Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Raise your Minds to the Lord

Father John J. Lombardi

"The word of God speaks. (and) exposes the very thoughts and motives of a man's hearts" (Heb 4:12).

You've heard countless counsels about "eating right," but have you heard any about thinking right?

We've all had wayward thinking and "challenging thoughts," which begin small and innocently, but which we gradually incite into inflammatory proportions- such as anger. Or, oppositely, we've had thoughts we express to others, and which brighten their day-holy thoughts such as joy and peace. Which ones are you choosing the most, or struggling with?

In the Confiteor, at the beginning of Mass, Catholics seeking holiness and Christ-likeness, confess all thoughts, words and deeds, to ask God's forgiveness and receive graces. One of the most difficult areas to fix in life is our way of thinking. If you are half-way human you may, on occasion, have thoughts of anger, hatred, lust, greed, pride, vainglory, etc. Obviously, some people have differing and difficult "inner wars" to fight, while others are, naturally, freed of such cerebral turbulents-either by grace or by training themselves. Jesus described Nathanial the disciple as embodying interior purity: "Here is an Israelite in whom there is no there is no guile" (Jn.1:47 ). Hopefully, the Divine Master will one day describe us this way.

Our "spiritual job," as Christians--especially in Lent --is to free ourselves of those dark thoughts and ways of thinking which compromise or denigrate God's purity or our discipleship. We need to cease polluting both the divine and human realities, maximizing the spiritual thoughts and minimizing sinful thinking: this is a gigantic, necessary--task!

St Paul describes our predicament simply: "To set the mind on flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (Rm. 8:6).

In the Lenten preface for the Eucharistic prayer, the priest-celebrant prays: "You (the Lord) correct our faults and raise our minds to you. " We need to ask the Holy Spirit to elevate minds to think thoughts of light and peace. However, we all have obsessive thoughts-to some extant. If we seriously and insistently want to change our judgmental, greedy, depressive modes of thinking, we can: "The upright give thought to their ways" (Pr. 21:29).

Try this meditation: In your sinful thoughts, think of yourself as a "defective tape recorder," and your thoughts as a "bad tape" within it. We must first check if we are "plugged in"-to God's truth and way of thinking, versus ourselves , and we must also cut out the flawed tape of bad thoughts, which we replay sometimes without knowing it, and replace it with new tape full of life-giving thoughts. This process must be practiced over and over until it becomes second nature: "Whoever keeps the law controls his thoughts" (Sir 21:11).

Fr Robert Zylla, a St Thomas Aquinas (thomistic) scholar at Mount St Mary's Seminary, emphatically says, regarding our mental processes, that we must first become aware of our ways of thinking, and in particular, our bad thoughts. This is the most important thing in spiritual growth and health-awareness. We have to recognize what we're doing and then make a judgment if it is good or bad thinking. No awareness, no judgment. . After this, Fr Zylla suggests we must resist the thought ("head on") or, in the cases of lustful thoughts, replace them with a pure thoughts (don't try to "fight with it" and thereby create more inner conflagration). Thus: the faculty (or "power") of the soul called reason must exercise control over the imagination (whose "inner job" is to re-produce images, or make re-presentations). This key-action of the imagination is like a "tool" of the mind, and is subject to much agitation and usually tends to what is pleasurable. When alluring thoughts appear thru the imagination and are morally bad (lust, for instance), then we must "reason with the imagination" and replace the objectionable image with

some other pleasurable content which is pure and holy. This can be likened to an inner, mental flossing: we floss out the "plaque-thoughts" of imagination and provide space for good thoughts. If we don't floss within, the danger grows of cerebral cavities and further decay. If we allow our imagination to run rampant we will run rampant; if we train our imagination within, we will be "noble in the sight of all" (see Rm 12:17) .Make the process of awareness, judgment, replacement and purity habitual. This is a skilled and willed effort: we must use God's wisdom, and we must want to do this cultivate and promote desire for purity. One way to do this is praying aspirations: we prayerfully and lovingly repeat, short, spiritual phrases-"Jesus, I trust in You" or simply "Jesus"-throughout the day to replace old, bad thoughts.

Always remember, regarding any dark or sinful thought: at the first instant of awareness (which is not sinful), immediately and repeatedly replace it with a good thought. "For the holy spirit of discipline flees deceit and withdraws from senseless counsels" (Wis 1:5). If you don't change bad thoughts right away-- sometimes continuously-they are likely to persist, and we are in danger of ruin. Basically put, Human Life 101, is: we have to subject our passions to our reason, and "take every thought captive in obedience to the Lord" ( 2 Cor. 10:5).

And so as to protect the faculty of reason (making judgments) from chaos and relativism, it should be supported and trained by objective, dispassionate truth-known thru God's Commandments and Scriptures, the natural law--which is God's revelation in nature and "in our blood," and by His ongoing revelation in Church teachings. These "stabilizers" help correct the sometimes hasty heart, the wayward will and provocative passions, and thus provide "mental grist for the mill" of the imagination.

Fr Zylla also counsels: "Thoughts are controllable"-we can exercise manipulation of them; they shouldn't control us. Whether thoughts come from willing them or spontaneously, we always have the opportunity to choose or delete them, to "play the interior tape" or change it. Let us grow in holy, wise thoughts.

Three Stages Toward Holy thinking.

  1. Pollution: recognize the inner toxicity of your thoughts and mind-- "For perverse thoughts separate people from God (Wis. 1:3); "lust subverted your conscience" (Dan 13:56). Because of Original Sin all human minds have been "darkened" and adversely affected. St Augustine is a representative here. In his early, pagan-playboy days, he enjoyed perverted, promiscuous, vain and dangerous thoughts. As he states in his famous book, "The Confessions," he reveled in them. Though he tainted his mind he later converted and learned to become more Christ-like and pure. His example gives us hope while being realistic about the nature of mind.
  2. Purification- "You who were once estranged and hostile in mind, He--Christ-has reconciled you. " (Col. 1:21). Here we ask God to cleanse our minds-we can be saved. This cannot just be a desire or hope, we must practice loving Ways of Amendment: Keep custody of the eyes-the eyes are like "doorways to the soul" and inner life. Like film in a camera, whatever we see is likely to lodge upon the mind's mental tape. It is much more difficult to dislodge bad thoughts and images than to avoid them in the first place. Avoid extremes of passions and emotions-these mental states are sometimes unstable-love turns to lust; sadness to depression, and anger to resentments. Stop the inner movements when they begin to veer toward extremities-gain control sooner than later.
  3. Meditate on the Bible-the Psalmist says: "Your word, O Lord, is a lamp unto my feet." We need God's light to enlighten our dark ways. Ponder these Scripture verses: "Banish anxiety from your mind"( Eccl 11:10). "roving desire perverts the mind" (Wisd 4:12).

Fasting will purify your inner world, and strengthen your resolve for holiness. Holy Eucharist-re-fuel and cleanse your blood (which supplies the brain's thinking power) with Jesus' Divine Body and Blood: "Their eyes were opened and they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread" (Lk. 24:31). Meditation-think often and deeply upon God's attributes (His wisdom, love, mercy, omnipresence, etc), and let these replace bad thoughts. Practice holy mindfulness. Recall the Latin maxim: age quod agis-do what you are doing. Don't daydream or let your sluggish mind and heart overtake you where you shouldn't go. .Place your mind on the task in front of you-and do it with God-as a prayer. .

Participation "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. " (Phil 2:5). God's mind is infinitely pure and simple. He knows all things in one successionless moment, whereas we humans sluggishly think linearly, thru clumsy concepts and images, often in error. When we begin and persevere in thinking holy thoughts we may more readily know, however partially, God's way of thinking, and, if we really become holy and graced-like St Padre Pio, we may intuitively fathom hearts, or, like other saints, we may penetrate more piercingly to the essence of things, and by the Holy Spirit's bonding power and love, we may embrace a kind of supernatural knowledge, for we may "have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:16). "Set your minds on the things above" -Col 3:2

"If you would voyage Godward, you must see to it that the rudder of thought is right." -W J Dawson


The Sabbath and "Secular Spirituality"?: A recent New York Times Magazine article expressed, in "secular terms," what Christians try to practice spiritually. In "Bring Back the Sabbath," by Judith Shulevitz, we read: "What was creation's climactic culmination? The act of stopping. Why should God have considered it so important to stop?. We have to remember to stop because we have to stop to remember. Interrupting our ceaseless striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit and social sanction." Are you living the Sabbath?

Bible Readings: Gn 22: 1,- 15-18 Rom 8:31-34; Mk 9:2-10. Meditation: Disguised Divinity, Leads seekers up the Mountain to the Transforming Trinity. Are you going?  Like Peter, James and John following Jesus, what do you need to leave behind in climbing the Mount of Transfiguration to experience union with Him? The desires of the flesh, worldly relativism and immorality all allure us to stay below the Mount of Divinity's Dazzling Light. But, above, God will free us if we release (from sin) and attach to Him. Make the climb this Lent-sacrifice for the Sacred Pilgrimage, like Abraham and the Saints. Reflection: "Why then did they (the Apostles) fall on their faces on the mountain? Because there was solitude, and the height of the mountain, and great quietness, and a transfiguration full of awe, and a pure light and a cloud stretched out; all of these threw them into great alarm. Amazement arose on every side, and they fell on their faces in both fear and adoration at the same time." -St John Chrysostom

Prayer about St. Patrick (feast day 3/17): God our Father, You sent St. Patrick to preach your glory to the people of Ireland. By the help of his prayers, may all Christians proclaim your love to all men. Grant this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Prayer to St. Joseph (feast day 3/19): O St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. O St. Joseph, do assist me your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your heavenly power I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers. O St. Joseph,

I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His finehead for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen.

Water: at the Grotto is not blessed, but, if you receive it with an act of Faith, it may cleanse, renew and grace you. Peace in Jesus and Mary.

  1. "Whatever is true, honorable, just , whatever is pure, lovely, just-if there is any excelenacy think on thes things" (Phil 4:8) .
  2. Become more aware or, awakened to, your thoughts an thinking processes-know your weaknesses-and strengths.
  3. Measure your thoughts against God's ways, the bible, the Ten Commandments, our Sacred Tradition-are your thoughts excellent, pure, holy?
  4. Remember, contra today's modernistic thinking and allure, not all thoughts are good or neutral; some, actually, are bad, evil, harmful: "Thoughts are toll-free, but not hell-free."-German proverb

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi