’s own and saying yes to it. A moment of consolation in a relationship, when looked at head on, in all it’s truth, beauty and goodness, helps to firmly root the affection for the good within us.
The third help in ordering our affections is by beauty’s indirect influence. If we expose ourselves to beautiful nature, art and music are affections are ordered in some small way. If we fill ourselves with trashy novels, music, and places, our affections are influenced negatively. In many cases they seemed to be dulled or numbed. The opposite is experienced by students who study abroad in beautiful places, or mom’s with averagely clean kitchens, and businessmen with tidy work spaces.Our affections can help reveal the inner man. As we acknowledge them, we grow in understanding, and find freedom to order them and respond in love. As I sat at the table with my family and experienced a strong emotion of sadness, I was given the opportunity to begin a dialogue with that affection with my reason and will. I didn’t want to be balling as we ate kebabs and macaroni, but I didn’t want to disregard my emotions all together. “This sadness is strong. Where is it coming from?” lead me to a deeper response of gratitude for Sal’s life and gift to me. Our affections reveal our true self. A challenge is set before us to order our affections so our true self can shine brightly in all its dignity. We engage our reason and will in moments of strong affection and throw out trashy Netflix and CDs. Slowly, a new man begins to arise!