One of the essential understandings of the passions within the fathers of the Church is that they are not inherently evil. Gluttony may be a passion, but the desire to eat is a gift of God. Fornication is a sin, but the marriage bed is blessed, etc. Passions are our natural desires manifested in a disordered state. This is an important understanding – for it keeps us from the delusion that the sins that result from the passions not to be blamed on someone else – they are our own.
It is true, of course, that we are also tempted by the evil one, but his strength lies in our own willingness to entertain the temptation.
The question was asked, “Why would someone want to be whole?” The Scriptures tell us that it is the Holy Spirit that works in us both to will and to do of God’s good pleasure. Our healing, even our desire for healing, is a gift from God. We can surely cooperate with that desire and add our own feeble desire as well – with great benefit. We were not created for sin – and there is within us a desire to be whole, even if it has been neglected or ignored.
Some of the fathers describe three levels of Christian motivation. The first is the simple fear of punishment, fear of hell. This is described as the mentality of a “slave.” It is not the best and most salutary motivation, but for some, it is a place to begin. I recall a friend who joined Alcoholics Anonymous because, he said, “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.” The misery of our brokenness is indeed a motive to do something different.
The second level is described as that of a “mercenary,” when we seek to follow the commandments of Christ for the sake of a reward.
The third level is that of a “son,” when we serve God for love alone. St. Anthony the Great said, “I know longer fear God, for perfect love casts out fear.”
Our daily battle with the passions, with our own disordered desires and the misery they breed often has one or more of these elements about it. God grant us the grace of a good battle – ultimately not to fight either as slaves or mercenaries, but finally in the unquenchable love that has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.