The Sensitive Appetites and Passions

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri OCDS, Ph.D., CPC, AAPC: Fellow

 

Appetite

“Appetite is an active tendency or faculty which inclines toward a given object or end; the conscious striving for an end known either spiritually or sensorially.[1] The appetite is moved by the presence of its object.[2]

At the heart of the complex understanding of man’s psychological constitution is the relationship of the appetites to the intellect and will and how they affect each other’s operation. “Since mental health is concerned about the intellect of man, it is essential for psychology to know how the appetites, reason and will affect one another.”[3]

St. Thomas describes that there are concupiscible and irascible appetites.[4] As we saw earlier in the definitions in chapter two:

Concupiscible appetite- the sensitive appetite that seeks what is suitable to the senses and flees what is evil to the senses.

Irascible appetite- the sensitive appetite by which the sentient being resists the attacks that hinder its good or inflict harm on it. Thus, the concupiscible seeks the good and to avoid evil and the irascible is concerned with the obstacle to fight or flight.

Passion

“A passion is motion of an appetitive power.”[1] Passion is “a movement of the sense appetite, which follows the apprehension of the senses, and is accompanied by a bodily transmutation.”[2] The name is derived from the Latin word “pati” which means to suffer or undergo, or literally to bear. “Passion refers an appetites reception of something in some way and the reception is an actual inclining or motion toward or away from some object. The “motion” of the appetite, brought us to the term “e-motion.” Passions occur with a bodily transmutation, i.e., the sensitive object causes some bodily change in the one undergoing the action.”[3] This motion causes “bodily transmutation, i.e. chemical and biological changes which we identify as “feelings. A passion is the same thing as a feeling or emotion. The three terms are synonymous.

There are eleven passions altogether, which fall under the heading of these two types. The concupiscible is divided into three couples: love and hate, desire and aversion (or flight), delight (or joy), sorrow (or sadness). The irascible, which arises from the concupiscible, has three groups: hope and despair, fear and daring (audacity), and anger.

We are going to consider some of the passions as they relate to pastoral counseling.

As we begin it is helpful to keep in mind that passions are stimulated by the imagination. Without any impression upon the imagination or senses there is no passion. They are in essence “blind” to anything but their one object. This will be discussed, as it is imperative to understand for many pastoral issues.

 

[1] III Sent., d. 26, q. 1, a. 1 and De malo, q. 10, a. 1, ad 1.

[2] Aquinas, Summa Theological, (I-II, Q. 22).

[3] Ripperger, Introduction to the Science of Mental Health, Vol. 1, p. 146.

[1] Fr. Chad Ripperger, FSSP, Introduction to the Science of Mental Health, (Sensus Traditionis Press: Denton, NE, 2007) p. 800.

[2] Fr. Chad Ripperger, FSSP, Introduction to the Science of Mental Health, (Sensus Traditionis Press: Denton, NE, 2007) p. 130.

[3] Ripperger, Introduction to the Science of Mental Health, Vol. 1, p. 188, See chapters 8 and 9, pp. 140- 216 for a necessary and sufficient discussion of the passions. What is contained has a bearing on every counseling situation.

[4] Summa Theologica, 1st part of the 2nd part, Q. 23, Art. 4.

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Maturity Involves the Struggle to Gain Personal Integrity

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri OCDS, Ph.D., CPC, Fellow: AAPC

“A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but also to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.” CCC 1803

The habits whereby the human will and sensual appetites are under the control of reason to thus enable the person to act accordingly are called moral virtues. Simply, the human person has to be the master of his lusts.

UNION OF THE ORGANIC POWERS TO THE SPIRITUAL POWERS (SEE FOLLOWING POWERS CHART)

1. Animals have organic powers
2. Only man has spiritual powers
3. All want the Truth since the intellect is made for the Truth.
Man at times does not want the cost the truth brings such when it reveals his sin or demands sacrifice of some good that he desires.
4. All love the good because the will is for choosing the good.
5. We know that a passion is “an intense movement of the sensitive appetite accompanied by noticeable organic change, as in anger or fear”
6. The passions are not the deepest truth. They are simply desires, feelings and emotions.
7. Right reason reveals the deepest truth
8. Passions may work against right reason. Virtues enable one to overcome passions and direct them to what right reason dictates.

POWERS OF THE HUMAN SOUL

Look to the following chart and we find it demonstrates the powers of the human soul, which are common in animals (organic powers) and those, which are unique to the human soul (spiritual powers). The struggle for sanctity and happiness involves the struggle to unite the two powers. It is the ability to act according to right reason that principally determines a man’s character. The intellect’s object is to know the truth and left unimpeded will seek to know what is real and rightly ordained. However, it’s capacity to perceive the truth and reason has been obscured by original sin. The will can only choose good. However, the will is able to ignore one good in the favor of another or not consider a thing at all. Thus those goods of the senses such as pleasure or love may be contrary to right reason and yet still chosen because right reason is essentially ignored.

spiritual powers

 

 

The Naturally Good Listener

 

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri, OCDS, Ph.D. CPC, Fellow: AAPC

Many people are naturally good listeners at least when they want to be. The naturally good listener has an active mind that summarizes what is being said.   This common sense process may center on three simple questions that are very helpful to anyone who wants to be a better listener. This approach is a synthesis of the keys to attentive listening because they are contained in the attitude necessary to sincerely ask these questions.

When listening, ask yourself:

“What is he/she communicating or telling me?”

  • This question moves the focus from the listener to the speaker and what is being said versus what the listener would like to say.

“What feelings might be involved?”

  • “Are the feelings what the speaker wants me to address?” The more the feelings are involved the more patience and understanding are required before a response can be made. The speaker must somehow come to know that these feelings are understood.

What response does he/she want from me?

  • This is the critical question that needs to be kept in mind because it involves the reason that the person is speaking to you in the first place.

What do you want from me?

People speak to us for a number of reasons and many communication problems stem from the listener’s failure to recognize what the speaker wants from them. The listener’s response might be quite true and good but it may not be what the speaker is looking for. Experience shows us that when speaking to another person people generally want one or a combination of the following responses.   The speaker generally may want the listener to do the following:

  • Just listen and understand
  • Console and support
  • Help Clarify
  • Confirm
  • Agree
  • Solve a problem
  • Act upon self or another

Just Listen and Understand

People always want to be listened to and to be understood.   This must happen for other things to follow. It is the most important response to give. When both parties feel mutually understood tension and discord are diminished. This is true even when the two do not agree. The likelihood of anger erupting is greatly diminished. A priest used to tell the story of how his parents never got angry at each other. At first I thought him to be naïve. However, he proceeded to describe how they conducted their conversations. He said that his parents did something that he had learned to do during his courses in philosophy. One of the rudiments of philosophical discourse is obviously debate. A basic component of debate is that the first party states a position. Before the responding team could offer a rebuttal they had to first state the position of the first party clearly and faithfully. The first party would then acknowledge whether the second team was able to express the essential elements of the first position. Also, in debate, the first cross-examination can only contain clarifying questions. These are the questions that allow the first party to elaborate on points that the listener needs to better understand. After this process is done, the first party confirms the proper understanding and then the rebuttal or opposing position can be presented.

It so happened that this young priest’s parents naturally did this. They always made it a point to understand each other before responding and making sure that their own understanding was consistent with what their spouse intended. As a result, even when they disagreed upon any point, neither party felt insulted because the other did not take the time to sufficiently understand them.

Console or support

People often want consolation and support. A burden seems lighter when shared by someone who cares. This combines with being understood to establish most of what people want most of the time that they speak about anything that is important to them.

Help clarify

People sometimes want to get things out so they can see them more clearly. In this case people simply want to bounce things off of someone else. They come to get some order so that they can make a decision or get their thinking straight.

Agreement or confirmation

People sometimes want someone to confirm that they are right. Sometimes people just want others to agree with them. However, understanding does not mean that one agrees. E.g. “I understand you feel like punching your spouse, but I do not agree you should do it.”

Help solve a problem

People sometimes want you to solve the problem. They want solutions and directions. This is the dynamic that causes the most trouble when someone tries to solve someone else’s problem when the person doesn’t want that kind of help. We will address this next, in “When solving a problem becomes a problem.”

Act upon myself or someone else

When someone wants you to change your behavior or to perform some action then they will know you understand because they see the action. They may want you to act upon someone else. E.g. A wife who wants her husband to do something to change the behavior of their son.   She will know that her husband understands when she sees that he has talked to his son.

A person may want you to do something about your own behavior. E.g. A wife wants her husband to be more attentive or to do things around the house. She will know that her husband understands when she sees that he starts picking up after himself, doing the dishes, cooking, helping with the laundry and whatever other tasks may be on the list.

Music and Theology[1]

       Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri, Ph.D., MA, CPC, OCDS

 

In light of the place given to music by the philosophers of Greece we might also consider for a moment the role of music in Judeo-Christian history as expressed in the writings of the early fathers of the Church.

The Christian tradition considers itself a fulfillment of Jewish heritage since it considers Jesus Christ to be the fulfillment of the Father’s love and covenant with the Jewish people. It is not surprising, therefore, to find the richness of that heritage enhanced through by music. The Church fathers commented on the aid that music brought to the ascetical practice of virtue, religion and prayer, and contemplation. Thus, Basil the Great wrote:

“He mixed sweetness of melody with doctrine so that inadvertently we would absorb the benefit of the words through gentleness and ease of hearing, just as clever physicians frequently smear the cup with honey when giving the fastidious some rather bitter medicine to drink. Thus he contrived for us these harmonious psalm tunes, so that those who are children in actual age as well as those who are young in behavior, while appearing only to sing would in reality be training their souls. For not one of these many indifferent people ever leaves church easily retaining in memory some maxim of either the Apostles or the Prophets, but they do sing the texts of the Psalms at home and circulate them in the marketplace.”[2]

Ambrose comments on music in that it softens anger and brings release from anxiety.[3] Augustine speaks of the “beata vita” of voice and strings when he says that the “truth poured into my heart.”[4] Plotinus said that music makes us attentive to truth[5] for universal truths are embodied in proportioned sound.[6] It can also bring the human person into a more harmonious relationship with God and transport the soul to the society of the angels.[7] As St. Albert the Great said, “lyrics lead to contemplation.”[8]

 

[1] DiVietri, Patrick J. Ph.d., A COMMENTARY ON THE CANTATA CARMELITUM, Dissertation presented to the Graduate School of the Humanities, American Commonwealth University, San Diego, 1997, Pp. 14-15.

[2]Homolia in psalmum,i., James McKinnon, Music in Early Christian Literature., cited by Cole, p. 54.

[3]Explanatio psalmi i, 7, ibid., cited by, Cole, pp. 126-127.

[4] De utilitate hymnorum,5, ibid., cited by, Cole, pp. 135-136.

[5] The Essence of Plotinus, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1934) compiled by Grace H. Turnbull from the translation of Stephen MacKenna’s The Enneads (London: Faber & Faber, 1956.) (First publication 1917-1930), p. 60.

[6] The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th Edition, ed. by Philip W. Goetz, Chicago, 1986), p. 63

[7] John of Salisbury, De nugis curialiam, Robert Hayborn, Papal Legislation on Sacred Music, 95 AD to 1977, (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1979), p. 18.

[8] Cole, Basil OP. Music and Morals. (New York: Alba House, 1993,) p. 66.

Orientation on the Goods of Marriage: Permanence

  Patrick J. DiVietri. Ph.D., CPC, OCDS

“Will you love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?”  “I will love and honor you all the days of my life.”

No matter what you do, I will remain married to you till death. I promise always to forgive you.  There is a radical difference between couples who contemplate divorce and those who do not see it as an option.  Those dedicated to preserve the marriage will recover far quicker then those whose purpose is weakened by indecisiveness of possible escape hatches. The mistaken notion that many suffer from is that “God wants me to be happy and therefore I will leave this painful situation to find happiness somewhere else.”  My professional counsel to those who say this is, “God wants you to be happy in this life and the next.  However, the suffering of this life may be part of the happiness in the next life.  We also know that suffering is a part of deepening the capacity for happiness even in this life.”  In light of Faith we may also say that “you may not be happy with this spouse but you will not find happiness with another spouse.”  The only avenue for that happiness is through the vocation to the spouse to whom you have been bound.        It is important to explain to couples the situations where pain might be intolerable and a separation may be required because of grave circumstances.   The two situations that best fit this description are:

  1. Physical abuse of spouse or children that is ongoing and not being remedied
  2. Flaunted infidelity such that the children are aware of it and will be given the message that such behavior is acceptable if separation did not take place.  The separation is for the sake of reconciliation.

Cultural Influences against permanence

There is a need to discuss the problem of the Catholic approach to divorce.  I.e. We don’t get divorces per se so when there is a crisis in the marriage we say, “There wasn’t any marriage in the first place.”  One immediately assumes that there wasn’t a valid marriage in order to justified the civil divorce.

These days, we hate the idea of pain and suffering. We don’t see it as redemptive. We don’t see any value in it. But people who know what love is understand suffering. People who love know that suffering has value. When you love someone, there isn’t anything you wouldn’t endure for that person, including the cross. In the end we know that love conquers all things, because love conquered all things when Christ conquered death on the cross.

One must also address the issue of parental divorce and the effect upon the engaged couple.  One must ascertain the circumstances of the divorce and how the engaged person/couple views the divorce.  They need to consider how they intellectually view permanence and what their experience and emotional development might be.  For example, a common dynamic is as follows:

  1. “I am against divorce.”
  2. “My parents divorced and I don’t want to do that.”
  3. “They divorced because they said it was too painful to be together any longer and that they were better off apart.”
  4. “I love both my parents and I accept their decision.  They really were hurting each other too much and it’s better.”

What’s the experiential message?  “Marriage is permanent but if the pain is too much, divorce is better.”  What will happen when things get really painful?

The individual has to confront this idea and think through how they will make their life different.

What would the couple do?

  1. Do you know of a married couple who gave up on their marriage because their jobs and personal interests pulled them apart?
  2. What would you be willing to do with your own spouse to make your marriage work?
  3. How could you safeguard the permanence of your marriage?

Orientation on the Goods of Marriage: Partnership

Patrick J. DiVietri Ph.D. CPC, OCDS

Partnership

“The family is an intimate community of life and love, whose mission is to guard, reveal, and communicate love” (From Familiaris Consortio, #31).

“Have you come here freely . . .?”

At the time of matrimony between a man and a woman in the Catholic Church there is an opening interrogation prior to the proclamation of the vow itself.  It contains this question, “Have you come here freely to give yourselves to each other in marriage?”  This question is to clarify that there is no impediment or coercion to their entrance into forming the bond of marriage.  It is in that bond that a partnership for the whole of life takes place.  The vow will a partnership of goods that will permeate the marriage.

This partnership is revealed in how the couple carries out their life activities, decisions and responsibilities.  Any marital or family problem is a matter for the partnership.  Maintaining civility and mutual respect and cooperation is the critical practical dynamic.  When these are lost restoring them becomes the primary objective before anything else can be accomplished because they are pre-emptive to the expression of trust.  Partnership is practically expressed in paying bills, raising children, religious practice in and outside the home, family relations, decision making, handling all chores and family operations etc.

It is important for the couple to have some clear objective of what they will do if the partnership is threatened.  The disposition that is desired looks like, “I will do whatever it takes to preserve the partnership of this marriage.”  That attitude, in mutual cooperation and the grace of God will weather and overcome any obstacle when combined with perseverance.  It behooves the couples to ask the questions of themselves that will provide some focus on what they might do to preserve the marriage.

  1. Have you talked about decision making and sharing of a mutual life together?
  2. Have you ever talked about what you will do if you become unhappy in marriage?
  3. Would you be willing to seek counseling with a priest or a professional and do whatever is necessary to strengthen your partnership in the marriage?
  4. Do you know other couples who did or did not do this and how things worked out for them?

Fasting

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

We fast for three reasons:

To check the desires of the flesh.

So St. Paul says in fastings, in chastity (2 Cor 6:5), meaning that fasting is a safeguard for chastity.  As St. Jerome says, “Without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus would freeze,” as much as to say that lust loses its heat through sparseness of food and drink.

That the mind may more freely raise itself to contemplation of the heights. 

We read in the book of Daniel that it was after a fast of three weeks that he received the revelation from God (Dn 10:2-4).

To make satisfaction for sin.

This is the reason given by the prophet Joel, “Be converted to me with all your hear, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning (Jl 2:12).

And here is what St. Augustine writes on the matter, “Fasting purifies the soul.  It lifts up the mind, and it brings the body into subjection to the spirit.  It makes the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of desire, puts out the flames of lust, and enkindles the true light of chastity.”

There is a commandment laid on us to fast.  For fasting helps to destroy sin, and to raise the mind to thoughts of the spiritual world.  Each man is then bound by the natural law of the matter to fast just as much as is necessary to help him in these matters.  Which is to say that fasting in general is a matter of natural law.

The Counsel Of Teresa Of Avila: Part II-Turning from the Image

 

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri, Ph.D., MA, CPC, OCDS

Turn Away From One Image and to Another

Teresa found that by directly resisting the distracting thought, one keeps it in place longer. For example: “Don’t think about the red horse. Don’t think about the red horse.” So what are thinking about? – a red horse. Focusing on an image without doing anything to change it didn’t make any sense because it kept the image in mind. Teresa decided to respond indirectly, i.e. to ignore it by turning away. She treated the distraction in a manner similar to parental advice to children when dealing with teasing or obnoxious behavior on the part of another, i.e. ignore the other person because responding to them only feeds their desire to tease. Without the desired response from the victim, the teaser loses interest and dissipates their efforts. Likewise, distractions will fall away when ignored.

Trying to turn back to the mental image of Our Lord and thus away from the distractions was quite effective to some degree. The focus upon the prayerful image occupied the mind and the distractions, like the teasing child gives up and falls from view. This critical action comes into play for people in many situations of daily life and most all forms of mental illness. The most severe being schizophrenia where one “hears audio hallucinations or “voices.” The principle in counsel in this situation is: “You may have heard these ‘voices,’ but you don’t have to listen to them.” One can turn away and not pay attention to them. It is like being in an apartment and the neighbor is playing their stereo loudly that the sound is coming through the walls. The object of hearing is sound, and thus the sense of hearing is stimulated by the sound. However, one does not have to listen for the lyrics, what the guitarist is playing, how the sounds from the base, drums, and other vocalists might be contributing, etc.

One can literally “tune out” what is being said. Every parent of a teenager knows whether it is possible to tune someone out when being spoken to. We also see this in the case of the disinterested student who is preoccupied with some other thought and doesn’t pay attention to anything the teacher is saying. On the positive side, it is common to “tune out” distractions when we focus on something else. This practice is very common as we all have situations where we tune out sounds and words of others in order to concentrate on something whether it is in class, at a movie, watching TV with others talking, being in a restaurant and talking to the people at your table while the room is full of chatter. Parties, nightclubs, restaurants are among the many common public situations where this selective listening is practiced. It is a remedy used by Teresa, and it is a remedy for many things today.

Turn to a Sensible Aid

The practice of turning away from the distraction helped a great deal, but Teresa found that it remained difficult to do. Also, the distracting images stimulated various passions that created a sense of vitality, delight or pleasure, or some painful passions such as anxiety, fear, sorrow, or even anger. The sensible nature of these passions made it more difficult. The distraction always seems more interesting or more powerful than those thoughts and images related to the knowledge of the truth and God because of that sensible nature.[i]

Through experience in dealing with both the mental distractions and physical or emotional maladies as well, Teresa discovered that it was easier to form and maintain a mental image of Our Lord if there were some sensible object to aid her imagination. If she could turn to an object that could hold her attention and feed her imagination, it was easier to meditate. In her autobiography, she relates this to the wandering mind.

For it was not usual with me to suffer from aridity: this only came when I had no book, whereupon my soul would at once become disturbed and my thoughts would begin to wander. As soon as I started to read, they began to collect themselves and the book acted like bait to my soul.[ii]

In the Way of Perfection,[iii] she said:

“Those of you whose minds cannot reason for long or whose thoughts cannot dwell upon God but are constantly wandering must at all costs form this habit.”[iv]

“I myself spent over fourteen years without being able to meditate except while reading.”[v]

Since it was easier for the imagination to hold on to an image if it was aided by the senses, Teresa would not go to prayer without a book, a picture, statue, or Scripture of some sort. Rather than struggling to imagine Our Lord, she would look at a picture or statue of him. Or she would read from a book or Scripture about some scene and allow the words she was focusing upon to help her form the images in her imagination. This is the counsel she gave her daughters:

“You will find it very helpful if you can get an image or a picture of this Lord—one that you like—not to wear round your neck and never look at but to use regularly whenever you talk to him, and he will tell you what to say.”[vi]

Giving her attention to the images provided by these sensible aides facilitated and hastened the dissipation of the distractions without direct effort on her part to repel them. These physical aids to prayer assist the imagination’s retention of the sense data related to the object of the meditation.

This method of turning to aids to prayer and away from distraction is common knowledge to all those in the Carmelite community. I first encountered Teresa’s method when it was the subject of a presentation made by Father Anthony Morello, OCD, more than twenty-five years ago at a Carmelite conference in San Jose, California.[vii] The perspective gained through study of the philosophic psychology of Thomas Aquinas helps understand the impact of Teresa’s insight.

In the Thomistic view, Teresa used the physical aid to allow her imagination to find sensible data to focus on. Reading or looking at the picture or statue allows images based upon that sensible information to form in the imagination. The sensible data that came from the reading, the pictures or the statues that were all descriptive and visual, by their very nature, made it easier for the imagination to form a conceptualization and to hold or maintain it. Ask yourself: “Is it easier to close your eyes and imagine something that is not present or to look at a picture of that thing and focus upon it?” It is much easier to imagine what Uncle Joe looks like if you are looking at his picture. In this light, Teresa instructs the sisters: “It is also a great help to have a good book, written in the vernacular, simply as an aid to recollection. With this aid, you will learn to say your vocal prayers well.”[viii]

The act of the imagination is to hold the sense impression made on the external senses long after stimulation has ceased.[ix] So Teresa would focus upon the external aid until a strong impression formed in her imagination. She would then close her eyes and imagine as much as she could about the people, the scene, the sounds, colors, and sensible information. She would think about where everyone was positioned including self, what was being said, and think of what she would say to Christ. When her mind would wander, she would simply open her eyes and return to gaze upon the physical object or continue reading.[x] In this way, she made it easier for the imagination to retain the impression and conceptualizations from the senses. This focus left no room for the distracting thoughts, and they simply diminished and fell away. The reason is that the soul can only have one intention. Thus, while the focus was upon the sensibly aided images, the distracting thoughts were left on the outside and slipped away. For St. Thomas, this represents “regal control” of the passions in that we can deny them the image of their object in the imagination by replacing it with a different image that does not contain the object that stimulates the passion.[xi]

This comprised the first way of changing an image in that one simply gets rid of it and in Teresa’s method a sensible aid is used to replace it. This practice applies to the majority of cognitive behavioral experience[xii] that enters counseling. It also applies to all distractions to one’s focus and mental discipline from cases of attention deficit to the discipline of maintaining focus during a lecture or discussion within an academic educational setting.

Training the cognitive faculties can be facilitated by the use of sensible aids. In the case of AD/HD, the child’s focus can be increased by emphasizing a sensible object. Consider how a piano lesson involves sheet music for the eyes to focus on, keys for the hands to feel, manipulate and hold in place. And of course, sound that the ears will eventually hear as “melody.”  Even dangling feet and body posture may spontaneously come into play. The teacher says: “Keep your eyes on the paper, look at each note without looking at your hands.” “Keep your hands in place with the fingers on the proper keys by feeling the key.” “Keep your feet still.” This will be repeated many times, and the parents will be encouraged to watch for these things at home and repeat the same commands. On day one, a six-year-old boy may not make it through a single measure without moving hands, feet, and eyes. However, within six weeks, all these might be still for the entire eight measures of the little piece of music that he is learning.

Another example would be the common technique of a teacher calling a student’s attention to something she has written on the board. Then, when she notices the student’s attention start to drift, she reemphasizes what is on the board by point to it, tapping it, or drawing a circle or arrow or by asking him what she has written. Each time this is repeated, the focus is reestablished. Another common technique is for the teacher to move her hands with gestures related to the topic or move by walking around the room or into the rows to make it easier for the student to keep eye contact on her and to listen to what she is saying. Also, in the class, the student can be aided by simply taking notes and thinking of questions to ask or by writing down what is most important and essential. Thus the student is training himself to focus on the words that are being stated by writing them down and thinking about their meaning.

All impure thoughts come into the area of need to change the image to diminish their emotional potential. Due to the vehemence of the pleasure related to such images, the sensible aid of something totally different is of great benefit. Impulsive thoughts and behaviors lose their vitality when one turns from them and focuses upon something else. This is the basis for the long history of giving holy cards to children or telling them about short ejaculations (brief phrases, such as “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me,” the name of “Jesus,” or turning to a crucifix). So when resisting impurity, as well as any temptation, one can turn to a crucifix and by reflecting upon it allow the temptation to dissipate.

The experience of depression can be assuaged by turning from the image that is causing the sorrow and thinking of another image that brings hope. Depression is an effect of pain where the will has little or no hope to end it. This is why hope will assuage the pain and diminish the depression. This is also one of the reasons the counsel of a priest assuages those in sorrow or depression when he provides them with some hope of the future good and the present consolation of faith. The priest counselor or even friend can also help the person to see things differently. This leads us to a second way to change an image and Teresa discovered that one as well. It proved to be even more profound than her first discovery.


[i]  Moral habits will obviously affect this dynamic.

[ii]  Autobiography, ch. 4.

[iii]  This is the book that Teresa wrote in response to her daughters’ requests.

[iv]  Way of Perfection, K. Kavanaugh, ch. 26.

[v]  Ibid, ch. 16.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] It was this conference for Secular Order Carmelites with the various presentations on Teresa of Avila that moved and inspired this author to compose the Partita Teresiana, solo for the classical guitar that was performed and recorded for the centenary of St. Teresa in 1982. It is the subsequent work that followed that conference that has lead to the educational formation throughout these past thirty years.

[viii] Way, Ch. 26.

[ix] Fr. Chad Ripperger, FSSP, Introduction to the Science of Mental Health, Vol. 1, ch. 3, p. 32 (Denton NE: Sensus  Traditionis Press, 2007).

[x] The physical imagery has a great deal to do with passions that follow the images. In the negative fashion, we see how most young men who struggle with impurity begin with impure pictures. Thus, Teresa’s approach offers the remedy for such things and a means of strengthening the imagination and will.

[xi] Summa Theologica, I. q.81 a.3, ad 2; ST 1-11, q. 9, a. 2, ad 3.

[xii] Cognitive therapy teaches you how certain thinking patterns are causing your symptoms. Behavior therapy helps you weaken the connections between troublesome situations and your habitual reactions to them.

The Counsel Of Teresa Of Avila: Part I-Distractions and the Wandering Mind

The Counsel Of Teresa Of Avila: Part I

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri, Ph.D., MA, CPC, OCDS

Teresa of Avila was the first woman to be declared Doctor of the Church.[1] For nearly thirty years, her works and those of St. Thomas Aquinas have had the greatest influence upon my life, education, and enterprises as an author, educator, and counselor. The richness of their works is inexhaustible. Yet, Teresa of Avila’s counsel concerning distractions to prayer has been of particular significant professional and practical value. It is simple and yet so profound that, in my opinion, its benefit to psychological well-being is beyond any insight from the entire field of modern psychology. Everyone can benefit from this counsel, especially those dealing with mental health and pastoral counseling.

Without the advantage of a formal education, Teresa had to grapple with the abstract complexities of her own psychology as she struggled to understand and explain the profound actions of the mystical life upon her soul and its faculties as well as the difficulties of living virtuously within the religious experience of Carmel. She created a language of similes and metaphors using hundreds of analogies in order to explain what she meant. Her grappling has produced wisdom and understanding of the human person that includes insight and practical application for personal health and well-being in a language that can be understood. It is not that the listener’s understanding was complete but that something could be grasped in some practical way so as to begin to understand something transcendent. It is similar to the experience of the parables. Our Lord told stories of everyday life that could be understood even though the depth of what he was saying went beyond our capacity. Teresa’s analogies serve a similar purpose.

A Book on Prayer

Teresa of Avila was asked by her daughters in Carmel to write a book that would instruct them in prayer. In her response, she discussed aspects of vocal prayer, mental prayer, and recollection.[2] Earlier in her life, Teresa had considered the question: “What does one do with the mind while reciting vocal prayers?” In her common-sense manner, Teresa concluded that while words are being spoken to God, one would turn their mind to focus upon him and what was being said. It seemed absurd to her that one would not think of the person to whom one was speaking and what was being said during the vocal prayer. It is foolish to pray words to God while the mind wanders to other things.

Teresa used the vocal prayer of the Our Father as she advised her daughters to imagine Our Lord as they prepare themselves for prayer.

As you know, the first things must be examination of conscience, confession of sin, and the signing of yourself with the cross. Then, daughter, as you are along, you must look for a companion – and who could be a better companion than the very Master who taught you the prayer that you are about to say? Imagine that this Lord himself is at our side and see how lovingly and how humbly he is teaching you.[3]

In her method, one begins by withdrawing to a place of solitude within oneself and the meditation follows as the imagination forms some conceptualization of the material or words. The intellect works to construct detail and imagery leading to discursive prayer.[4]

Distractions and the Wandering Imagination

Keeping this focus proved to be a great difficulty since the mind can be so easily distracted. These difficulties with mental prayer, forming and maintaining images as the problem of distractions and the wandering mind, were a part of Teresa’s own struggle. Teresa found that when she went to prayer, the imagination would run wild. It seemed to her that everything would rush to her mind when she sat to pray. These distractions could be spiritual, physical, emotional, or mental; and they would displace the images of Our Lord that she struggled to maintain. The distracting thoughts were so vivid and vehement that she could not push them back out of her mind. The stronger the vehemence, the more quickly the image of Our Lord that she had been trying to hold would diminish. By nature, all images fade; but the distractions exacerbated the problem of concentration to a point of futility.


[1]  Certain ecclesiastical writers have received this title on account of the great advantage the whole church has derived from their doctrine. With St. John of the Cross, she represents the first authorities on the doctrine of spiritual and mystical theology. In reforming the Carmelite Order, she became a leader of the Counter Reformation.

[2]  At the time Teresa was writing her first book, which was her autobiography, there was a conflict over the nature of mental prayer and vocal prayer. The predominant prayer form for centuries had been vocal prayer, but mental prayer was gaining more attention, some of which was unsettling. There was a great deal of distrust for mental prayer because of a moment of Quietism that was being promoted at the time by various sects. It does not add to the point of this article to expand on the difficulties for the important thing is that it was Teresa who resolved the conflict. Teresa resolved the difficulty by presenting one should be thinking about who is being addressed and what is being said in the vocal prayer. It was absurd that the mind would not be thinking of who was being spoken to and what was being said during the prayer. To pray words to God while the mind wanders to other things is totally foolish. Thus in Teresa’s opinion, mental and vocal prayer were inseparable. “… mental prayer has nothing to do with keeping the lips closed. If while I am speaking with God, I have a clear realization and full consciousness that I am doing so, and if this is more real to me than the words I am uttering, then I am combining mental and vocal prayer. When people tell you that you are speaking with God by reciting the Pater Noster and thinking of worldly things – well, words fail me” (ch. 22).

[3]  Way of Perfection, ch. 26.

[4]  Discursive prayer is the form of prayer in which the reflections of the mind are more active than the affections of the will. It is called discursive because discursion is the act of the mind that proceeds from one truth to the knowledge of another truth, either about the same object or about something else. Discursive meditation today is common among not only Carmelites but also most religious and lay communities. Since it was utilized by the Jesuits and Dominicans as well, I would imagine it is taught by most spiritual directors in some form or another.

Active Listening

    Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri Ph.D. CPC, OCDS

Active listening is a very popular concept, which we often hear about.  A brief description of one approach is presented here for a point of reference and information.  Again we will find the components to be quite natural to a good listener.

Focus on the person and what is said; minimize outside distractions.

Watch the nonverbal expressions.  Ask yourself, “How is it said?” “What is the facial and body language?” Remember that it is difficult to put emotions into words.  Emotions are naturally expressed in body language and it is easy to misinterpret expressions and body language

Accept the person even when what is said is not accepted.  Understanding does not mean agreement with the other person is saying.  For example, one may understand how a person came to commit a crime but not agree with the decision or the rationalization. The acceptance is first toward who the person is and secondarily for what they do.  Eventually, though, we know that when what one does becomes habit and habit forms character and character defines what we have become.

Remain open-minded to what is being said even if you do not agree.   This allows you to hear more, consider and understand their point of view better.  It helps to look for the good in what one is saying or for those things that seem reasonable.  If one disagrees try to understand how the person came to the position that they hold or what good that person sees in their position.

Verify what you understand.  Do not presume and jump to conclusions based upon your own experience.  Don’t guess without verifying.  There is a danger of transferring your emotions into their meaning.  Therefore, try to confirm what you think is being said.  It is common for your perceptions/conclusions/emotions to differ.  People respond differently to the same stimuli.  It may help to repeat what the other says if necessary.  A natural response is to try to put what they are saying into your own words.  Sometimes say exactly what is said.

Look for positive interpretation.  Everyone acts intending some good so it helps to try to see other person’s point of view and meanings