Saturday, June 25, 2016

Fix your fixation

“Yes,” I said.  “He’s a real aficionado.”
“He’s not an aficionado like you are.”
Aficion means passion.  An aficionado is one who is passionate about the bull-fights.
That is from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, which I am finally reading.   I didn’t intend to ignore Hemingway this long; it just happened.  Nobody made me read him in school.   Finally when I was casting about at a bookstore I stumbled onto this and decided it was time.
Hemingway’s passage about “aficionado” struck me.  I cannot grant him much authority on Spanish vocabulary, but I do recognize the point he makes about passion.  When he wrote the book in 1926, I am not sure how many people would have used the word “passion” in quite the way he does, in this case about bull-fighting.  Hemingway wouldn’t have needed to make the point so elaborately if he were writing for a modern audience. 
Now, everybody talks this way about passion.  Find your passion; Follow your passion; I’m just not passionate about that.  These are all statements uttered a thousand times a day at any given Starbucks, and usually taken in all seriousness.  Christians have always regarded the passions  not as imperatives, however –  quite the contrary.  From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1763 The term "passions" belongs to the Christian patrimony. Feelings or passions are emotions or movements of the sensitive appetite that incline us to act or not to act in regard to something felt or imagined to be good or evil.
1767 In themselves passions are neither good nor evil. They are morally qualified only to the extent that they effectively engage reason and will. Passions are said to be voluntary, "either because they are commanded by the will or because the will does not place obstacles in their way." It belongs to the perfection of the moral or human good that the passions be governed by reason.
1768 Strong feelings are not decisive for the morality or the holiness of persons; they are simply the inexhaustible reservoir of images and affections in which the moral life is expressed. Passions are morally good when they contribute to a good action, evil in the opposite case. The upright will orders the movements of the senses it appropriates to the good and to beatitude; an evil will succumbs to disordered passions and exacerbates them.  Emotions and feelings can be taken up into the virtues or perverted by the vices.
If you study the word Hemingway starts with – aficion – you can discern a relationship to fixation, which reveals something the true nature of the phenomenon described.  Aficionado could be rendered one who is fixated.  This reveals the aspect of passion that is voluntary (1767, above).   Because of passions’ dependence on emotions and feelings, they can be taken up into the virtues or perverted by the vices. (1768, above)   
Armed with this ancient and divinely assisted understanding, we should all be careful to evaluate our passions, cultivating the good ones and resisting the evil ones.  Who, after all, would stand before a graduating class and exhort the members to Follow your fixation!  Yet so it happens too often. 
I have not progressed far enough in the book to know whether Hemingway’s hero’s aficion, or passion, turns out to be for good or for evil.  That’s what makes the book interesting.  Analyzing and shaping our own passions, our own fixations, and ordering them toward what is good, resisting what is evil in them, is not only what makes our lives interesting: it is what makes us human.
Monsignor Smith

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