In answering such a question, as the title indicates, it is quite important to look at how we naturally are.
I would imagine that much of our thoughts are naturally inane, somewhat inoffensive. But then, someone says something to us that is displeasing, so much so, that we replay what the person said or did, in our minds repeatedly. How much else gets repeatedly thought about? Maybe something that we disapprove of in our spouse. Maybe it is something that we just don’t like. Maybe it is something that didn’t really happen, but we imagine that it did. But we won’t say that we are imagining it! We believe that it is real, until circumstances show us otherwise. Maybe it is something “out there” that we simply disapprove of. “I don’t like the way this or that is done!’ Maybe it is something that we feel that we should have, and don’t. Maybe it is just something sinful, and we know that we shouldn’t dwell on such matter, and yet we do.
The list can be extended quite a bit more, and we know this. We can judge other people, express our anger against others, doubt our religion, etc., and all within the privacy of our minds. But there is the problem! I used the word “private” deliberately, because that is the sense that most people also believe. We believe that our thoughts are indeed private, and therefore hurt nobody – especially not ourselves.
It is interesting to learn that for centuries the Catholic Church believed that sin began in our minds. Hey! When I was a child and learned to confess my sins, we had to confess not only what we did. Then we had to confess what we could have done but didn’t, much like a virtuous deed. And last of all, we learned to confess our thoughts! Now why would we do that if sin didn’t really begin in the mind? But the truth was that it did! The Church always knew this and we were taught it! Now we knew it! And as a result, we had to confess these things too. The advantage? By engaging in these practices, we learned something about self-discipline. Better yet, we TRAINED our minds to accept what amounts to really needed discipline, and where it counts too. Which is in our very minds themselves and the thoughts it generates – and which we inadvertently embrace.
Now the methods that I learned as I grew up, and particularly in my Catholic Grammar School, were initially rather basic. Had to start somewhere, I suppose! So, like any Catholic today we went to Mass, went to Confession, learned to say the rosary, and the basic tenets of the Catholic faith by means of the Baltimore catechism. But then we were further taught what was called “Ejaculations” such as “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I love you!” There were many other lines such as these, and we memorized them all. And, of course, at noon we said the “Angeles.”
Many of such practices have fallen away these days. In my opinion, the lack of such practices accounts for much of the negativity we see happening in our society today. Yes, there are external causes, but we don’t have to surrender to any negativity arising within us as we interpret what we see. We can discipline ourselves not to!
I recommend highly that we begin or rebegin such practices now. This the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima. What a good opportune time to delve more into the rosary. And through the day, say in our minds, “Jesus, Mary, Joseph, I love you!”
Peace, Fr. Walter