Emmitsburg Council of Churches

On Thinking: Straight, Clearly, Pristinely

Father John J. Lombardi

"As you think, so shall you be." …

… So the saying goes. And: good thoughts help make a good person, bad thoughts make a person feel or think badly.

Hey: do you ever "get stuck in your head" or think too much or fail to think clearly?

Now, before thinking about anything else, think (meditate within) on this: Trinity to me: "Be free". Be liberated in your thoughts-not entangled or entwined in dark, bad, sinful thoughts. St Paul puts it this way: "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the Will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect" Rm. 12:2). Change your mind-often-by asking the Luminous Holy Spirit to transform patterns of darkness into therapeutic thinking-what is "good, pleasing and perfect".

We disciples all have good thoughts at times and bad thoughts, true and false ones. The issue is: how to cultivate the good, pleasing and perfect thoughts, so as to love the Lord more and others, too, and pilgrimage thru this world in Truth and Light. We are on a Program of Regeneration and Renewal of Mind and Heart: In Him, thru Him and with Him, the Lord. Just think: All the world is a Theophany: A revelation of God unveiling Himself to us. Our Task: to form good, true pleasing thoughts to Document Divinity (find His "Trinitarian traces" amongst us) and have our thoughts correspond to reality, Divine Reality.

Okay, now, true Catholicism stresses thinking along with being and doing; head and heart, mind and passion together, in an integration equaling true personhood and holiness. Read on Dear Disciple…

A man sees a person lying on railroad tracks convulsing, hears a train coming and nonetheless, without thinking, throws his body over the sick man. Both are miraculously saved. Meanwhile, a New York Times Magazine article (Jan. 7: "Happiness 101") states that positive thinking-hope, spirituality, mindfulness-- helps people be happy and that when they also do good things they are more healthy. Another New York Times article (Jan.4) states that sports injuries may be avoided by positive thinking and meditative practices. Title of article: "Free the Mind and Fewer injuries May Follow". Hmmm. Retreat master Fr. Tom Aykins, a Benedictine monk, recently said here that we can have good thoughts and these may create inordinate pleasure and we may become addicted to them-self-absorbed…

This present Reflection (and Part II following) is a meditation on something we all do: think. It is the most common and ordinary, necessary, yet misunderstood, un-reflected upon phenomena of life. So let's get it-thinking--straight and straighten out our thinking!

First, a query: Are you feeding yourself pleasing, perfect and good thoughts -like wood into a burning stove, grist into a mill-or bad thoughts? The fire of your mind and intellect which require "grist-sensations" and "mental wood" will become either pleasing or toxic-pollutant, depending upon your choice of thoughts.

For instance: I just visited Doris in the local nursing home and she was holding a little seed-packet of beautiful roses. She said initially she wasn't feeling too good when I asked her how she was doing, and yet when I asked her what she was holding, she said she "was concentrating on these roses" (bright pictures of them on the packet) and that made her feel better. Radiant-stimulation (like icons, beautiful music, also) can make us better, but we need to choose the right pleasing things and also practice concrete disciplines like Doris to become healthy and happy!

In this Sunday's Gospel (St Jn. 2:1-11), the Lord Jesus transformed the water into wine at Cana, indicating His Divinity. Fulton Sheen, great preacher said: "The water looked up and blushed." Yes, do you look up (at the Light-filled Lord) and blush (change in humility)? Do you re-cognize His Divine Power? So, then, are you allowing your lust turn into love?; your sadness into true solidarity with sinners and pain of others?; do you transform your anger into rightful-passionate love?; your fear into courage and trembling-love of the Lord's Immensity and Righteousness? Look: the Lord Jesus can change a St Peter-betrayer into a Pope-disciple-martyr-so also He can change you into what is pleasing and perfect. The Creator can re-create an abortion doctor-a non-believing Dr. Bernard Nathanson, into a repentant-disciple and eventual healing-doctor and Catholic! The Holy Spirit can change a drug addict-Matt Talbot-into a saintly Venerable-saint healer of souls: so, too, He can change you and your thoughts into Life and give you "gifts of healing by the One Spirit" (I Cor 12:4-11). So, now, Meditate upon this: Delight in Light: Loving Insight. Meaning: There are three kinds of vision which may help our thinking, say some saints: 1-physical seeing (sensation); 2-seeing by reasoning of the mind; 3-msytical vision of the Divine realities (holy knowledge). Insight is seeing with the "eyes of the heart" (Eph 1:18), and delight means an amalgamation, inebriation, transformation of body, mind and soul-our total selves-into the translucent Light of the Lord which dissolves all prior dark thoughts and feelings into joy and bliss. Practice makes perfect-and pleasingness. So meditate to transform your thinking: blush!

I recently read another article about New Year's resolutions and the author-a European, lapsed Catholic-stated basically that happiness "just happens,"-it's accidental not planned-- and he subsequently derided the possibility that we can "become happy" by thinking (or willing) it to happen. Yes, joy and happiness sometimes "spontaneously happen" (someone gives us a flower or ice cream cone: we become happy), but, also, we can determine, by our thoughts and mastering our sometimes un-pleasing passions and emotions, that we will be happier by overcoming some challenge or mastering a difficult situations or plain old not just giving into "the blues". It's what we may call a kinda' good, self fulfilling prophecy: we are as we think and choose. Now, add in the infinite Holy Spirit and this joy can become habitual…Do you think the proverbial glass is half-empty or half-full?

Now: let's be clear--there are good thoughts (like joy) and bad thoughts (sinful or obsessive ones)-and, good or bad, these thoughts often determine who and how we are in life…Which thoughts are you choosing? St Paul counsels: "Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure…think on these things" (Phil. 4: 8). In a way, we must be "pick and choose Catholics"! We must separate the "mental wheat" from the "dark chaff" within our minds. So, if you have bad thoughts, Erase the trace: lace with Grace. In other words: release the bad thought and grab the pleasing ones.

Devotion is the New Direction: St. Ignatius, when he was re- covering from a literal cannon ball shot to his leg, was reading "gothic novels" and such, which pleased him for a while but then vanished. Then he began reading the Gospels and Lives of the Saints and the pleasantness remained: he thereby began implanting in his head and soul virtues, heroic examples and faith-and then, later, imitated these in holiness by more devoutly following the Lord Jesus-and founded the Jesuit religious order. By his pleasing thinking and acting his transformed thoughts remain effective today-five hundred yrs later! Ego wants to separate us from noble truths and pleasing, lasting realties; the soul desires Divine Reality and lasting Love.

Choose the Path of Holy Awareness by forming thoughts which mirror or participate in the Omniscient Loving Mind of God: "Let this Mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5). So: empty out toxins, fill up with Grace. Don't get stuck up in your head by the "broken-record" ceaselessly playing old dark thoughts but fearlessly peer into, by the clear-channel of rightful thinking, God's ceaseless communications to you.

In preparing this reflection, I just affirmed with a local philosopher, Dr Josh Hoschild, that there are at least two kinds of thoughts or thinking-those we will and those that "happen". The thoughts we will (or choose) are mental ideas we form or rationally construct around previous experiences or other thoughts-and thereby "create" new thoughts-and this process may be called reasoning. The other kind of thoughts-which just happen or "pop up" in our heads-come from our memory, a kinda' "intellectual reservoir" of past experiences and learning, and which spontaneously manifest or "bubble up" at different times (even in dreams). Once again, both kinds of thoughts-"reasoned" or "spontaneous"-may be either good or bad-it's up to us to determine them as much as we can. Dr Hoschild's wife, Paige, also a doctor of philosophy, said, wisely, that we can learn to discipline our memories-you know, choose the good thoughts over the bad; we can purify our thinking process and our "memory-reservoir". Do you?

In the course of our conversation, as the Hoschild children asked me about dinosaurs and tried to gain attention at our feet, I also learned that in Aristotle, as in St Thomas Aquinas, our intellects are related and attached to our bodies. Huh? So? What that means is that our thoughts can slightly or greatly affect our bodies, our emotions and moods. Put bluntly, our heads are attached to our bodies (get it?!)-there is a mental-physical connection of our thinking and our bodily life. Thus: the "athletic article" (above) is corroborated-what we think can affect our athletic skills and performance, not to mention our relationships and general state of being. In a recent study reported in the New York Times (Jan. 9) detailing the connection of mental states and cardiovascular illness (there is an effect) it also reported "a significant excess of mortality in the pessimists compared with the optimists."

Now, let us investigate further: there is an interaction between passions and thoughts: sometimes our feelings sway our intellect into right or wrongful actions. However, we must remember--the intellect must lead these affective-irascible passions as like a mindful-charioteer controls the passionate horses-both the reason and the passions "use" one another, but we cannot allow our emotions and feelings to master us, we (the intellect) must choose rightful thoughts and feelings as they arise. Thus: when you see a beautiful watch in a glass window someone's passions may sway them into stealing it: then, the head must "over-rule" the heart into reminder of "Thou shalt not steal"-and so forth.

Now, practice a holy thought: Breakthru Perception: Divinity within Me. (cf. Jn 17:21-23).

Many people are swayed by their (obsessive, wrongful) thoughts-oftentimes for the worse. Herein you may say to yourself: I am not my thoughts. We often equate our personality or being with what we think. This is only partly true. Our personal make-up is from a totality of thoughts, feelings, genetic DNA, environment, God's grace, from our heads and our hearts and souls combined-a rich-beautiful, sometimes-mysterious complex which should always be subverted to Christ Jesus and His Way of life. Perhaps you consistently think a past bad memory or have recurring gloomy thoughts-and this may come to dominate you. Remember: the (bad) thought is passing, you are a child of God. St Paul counsels: "Take every thought in captive obedience to Jesus Christ". In other words, "mentally lasso" that bad thought and twirl it away from your impressionable mind and think, conversely, good thoughts. Have you ever heard someone say? "I'm thinking so much my head hurts"? Well, stop obsessive thinking and begin praying, loving and being loved.

******************Briefly Noted*******************

Mystical Phenomena?: Recently there was a Frederick News Post article (Jan 8) on happenings nearby of a local alleged mystic and gathered seekers. As the Catholic Church neither formally approves/disapproves of such meetings: It is most important to be attached to the visible-public Catholic Church, to our bishops and priests-even though some do not always understand or agree with them. It is a serious matter to publicly disagree with the teaching Church on any matter and also to seek formation or continuation of community by, or with, those who disagree. We pray that all who do this-with whatever intentions-- may embrace the Church-teaching, authentic community and the approved Mystical Messages of Jesus and Mary thru the ages.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi