Have you seen the bumper sticker: “If it feels good, do it?” In many ways, that slogan characterizes the approach of human experience fostered by contemporary society. A stream of books, articles, commentary, advertisements, and dialogue points to feelings as the basic measure of happiness, as the truest aspect of one’s self. Although, feelings are important, they are continually represented as central to self-fulfillment and the development of one’s potential.

A popular psychiatrist-author states the “modern” perspective in no uncertain terms: “Being in touch with your feelings is the only way you can ever become your highest self; the only way you can become open and free; the only way you can become your own person…If you don’t live in your feelings, you don’t live in the real world. Feelings are the truth.”

This perspective, however, leads to an approach to life which is essentially focused on the self. That is on the one hand most dangerous for any of us, and on the other hand doesn’t work.

Much of “modern” secular psychology is permeated with an empathetic belief that feelings and self-concern are of primary importance for living, behaving, understanding the reality of life, and overcoming personal problems. How very silly! This thinking is fundamentally incompatible with a genuinely Catholic approach to life. Therefore we, Catholics, should approach this secular psychology with caution, wisdom, and prudence.

Catholics need to be aware of the underlying premises of various psychologies being offered us in this age of feelings. Often it will be found that a given technique is founded on certain concepts that, while not necessarily evil, are in direct opposition to Catholic truth, the teaching of scripture, and our faith in Jesus as Lord.

Certainly no Catholic can agree that self-development through increased emotional experiences and awareness is the essence of the meaning of life. In fact such a view is fundamentally opposed to the gospel, which triumphantly declares that the meaning of life is founded in a personal relationship with the living Jesus who is “the way, the truth, and the life.”

Scripture makes it clear that God created us as rational human beings and that all meaning is not to be found in human emotion; personal growth is not primarily a function of self-focus; happiness is not first a matter of emotional experience. The starting point for relief and change in the face of personal problems is Jesus Himself and the transformation wrought by His grace and the Holy Spirit.

The Catholic deals with his or her life through centering on Jesus through faith, prayer, communion with the Father, reliance on the Holy Spirit, and an orientation of mind and heart toward the truths, and teaching of Jesus. Such is the core of our Catholic perspective.

Scripture talks hardly at all about feelings; much greater concern is placed on righteous behavior, holiness, scriptural truth, and a personal relationship with Jesus.

As for self, Jesus’ example and teaching militates against self-focus in favor of service to others. I suspect that it is precisely these concerns which contain the most power for promoting health, overcoming internal struggles, and growing stronger and happier in our human experience.