Today, especially in America, we place tremendous value on passion. What are you passionate about? What subjects or activities captivate you the most? If you can find your passion and live according to it you will be happy: or so we think. There are even predominating theories of education and pedagogy where the secret to unlocking someone’s potential has to do with figuring out what they are passionate about. The problem with that approach is that some things are important whether you are passionate about them or not. The difficulties involved in becoming disciplined are dispensed with and we rely instead on motivation and the energy of passion. The garbage needs to be taken out whether you are passionate about it or not. You need to do your taxes correctly whether you are passionate about it or not. You need to wake up and go to work/school whether you are passionate about it or not. Discipleship, discipline and learning were synonymous until the modern age. Passion, drive, and ambition were considered vicious tendencies until the modern age. Are we really so much wiser today than those hundreds of generations who went before us?
We see the conflict expressed in today’s readings as well. A worldly passion verses the passion of Christ. We hear the voice of modernity snarling against Wisdom, “let us put the just one to the test with revilement and torture / that we may have proof of his gentleness / and try his patience. / Let us condemn him to a shameful death; / for according to his own words, God will take care of him.” Modernity has tried Christianity and found it boring and irrelevant – now they have turned around and inside out anything that might be connected with authentic Christian values. Modernity is convinced that if it perverts, distorts and tortures authentic Christianity enough it will finally die away. Authentic Christianity understands that by enduring this persecution well it will bear fruit in abundance.
Today’s second reading also highlights the passion in which worldly people are steeped. “Where do the wars/ and where do the conflicts among you come from?/ Is it not from your passions / that make war within your members? / You covet but do not possess. / You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; / you fight and wage war. / You do not possess because you do not ask. / You ask but do not receive, / because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Why aren’t some of our prayers answered? because they are selfish. Passion is actually a passive word – it means to undergo or suffer. When we are passionate about something, it means that we are particularly susceptible to that thing, particularly drawn to that thing. We have to determine, even if we are drawn to something, whether or not it is worthy of our time, energy, and love. Passionate love works the same way – we are drawn to someone, sometimes head over heels, but we still have to determine whether or not it is right to pursue that person.
On the opposing side of worldly passion is the passion of Christ. In Christ, his passion is a willingness to undergo torture, pain, insults, and rejection in order that the salvation of men and women might be accomplished. The object of his passion is our redemption – and because of his great love for us he willingly endures it all.
The wisdom from above is pure because it thinks only pure thoughts, and it is peaceable because it does not dissociate itself from others on account of its pride. The other virtues mentioned here are the common possession of any wise person, and they will manifest themselves in a life full of mercy and other good works.1
They were greatly grieved because they had formed a very different notion previously in their minds and hearts.2