SINCE the election of two men to the most influential offices on the planet—Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States and Pope Francis to the Chair of St. Peter—there has been a marked shift in public discourse within the culture and the Church itself. Whether they intended it or not, these men have become agitators of the status quo. All at once, the political and religious landscape has suddenly changed. What was hidden in the darkness is coming to light. What could have been predicted yesterday is no longer the case today. The old order is collapsing. It is the beginning of a Great Shaking that is sparking a worldwide fulfillment of Christ’s words:
From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (Luke 12:52-53)
The discourse in our times has not only become toxic, but dangerous. What has happened in the U.S. in the last nine days since I felt moved to republish The Growing Mob is astonishing. As I have been saying for years now, revolution has been bubbling beneath the surface; that the time would come when events would begin to move so rapidly, we would not be able to humanly keep up. That time has now begun.
The point of today’s meditation, then, is not to dwell on the growing Storm surge and increasingly dangerous winds of this present spiritual hurricane, but to help you remain joyful and, therefore, focused on the only thing that matters: God’s will.
CHANGE YOUR MIND
The discourse on cable news, social media, late night talk shows and chat forums has become so toxic that it is dragging people into depression, anxiety, and provoking passionate and hurtful responses. So, I want to turn to St. Paul again, for here was a man who lived amidst greater threats, division, and danger than most of us will ever encounter. But first, a bit of science.
We are what we think. That sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. How we think affects our mental, emotional, and even physical health. In fascinating new research on the human brain, Dr. Caroline Leaf explains how our brains are not “fixed” as once thought. Rather, our thoughts can and do change us physically.
As you think, you choose, and as you choose, you cause genetic expression to happen in your brain. This means you make proteins, and these proteins form your thoughts. Thoughts are real, physical things that occupy mental real estate. —Switch On Your Brain, Dr. Caroline Leaf, BakerBooks, p 32
Research, she notes, shows that 75 to 95 percent of mental, physical, and behavioral illness comes from one’s thought life. Thus, detoxifying one’s thoughts can have a dramatic impact on one’s health, even diminishing the effects of autism, dementia, and other diseases.
We cannot control the events and circumstances of life, but we can control our reactions… You are free to make choices about how you focus your attention, and this affects how the chemicals and proteins and wiring of your brain change and functions. —cf. p. 33
So, how do you look at life? Do you wake up grumpy? Does your conversation naturally gravitate to the negative? Is the cup half full or half empty?
Remarkably, what science is now discovering, St. Paul confirmed two thousand years ago.
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
The way we think literally transforms us. However, in order to be positively transformed, St. Paul stresses that our thinking must be conformed, not to the world, but to the will of God. Therein lies the key to authentic joy—total abandonment to the Divine Will.cf. Matt 7:21 Thus, Jesus was also concerned with how we think:
Do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil. (Matthew 6:31-34)
But, how? How do we not worry about these daily needs? First, as a baptized Christian, you are not helpless:
God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control… the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness (2 Timothy 1:7; Romans 8:26)
Through prayer and the Sacraments, God gives us a superabundance of grace for our needs. As we heard in the Gospel today, “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” Luke 11:13
Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2010
Still, one has to avoid the error of Quietism where one sits idly, waiting for grace to change you. No! Just as an engine requires fuel to run, so too, your transformation requires your fiat, the active cooperation of your free will. It requires you to literally change how you think. This means taking…
…every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Cor 10:5)
That takes some work! As I wrote in The Power of Judgments, we have to actively start bringing “judgments into the light, identifying (toxic) thought patterns, repenting of them, asking forgiveness where necessary, and then making concrete changes.” I’ve had to do this myself as I came to realize that I had a negative way of framing things; that fear was causing me to focus on the worst possible outcomes; and that I was too hard on myself, refusing to see any goodness. The fruits became evident: I had lost my joy, peace, and capacity to love others as Christ loved us.
Are you a ray of light when you enter a room or a gloomy cloud? That depends upon your thinking, which is in your control.
TAKE STEPS TODAY
I am not saying that we should avoid reality or stick our heads in the sand. No, the crises around you, me, and the world are real and often demand that we engage them. But that is different from letting them overpower you—and they will, if you do not accept the permissive will of God that has allowed these circumstances for a greater good, and instead, try to control everything and everyone around you. However, that is the opposite of “seeking first the Kingdom of God.” It is the antithesis of that necessary state of spiritual childhood.
To become as little children is to empty ourselves of the selfish, sensual self in order to enthrone God in the inmost part of our being. It is to renounce this need, so deeply rooted in us, of being the sole master of all we survey, of deciding for ourselves, according to our whims, what is good or bad for us. —Fr. Victor de la Vierge, novice master and spiritual director in the Carmelite province of France; Magnificat, Sept. 23, 2018, p. 331
This is why St. Paul wrote that we should “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 We have to actively reject those thoughts that say “Why me?” and begin to say, “For me”, that is, “God has allowed this for me through His permissive will, and My food is to do the will of God.” cf. John 4:34 Instead of grumbling and complaining—even if that is my knee-jerk reaction—I can begin again and change my thinking, saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” cf. Luke 22:42
In the movie Bridge of Spies, a Russian was caught spying and faced serious consequences. He sat there calmly as his interrogator asked why he was not more upset. “Would it help?” the spy replied. I often remember those words when I am tempted to “lose it” when things go wrong.
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
—St. Teresa of Avila; ewtn.com
But we also have to take steps to avoid situations that will naturally cause stress. Even Jesus walked away from the mob since He knew they were not interested in truth, logic, or sound reasoning. So, in order to be transformed in your mind, you have to dwell on “truth, beauty, and goodness” and avoid the darkness. It may require removing yourself from toxic relationships, forums, and exchanges; it may mean shutting off the television, not engaging in nasty Facebook debates, and avoiding politics at family gatherings. Rather, start making deliberate positive choices:
…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:4-9)
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Finally, don’t think that “positive thinking” or praising God in the midst of suffering is either a form of denial or that you are alone. You see, we sometimes think that Jesus only meets us in consolation (Mount Tabor) or desolation (Mount Calvary). But, in fact, He is always with us in the valley in between them:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
That is, His Divine Will—the duty of the moment—comforts us. I may not know why I am suffering. I may not know why I am ill. I may not understand why bad things are happening to me or others… but I know that, if I follow Christ, if I obey His commandments, He will remain in me as I remain in Him and my joy “will be complete.”cf. John 15:11 That’s His promise.
Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
And then, take every thought captive that comes to steal away your peace. Make it obedient to Christ… and be transformed by the renewal of your mind.
So I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart, they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess. That is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth. (Eph 4:17-24)
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. (Col 3:2)
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