Most people encounter difficulty during their lifetime. For many, difficulty happens daily, hourly, sometimes all the time. Some are able to separate themselves from the difficulties in life but most of us get emotionally involved with everything we do or that happens to us. Blessed are those who have such admirable self-control and detachment from suffering and other difficulties that they simply seek God in everything that happens to them. Emotions aren't bad, but uncontrolled emotions can be bothersome.
During my seminary training, I learned all about emotions. More than I wanted to, perhaps. I was taught that we all have emotions and that there are good emotions and bad emotions. In my experience with people and with myself, I must say that people really were wrapped up in their ordinary problems emotionally. Ordinary problems, daily living, becoming reactive to what other people say about us (they shouldn't be gossiping, but unfortunately they do), all sorts of things that if viewed with less emotion could make our lives simpler and happier. Difficult moments will pass if we do not attach ourselves to them emotionally. To put it quite bluntly, difficult moments will not bother us as much as long as we stop making mountains out of molehills, and put all difficulties at the foot of His Cross immediately, rather than dwelling on them.
Surely you've heard an angler (someone fishing) tell about that magnificent catch of 15 inches and so many pounds... and the next time the story is told the size of the fish becomes 20 inches, and so on. Or a story about our neighbor's brand new car that gets more expensive as the story grows older. These are little "power trips." Meant in good fun, no doubt, but they are peer pressure in a way. They pressure us to go one better... "One upping each other," is pointless and it bores me to death. Isn't that what we do with our difficulties and problems, too? Ever sit in the waiting room of a doctor's office... listen to the stories people are telling. Awful stories of suffering and sickness. And, invariably, someone will pipe up with a variation of one of these stories and it is worse.
Do these outward displays of emotion make our own difficulties better. No! Oh, sometimes when you hear about some other person's problems you think - thank God, I do not have his problem. And here we have a chance to pray for that other persons... but we don't because we think only of ourselves in those circumstances. When are we going to turn to God, when we're finally on our deathbed? It is never too late to turn to God, but you will have fewer difficult moments with run-away emotions if you ask God to be a part of your life, your spiritual life, your every day, hour, minutes.
Quietism - what is that? Well, that's when you tell yourself that the Lord will take care of everything, and you just go on and do your thing without any active thought. Here's a more formal definition: "Quietism (Lat. quies, quietus, passivity) in the broadest sense is the doctrine which declares that man's highest perfection consists in a sort of psychical self-annihilation and a consequent absorption of the soul into the Divine Essence even during the present life. In the state of "quietude" the mind is wholly inactive; it no longer thinks or wills on its own account, but remains passive while God acts within it. Quietism is thus generally speaking a sort of false or exaggerated mysticism (q.v.), which under the guise of the loftiest spirituality contains erroneous notions which, if consistently followed, would prove fatal to morality." (Catholic Encyclopedia c.1908)
When people tell us to practice detachment, (e.g. detaching our emotions from a difficulty) we want to make sure that it doesn't become quietism. We want to make sure that detachment is for the right reasons, to love the Lord our God and our neighbor (that is, everyone everywhere, as St. Francis is such a great example of), and to actively (rather than passively) strive to offer up our difficulties for the intention of others. Detachment for the right reasons is a beautiful thing. It's not sticking your head in the sand, but it is a way, under God's watchful care, to control our emotions from going overboard on the little problems in life. But it takes lots of conversation with God, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit and with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary whose life was lived in detachment from worldly things, including sin. Without daily prayer, a spiritual life that is deep and long-lasting, detachment can be impossible. But for people who pray daily, detachment is seeking God in difficult moments.
Then we come to quiet moments. In quiet moments which are helped by quieting our overactive imagination and emotions and by a firm and lasting belief in God, we may worship God. A quiet moment is sitting at this computer composing this spiritual reflection. Jesus and St. Francis make it possible for me to talk to you as I would to someone I know in town, or a friend, perhaps. I'm given a talent for writing, praise God. But when you examine all the teachings, essays and reflections found on this website, you'll find that they all point to God, to Jesus, to the Holy Spirit, to Mary, the Angels and Saints. And I praise God for His greatness and the love He has for all of us.
Let us all turn these difficult moment around into quiet moments. Take the overactive emotions out of the situation and the difficulty remains small, indeed. Offer such moments to God or suffer them quietly for the intention of another person's suffering... and your moments of difficulty will turn to the quiet moments where you will adore God for all this greatness, mercy and compassion. Amen.
Fred Schaeffer, ofs
Secular Franciscan Order
Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis
Divine Mercy Fraternity
Vero Beach, FL
Officers as of 1/10/2016
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Helen Caldarone, OFS
Mary "Jean" McGovern, OFS
Jack Reddy, OFS
Donna Haro, OFS
Joanne Giordano, OFS
Fred Schaeffer, OFS