Emmitsburg Council of Churches

On Thinking--More or Less…

Father John J. Lombardi

…And that's the issue: some people think more, some less, but we all need the balance between thinking more and sometimes less.

So, as St Paul said: "Think over what I say. For the Lord will give you understanding in all things…" (II Tim. 2:7). Read on dear disciple…

Item: A recent Washington Post Magazine article (Jan. 14), entitled "Mind games" detailed how some "believe they are the targets of a government mind-control plot" and how "energized activists are trying to prove they are 'not crazy'" …We Catholics, however, are certainly not crazy (!) and we do actually believe in "mind control"-in some form of it, that is. Before you get alarmed, be reminded that we are encouraged to control and purify our minds so that: the mind of Jesus is with us (Phil. 2:5) and that we should align thinking with holy thoughts: "Whatever is true, noble, beautiful, just….think on these things" (Phil 4:8).

We are thinking about thinking, more or less, and in this Bulletin-reflection we continue from last week, meditations on the most common and yet un-reflected phenomena, thinking-straight, clearly and pristinely.

Item: In his excellent book, "Flow," Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes: "What an individual yogi can do is amazing, and so is what a plumber can do, or a good mechanic. Perhaps in time we shall discover hidden powers of the mind that will allow it to make the sort of quantum leaps that now we can only dream about….the mind has enormous untapped potential that we desperately need to learn how to use." …Yes: we must more deeply learn about the untapped powers of our minds and thinking. Read on…

Item: "Lorraine," a pilgrim, who just made and gave us a thousand rosaries, had knee surgery-at age seventy--and it didn't quite totally work. But, as I met with her recently, her thinking and attitude was vivacious and positive. She said she was "still walking" --indeed she walked all the way up to the Grotto cave with a cane on a cold day, and that she wanted to go back to work at a cancer ward to help others. Her cheerful mind and holy thoughts inspired and pushed her on to more, not less. She's kinda like the "plumber" or "mechanic" mentioned above who have similar but different powers of the yogi-ascetic-miracle worker. St Paul says: "I can do all things thru Christ Who strengthens me."

Item: I just reviewed an excellent book, "A Holy Life: St Bernadette of Lourdes," by Dr Patricia McEachern. She wrote about Bernadette's encounter with The Lady Virgin and her report to the parish priest that the Virgin revealed herself as "The Immaculate Conception," and the good priest "responded that she (Mary) could not have said such a thing because conception is an event, and a person cannot be an event. Nevertheless this expression is grammatically parallel to the words of Jesus Christ Himself when He said: 'I am the Resurrection and the Life (Jn. 11:25). These expressions are grammatically illogical, yet spiritually true."

You see: we sometimes get a thought which "mentally straightjackets" us, thinking that a noun (Immaculate Conception-a past event) cannot also be a verb (active) or a person (living reality) or an ongoing event: The Virgin Mary is the living-ongoing-dynamic-"event" of purity, and, likewise, Jesus Himself, Who rose at one time from the dead, is also the ongoing event-Person of Resurrection. These doctrines, then, rather than being static, are dynamic. And when we properly, humbly, think and "link-into" these theological-thought-events, we, ourselves, can become pure and also risen from our deadness and drabness. But we need think aright. If we think that the Immaculate Conception is just a past event and not a living person, or that the Resurrection is simply gone and not relived in the apostles and contemporary disciples ("Out of the tomb and into my heart"), then we will not fully understand or live the Gospel.

We indeed need more "mind control" or, as St Paul says, "renewal of the mind" (Rm 12:2).

Now, some people think too much (rationalists) and some too little (about moral matters, say), and some have bad thoughts which are like "lead balloons"-- which hover within our interior mental minds and intimidate us. Others, like Lorraine, above, cultivate good thoughts, which are like beautiful "mental-winged doves"-they carry us (even physically) and help us soar to goodness, freedom and service….Which ones are you choosing?

Let's now look at different kinds of thinking through our world. Thru my college-days (daze!) study of philosophy I've learned…Taoism emphasizes the unity of man and nature…Zennists emphasizes "pre-reflective" thinking: the value of intuition and acting without over-reasoning.

Rationalists emphasize the value of intellectual "thinking thru" various problems. Empiricists emphasize the need of concrete data to process thru thinking. Voluntarists discern the value of the will and passions in thinking and acting. Freudians counsel review of past experiences and freedom from the past thru "talk therapy". None of these disciplines are alien or opposite of Catholic-Christina values, but, rather, can help us and be integrated into our discipleship in one form or another. For instance: like the Taoist, Jesus Himself says "Consider the flowers of the field, the birds of the air…" (Mt. 6:26). Kinda like the Zen master St Augustine counsels: "Love and do what you will." Like the rationalist Catholic tradition values the mind thinking difficult moral problems. Like the empiricists, St Francis of Assisi sees the concrete, myriad world of sense and creations as a Theophany-a revelation of God Himself. Like the voluntarist who emphasizes the passions, St Therese of Lieseaux once said: "Love is my vocation" and the Italian poet Dante said it is "Love that moves the stars." Like Freudians we may review our past thru examinations of conscience and meeting and talking in spiritual direction and become freer, holier. So: more or less we must think and integrate these various disciplines into our thinking and being and doing. Catholics are holistic and become whole and holy thru thinking, more or less!

Now, let us consider the role of intuition (from the Latin, intuitus, "to look"; contemplate): this word and beautiful phenomenon means that we need not always think: we have a kinda infused or prior-gained-integrated knowledge which "tells us" in the "immediacy of the moment" (a "blink") what we should do in a given situation or how to respond-like the parent who saves his/her child from going to a burning stove. We don't always need to rationally think thru things; "we know intuitively"-and we need cultivate this in life along with reasoning. For instance: when you see a beautiful painting or attractive person or experience a delightful sunset-you don't need to "think about it"-the alluring phenomenon immediately impresses upon you a truth or delightful feeling and you respond naturally-"second-nature" like. In reports of some saintly simple people there is sometimes reported kinda like "country bumpkin" folks who never went to Harvard or Catholic U. and yet still-because of their pure hearts and devotion-acquired knowledge of the Lord and mysteries of the faith they would have never achieved otherwise. Upshot: like these simple souls, pray and love more and become spiritually transparent, intuitive, intellectually-innocent, whereby God may infuse into you more easily (virginally) knowledge and revelations you are seeking. So, then, as our Catholic tradition and the Lord's freeing-grace implies, it's not book knowledge vs. heart knowledge but a combination of both. We have in our Church the smartest guy ever-St Thomas Aquinas and one of the simplest-St Joseph Cupertino. Both form the Mystical Body.

Now, if you struggle with bad thoughts and God's love for you, let's cut to the quick and remember these Five Words of Salvation (pray and say with love in heart and head): Awakening…Uncreated Being Loves Me. We disciples must awaken/wake-up the mind and heart to God-Who is both "Event" (active always) and Divine Person--and know that He actually loves us 24/7. As created beings we have trouble loving anyone totally infinitely (meditate on this-it does make sense). As the saying goes, God is always good and, when we are in a state of grace, He is within us as Indwelling Trinity (Jn. 17:21-23). Now: get that thought into your head-and heart!

So: spend time in meditation and contemplation (silence and stillness of mind and body): this will fertilize and liberate your soul, memory and intellect to release repressed or hidden truths or thoughts which are otherwise unreachable or inaccessible.

But, you say, it may be scary-because you see skeletal, ugly and sinful thoughts or memories; fear arises in this "inward ghost-host theatre". Okay, two options: 1-God may want you to see this "dark matter" and learn from it-this is called "purification of memory"; or, 2-if it is an obsessive or unhelpful thought-pray (and practice) these words: Remove the Trace, lace with grace ; or: Let it go; and Release it now. You need surrender the bad thoughts and embrace the good ones-continually, repeatedly. Practice makes perfect. The plumber-thinker in "the right flow" is as great as the yogi.

Hey--do you "over-think"? Sometimes we stress too much reasoning in life and in our heads, as when we mull over problems too much (tightening may even ensue in our bodies): when we worry about our work (workaholism develops): when we see a beautiful scene and rather think about the kids at home or dirty laundry (obsessions); or just can't stop thinking (compulsions). We're too tightly wrapped, some people might say or think. Herein, hear St Paul say: "Do not worry about anything" (Phil 4:6). Yes, though, be concerned when need be, but don't become anxious or obsessive. Enjoy God's Life for you without anxiety.

Now, here's a helpful response form a local philosopher about the Purification of Memory (ridding ourselves of past, bad thought-memories) via St Augustine: "The memory is re-formed constantly in conversion, not according to the "old man" (this body of sin), but according to the mind of Christ "that is in us"... He would say the Church is absolutely necessary here, and helps chiefly through means such as the Liturgical Year (our historia seen entirely anew through the lens of the life of Christ: imitation); the Liturgy itself which, ideally, through its words, repetitiveness, rhythms and beauties, shapes our Christian imagination; these and other things (chief of all, the Sacraments) incorporate us into the life of the Trinity, our will not lost in memory's oblivion (St John of the Cross), but its freedom found at last most fully in the will of the Father."

Before we get too serious-about thinking or otherwise, let's conclude with St Paul' humble help: "For if a man thinks himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself" (Gal. 6:3).

Next week: Thoughts about God, and disordered thinking…

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi