The Concentration of the Mind

During the retreat that I was on two weeks ago, the retreat master Fr. Peter Ryan, S.J, discussed the wisdom of discernment, especially drawing from the works of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. Among other things, he pointed out that especially in the modern world, the struggle is not with the lack of things we can learn, but in choosing what to learn, what to put into our minds. For, we have a seeming endless array of entertainment, information, news (true of false as the case may be) and ideas that people set forth. We can be more able than ever to gain deep knowledge and benefit from such insights. However, it is a great challenge to sift the wheat from the chaff, to sort out what is truly helpful, inspiring, ennobling and true, from the irrelevant, the scandalous, half-truths, half-baked ideas, and flat out falsehoods.

It is a point that the great Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas made three hundred years before St. Ignatius. The main vice opposed to true studiousness, the pursuit of real knowledge and wisdom, is not so much laziness, although that can be an issue; the difficulty is more often an undisciplined desire to know all sorts of things that are easier, cheaper, or more appealing to superficial desires; lesser things, or even false knowledge, often gets in the way of the deeper truths that set us free. One thinks about the time people spend keeping up on the latest news, latest fads, predictions about the future, or even dwelling on scandals or outrages, compared to time with prayers, sacred learning, fine literature and even deeper and historic culture.

In this context, and as Lent approaches, it is helpful to ask about the information and images that we focus on, and the amount of time each day absorbing popular culture, or superficial ideas, as opposed to the time in prayer and good learning.

It would be helpful to reduce the time with news, social media, and cheaper entertainment to make room for deeper wisdom. (Sinful entertainment and gossip should of course have no place ever in our lives.) And then it is helpful to set aside that time in learning, reflection and prayer.

For example, one of our parishioners has generously purchased copies of the Lenten Companion from Magnificat as an aid to this reflection and prayer.

The parish website also has a list of some helpful places to learn more about the faith, and of course the FORMED website has a great deal of programs that can deepen our understanding.

With the vast array of possibilities, let us open our minds to the things of heaven, and thus make that divine light more on us and through us to all the world.