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Respond in Affectionate Love to Persons

Written by Joseph M. Clem, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA


When it comes to our feelings, we have both a body and a soul which affect one another. We have physiological feelings (bodily states), psychological feelings (moods or emotions as the dynamic between the body and soul), and spiritual feelings (affections), and we experience all of them as a body-soul unity during our earthly lives since all of them interact with one another.

Some feelings lack an “object” to which they are directed – they are merely states of feeling, like general anxiety. These emotions, which are non-intentional, are experienced passively5 and are morally neutral (neither good nor bad), but they should be looked at in regards to our overall health in body, mind (psyche), and spirit.

However, there are spiritual affections that have an “object” (an aim) of the feeling. Furthermore, these objects have value, which makes affections something that the Catholic philosopher, Dietrich von Hildebrand, calls “value-responses.”6 In order to fully respond to something of importance or value, we do not just think and act in response, we also feel as an intentional response which we can either allow or disavow. A sunset demands our awe. A beautiful song demands our tears. A comedy demands our laughter. The Eucharist demands our gratitude. We can accept these affections or reject them.

When we respond to the value of another person we respond to his or her incomparable value, not only with our will but with our affections. Why are we incomparable, even among one another? Each human person is made in the image and likeness of God with inviolable dignity above all other creatures. Each person is meant to “be desired, awaited, [and] experienced as a particular, unique, and unrepeatable value.”4

You are fundamentally and innately beautiful because you come from Beauty Himself.

You cannot be compared in your dignity and value with any other person. Only your actions can be compared, and even those do not change your inherent value as a person.


When you say you love someone, imagine if you said, “I love you with all my will” or, “I love you with all my mind.” Perhaps the other person may appreciate that you put words

into action with your will or that you know the

other person with your mind; however, the other might feel short-changed in wondering “do you just white-knuckle it with your will?” or “do you merely find it reasonable to love me on an intellectual level?” The other person would want you to love him or her with your heart, as well.

We all have a deep-down cry of the heart: “I want you to deeply feel affection for me as a person! I want you to delight in me. I want you to have joy upon seeing me!” In this we find a very human desire – we want people to know us in truth with their intellect, act toward our good with their will, and have genuine affection for us as objectively beautiful persons. We want to be “liked” in being loved. We want to be seen as true, good, and beautiful as made in the image and likeness of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty Itself — God! Do you see yourself and others as true, good, and beautiful in this way? Do you allow yourself to delight in God, others, and yourself?

God delights in us. He loves us and “likes” us!

I fondly remember a talk by Sr. Clare Hunter, F.S.E. who once said: “Imagine if God told you in Heaven, ‘you know [insert your name], I’ve always loved you, but I haven’t always liked you.’” We would be devastated. How could we imagine love without affection – without delight and joy? Love is experienced as incomplete when we perceive that someone is just going through the motions – maybe even while making actual sacrifices for us – and lacking the deeply felt affection that we so much desire. We want to be seen and appreciated as beautiful – to be delighted in – by God, by others, and even by our own self-perception. Do others experience our involuntary smile upon seeing them and the authentic wonder in our eyes while we gaze upon the mystery of their unique personhood?

Our bodily emotions, psychological moods, and spiritual affections are always searching for this experience of interpersonal love in both the receiving and the giving – in the heart and in the will — the fruit of which is lasting and genuine happiness. This answers the question some of us may ask ourselves: Why, O God, did you make me so emotional? Having heightened emotional sensitivity can be a beautiful quality when it is informed by authentically responding to the objective value of a thing, person, or God. Ultimately, the purpose for our feelings is that God wants us to be authentically and everlastingly happy in our hearts.


“... thought and reflection, acts of will, as well as — hugely significant in our internal life — feelings, the emotional life, the affective life. All of this represents the human person on the inside.”7

We live in a world that objects to objectivity, and is subject to subjectivity. We need to be witnesses to the truth: that our emotions should be transformed by objectivity (reality), and that our affections (objective value-responses) should elevate our subjectivity (personal perspective). God wants to elevate our bodily emotions so that they conform to our reason and affections, and He wants our spiritual affections (value-responding) to inform our reason and actions. In this way, the head, the hands, and the heart can work together so that we become integrated – and that our feelings correspond to what we do and think.1,2,3

Joseph M. Clem is a husband, father, and lifetime Youth Apostle. He practices as a licensed behavior analyst in Virginia working with children primarily diagnosed with Autism and volunteering in youth ministry. This article is not written under the scope and competence of board certification or state licensure.


  1. Francis I (2021a) Audience with staff and students of the “Ambrosoli” Institute of Codogno, Lodi on May 22, 2021. Vatican City, Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Accessed via

  2. Francis I (2021b) Address to the Participants in the Meeting “Religions and Education: Towards a Global Compact on Education”

  3. Francis I (2022a). Address to Members of the Global Researchers Advancing Catholic Education Project on April 20, 2022. Vatican City, Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana

  4. John Paul II (1979). Address to Young People Gathered in the Vatican Basilica [on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 1979]. Vatican City, Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana

  5. Tallon, A. (1997). Head and Heart: Affection, Cognition, Volition As Triune Consciousness. Fordham University: New York, NY

  6. Von Hildebrand, D. (2007). The Heart: An Analysis of Human and Divine Affectivity. [Haldane, J. (Preface), Crosby, J. H. (Ed.), & Crosby, J. F. (Introduction)] . St. Augustine Press, Inc.: South Bend, IN (Originally published in 1965)

  7. Wojtyla, K. J. (2021) God is Beauty: A Retreat on the Gospel and Art. Quarryville, PA: Theology of the Body Institute (Originally delivered in 1962)

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