Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Attitude is everything

Father John J. Lombardi

 "As you think so shall you be." "Like attracts like". ..

We've all heard these sayings and, to a certain extent, they are true. And they're very American, too.

There are now two books gaining in popularity entitled "The Secret" and "The Law of Attraction". Maybe you've heard of them or may have had an opportunity to respond to them from your Faith as a Catholic (the purpose of this article). Upshot of both: they counsel to cultivate good, positive thoughts to align yourself to what you want ardently; to being open to the object of desire, communing with it-and it will come to you. We have some of this in our Christian spirituality. Jesus Himself counsels "Ask and you will receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened" for everyone who asks shall receive, everyone who seeks shall find, and everyone who knocks it shall be opened…How much more will your Heavenly Father give good things to you" (Mt. 7:1-11).

The books may be about self-centeredness (and excluding God) by gaining wealth or, say, a boy or girl friend, but are largely concerned with earthly matters and are capitalizing on some ancient, basic, natural law principles. In other words: you must believe-without doubt-in what you ask for-and it may happen. St James counsels "He should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is tossed about by the wind… But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres…shall be blessed" (Jas. 1:6, 22). Doubt and fear are like static in a pure channel soul of receptivity and desire.

Having seen some of the hype of these two books (I've not read "The Secret") and perused "The Law of Attraction", there are, like a lotta' things, both positives and negatives within it (see below). My query: How can Catholics and Bible believers capitalize on this fascination of "positive thinking" and filter out the bad and intake the good? Here are the "Three C" responses regarding this book: One may say "It's all bad-New Age fluff-stay away" (the "condemn" position) which leads to missing a teachable moment. Another response is "It's all good-let's integrate it" (the "coalesce" response=naiveté). And, lastly, mine-the Conversion response: critically see what's good, healthy and holy and use it for conversion and be aware of, and filter out, the bad.

A couple of anecdotes: I was just pastorally visiting with an elderly lady who was nervous about an upcoming heart procedure-understandably so. After I anointed her and gave her Holy Communion, we prayed three aspirations: "Jesus I trust in You;" "Jesus You are my inner peace" and "I can do all things thru Jesus". I wrote them down for her and she instantly felt peace and comfort: she stopped trembling. She even smiled. Her nephew who accompanied me then said: "Yes Aunt Gladys, you must believe you will be fine and peaceful…You must believe-and trust." He was right. Believe. Trust.

Another time--as a "negative example"--I gave a person a chore to do. There was hesitancy in their response; questions, resistance. I noted after this: some people are "gung ho" folks and others are trepidatious. Some souls immediately respond negatively or hesitantly to a directive or inspiration and thus their results will be negative or, at least, long in coming, whereas with the "Go-to guy"-well, ask a busy person to do something and it will get done.

Basically, what "The Law of Attraction" (and, I suppose, "The Secret") counsels, is this: Think the right, positive thoughts. Allow the thought to grow (and glow) within you. Attract the result to you. If you have doubts or gloomy thoughts, these, too, will be attracted to you. The book is an amalgamation of previous centuries of "think positive" books and ideologies, albeit with spin and other additives (there are definitely some claims which are outside our Faith and should be a warning signal to us all; although the book avoids elaborating on these). Point: thinking is power. And everyone must think, so why not think right-in enlightened fashion? The Bible says we must have the right thoughts, as St Paul counsels: "Whatever is true noble, righteous….think on these things" (Phil 4:8); and "Think on what is above, not below" …Say you have a gloomy thought about your job or spouse or whatever: it is likely that you will bring that gloominess to that situation. If you think positive then it likely will affect your situation for good-even the worst situations. Now, think of the martyrs, imprisoned: they did not let their captors gain the "mind-game" hold over them but, rather, kept the Presence of God within them to help, inspire and strengthen them. We humans will either allow the forces of evil and darkness to enchain us or Light and God to impel us. Many recent studies have shown that cancer survivors, precisely through their positive thinking (and even meditative practices), have affected their being and disease in positive, changing ways-mind has changed matter. This is where we Catholics with such an esteemed and elongated history of spirituality and "mystical mindfulness" need to harness the powers of the human soul along with the Holy Spirit to heal and offer to others the practice of right thinking and imagistic-mediation. Of course, healing does not always happen. And this is the main challenge to "The Law of Attraction" which may appear naVve in these matters-thinking does not always change matter, situations or reality. But: some Catholics are, perhaps, really, materialists (not believing in spiritual or metaphysical power): they may not truly believe in the power of the "mystical mind," prayer and spiritual interconnection because they have not been taught or immediately think it is New Age or are overly moralistic or have not really, deeply believed in the power of transformation, or…

Our Catholic Faith encountered and subsumed many ideas/truths/realties which were not explicitly biblical, and harnessed them in accord with our Faith, and we should continue where appropriate today. St Thomas Aquinas partially adapted the pagan philosopher Aristotle's thoughts (and Plato's) who believed in abortion (as many of the ancients did)-he weeded out the bad and gained the good. Much of our Church architecture was adapted from Roman judicial and secular art forms and we can still see the beauty that has come from that. Pope John Paul II said that there are, of course, many errors in Marxism, but there are some right ones, too.

Now, regarding positive thinking, did you ever notice?: when you are having a tough time and when someone encourages you, you may immediately feel uplifted and re-strengthened-that encouraging person gave you an impetus to re-begin again, afresh, with new vigor and "mystical mindfulness" versus continuing on in strangulating static. I know, as a confessor, much of the spiritual battle in helping souls is just as much encouragement as wisdom-giving. I was recently struck when reading about President Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, who has colon cancer. His remarks were fascinating and inspiring: "Don't think about dying. Think about living," he said, and: "The most emotional aspect of all this is not the analysis (of cancer) but the outreach and support to me." Wow. He is surrounding himself in positive thinking and also in fueling himself on positive-thinking people. Along these lines I was just with a couple pilgrimaging here and they heard the weather report (always an opportunity for positive or negative thinking!). The husband said there was 30% chance of rain. While we walked away the wife later said, in aside fashion, "That means there's 70% of sunshine." Positive thinking and good spin! Wow: her incisive observation and outlook hit me like a ton of liberating-bricks. Lessons: 1-different people perceive, and adapt their lives, in different ways depending upon their personalities; 2-there is

a sunny side to look at things and a gloomy way: which one are you choosing?

Just think (pardon the pun) why did the saints heal or affect history or help others miraculously? Because they were transparent souls (pure), connected to Heaven and God, and they believed! Why does Jesus get on the case of the Apostles so much-because they sometimes doubted. And why does He love children so much? Because they naturally believe and have zero doubts-no static: "Unless you become like a child you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven".

Let's now look at all this thru the "Mystical Triangulation Principle" (think of the following letters-ABC-- as a "dynamic spiritual triangle"): point A (a spiritual person) links up with point-B (God-top of the pyramid) and effects C (a situation, a person) for good. With their positive-thinking-believing they are like "spiritual lightening rods" affecting reality for good-and salvation. Now: the intercessor must believe, be connected to God's Power-Dynamism and trust-not doubt or resist or be half-hearted. Basically put, that is what "The Law of Attraction" and "The Secret" are all about, but, thing is - it's no secret: it's been in our Catholic-Christian history for two millennia! (And, once again, they do not acknowledge God but some nebulous "force" or "law" in the world as do many New Age spiritualities, while neglecting the God of Revelation.

Dissimilarities of the books with our Faith: The Laws of God are not an impersonal Force-God is personal and loving/ Discovering Law as impersonal. God has revealed Himself to us thru Jesus Christ the Incarnate Lord and given us Commandments, and He even dwells within us-the "new commandment" of Love (cf. Jn. 13 the Gospel this Sunday)…"Negative thinking" is always bad-no, we must encounter negatives in life, and learn to deal with them, overcome and work thru them, not avoid all negatives. Suffering, trials and crosses can "teach" us how to be liberated and come into fuller union with the Lord God. In an enlightening editorial (New York Times: May1), called, get this, "The Power of Negative Thinking," Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Harvard Medical School, writes: "Negative thinking is unquestionably painful. It involves finding and exposing your inadequacies, which can be overwhelming. And not every problem discovered can be solved. You live in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction that's an unhealthy way to be in large parts of life: you don't want to constantly seek out the inadequacies of your children, your looks, your abilities as you age. But in running schools or businesses, in planning war, in caring for the sick and injured? Negative thinking may be exactly what you need."… All is mind, or spiritual or mental non-matter-no, there is "objective," real, concrete matter in the world-life is not based upon our perceptions only, although the mental and spiritual and mind are very important, along with our perceptions. Few people can bend spoons or make miracles. Sometimes our perceptions and positive thinking cannot overcome sickness or family problems or job challenges. Both mind and matter, body and soul are important-and we need remember that and keep the balance between the two.

**********************Briefly noted*********************

I recently read a brave and wonderful commentary by Mike White (New York Times: May 2), a movie-screen writer about violence and public life regarding the intersection between film and violence-a strong one, he says-in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre. This guy oughta know: he's made many gore-guy films and is now, well, coming clean. He writes of the power of film upon his childhood: "Movies permeated our fantasy lives and our real lives in subtle and profound ways. It's true nobody ever got shot in the face in my backyard, but there were acts of male bravado performed in emulation of our live anti-heroes that ranged from stupid to cruel. And there were plenty of places where guys my age were shooting one another all the time. There still are. Can we really in good conscience conclude that the violence saturating our popular culture has no impact on our neighborhoods and schools?" Common sense. From movies to video games to computer programs some are trying to reach your child and implant within them bad messages. Now: parents-what is your child watching, viewing-- and placing-however unconsciously, within his/her soul? And whataya' doing about it to preserve their peace and purity?...

The Gospel: Jesus says--"Love one another" (Jn. 13): Simply said, but hard to put into action (sometimes). "Love one another" means not following, as some Jews of Jesus' time did, externals, but internal movements of the Holy Spirit and God dwelling within our hearts. "Love one another." "Love one another" may mean not waiting for gushy feelings and sentiments of affection to come to love others (a lesser form of love), but, rather, to make a choice to love others-esp when it is difficult. "Love one another" may mean loving like Jesus Christ-heroically-in agape/sacrificial love-which is the most used form of the word "love" in the New Testament. "Love one another" may mean being more patient with your spouse or child or parent-love them anyway. "Love one another" may mean loving the poor in jail cells or Jesus in His distressing disguises in a hospital or nursing home or soup kitchen. "Love one another" may mean feeding your friends or family or co-workers the doctrine of the Lord and our Holy Church-giving them brain and soul food. Always remember this "faith-formula" of transformation: Be loved/ Become love/ Bestow love. Now: Just do it.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi