Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Tuesday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time
Mind Reading

Readings: 1 Corinthians 2:10b-16; Psalms 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13ab, 13cd-14; Luke 4:31-37
Picture: CC Hern Y

Since moving to this new place, I find it important frequently to remind myself to do something that doesn’t always come naturally, at least not to me. Ordinarily, I find myself too easily engrossed in my own concerns, rather oblivious to what is happening in the world around me. I believe the technical term for this condition is… blur. But, especially because I find myself in new surroundings and around unfamiliar people, I’ve been trying to pay more attention not just to what people say, but also to how they say it, not just to their speech, but also to their actions. How else to know what’s on their minds and in their hearts, except by learning to read what is expressed in word and deed?

Which is something useful to call to mind today, as our Mass readings present us with a contrast between realities beyond the material. In the first reading, Paul distinguishes between the spirit of the world and the spirit of Christ. And the gospel presents for our consideration the contrasting effects of the spirit of an unclean devil and the authority and power of Jesus. The lesson is quite clear: what should characterize us as Christians is the latter spirit, the latter authority and power, as opposed to the former. As Paul tells us, we are those who have the mind of Christ. But how are we to know if this is indeed the spirit that moves us in any given situation? How are others to tell what is in our minds and hearts? What is within us can only be determined externally by our words and our deeds.

Consider the effects of the spirit of the unclean devil on the possessed person in the gospel. Enslaved and oppressed by what is within him, the man in the synagogue speaks and acts as someone imprisoned by fear and anxiety, even when faced with the One who is just in all his ways. Have you come to destroy us? The overwhelming preoccupation of this person is with self-preservation and self-advancement.

In contrast, the spirit of God moves Jesus to do the very thing that we heard him preach about in yesterday’s gospel passage: proclaim liberty to captives… set the downtrodden free… Jesus’ preaching effectively casts out the unclean spirit from the possessed person. And the one who was oppressed is released. The one who was imprisoned is set free. Jesus’ preoccupation is with self-donation for the betterment of others.

Presented with this stark contrast between opposing spirits, do we not find ourselves drawn to pay careful attention to what we encounter daily in the world around us, to learn to distinguish the effects of the spirit of the world from the spirit of Christ? Do we not also find ourselves invited to discern carefully the spirits that are moving not just around, but also within us?

And is it not important for us also to consider what people see when they look carefully at us who bear the name of Christ, at what we say, surely, but also at what we do? Living as we are in a world teeming with the poor and the oppressed, the blind and the captive, to what extent are we preoccupied with self-donation rather that self-advancement?

If others were to read our minds by studying our deeds, what spirit would they discover?


  1. I often find it difficult to discuss questions like this, "What would others say of you at your funeral?" or "If others were to read our minds by studying our deeds, what spirit would they discover?"

    Afterall, according to Matthew 6:1-4, didn't Jesus say "(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them... When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you... when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you."

    Yes, one who loves will perform good deeds. But one who perform good deeds don't necessarily do them out of love.

    And pardon this gripe: I dread it sometimes during sharing sessions where some mothers will wax lyrical of how selfless and giving they are in taking care of their children. My mind would go, "Yes, I realize how fantastic a mother's love is. Still, they are your children. I'd be very much more impressed if you love someone else's children as much as that!"

  2. The past few days has me thinking about being fixated and being transfixed.
    Our fixations may not always surface as it is hidden within the recesses of our minds. But being transfixed, one would tend to stay within its confines. Our mind has the capacity to elude us at our most vulnerable.
    We were taken on a Hindu temple visit today, a renovated building dedicated to Lord Ganesh. The devotees were commemorating the birth date of their elephant God. Several of the men prostrated themselves at the altar. Who can see what is within?
    These external manifestations do underscore a deeper reality.
    It was a moving experience.

  3. My goodness, if I were to be judged by my deeds and my mind, how often would I be dismissed as a bad Catholic! The things I want to say but manage not to sometimes (and sometimes it slips out), the things I want to do but only fantacize doing because it is illegal, immoral or sinful. The anger and frustration I cannot help, the sadness from bad situations that's my doing... Where do all that come from? How do I get rid of them?

    We Catholics are so often judged by what we do and say, and what we don't do or say. Isn't it unfair that we are expected to be perfect? How could we? We're not even an iota of what Jesus is?

    So my solution is to just do, say or think one GOOD thing a day. Not for show to others (better if it is un-noticed) but to show myself that with God's help, it can be done.

    Some days, I fail.

    But thank you Fr.Chris, for the opportunity to share with you and others. Open sharing sessions don't work like this because you may be seen to be too humble. But it is not humility, it is real. Anyone remember Fr Gerry Keane's sermons?

    As for proud mothers, and grandmothers, they can't help it. Maybe they also love other children, but just never got around to making it obvious.

  4. After five long (and full) decades on Planet Earth, I think I can speak with some confidence about mind reading. And { gasp}, it isn't as difficult as it sounds. Why? Because (i) our speech and actions well up from the depths of our being. Some can be masked, but not all. Just as we are what we eat, our speech and actions and behavior betray our true selves. What eventually emanates from the depths of our beings is a barometer of the extent to which the spirit of the world has prevailed over the spirit of Christ, or vice versa; (ii) a single speech or action however doesn't reveal anything. One needs time to assemble the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle before the puzzle is complete.