A SERIES ON THE SPIRITUAL LIFE: The Asceticism of Thoughts (Part II)

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NOTE: As long as we continue these lectures on the spiritual life, we will always include in the text a link to a meditation on the reading or the Gospel of the day, if we have them available.

Gospel (Lk 17:11-19):

The Gratitude

Rejection of evil thoughts

Every voluntary – that is, conscious – thought that is opposed to God and mankind must be radically combated.

Just as in following Christ we avoid every evil action, even if we have to do violence to ourselves in order not to give in to temptation, so we must do the same with our thoughts. In fact, thoughts normally precede actions and prepare the way for their execution and realization. That is why we must watch carefully over them and reject every evil thought that appears. This resistance is achieved by invoking the Name of Jesus, asking for help from the Holy Spirit or through other appropriate spiritual means, in order to drive away those evil thoughts. In this way we deny them our approval, our voluntary consent… And this is decisive!

It is not a repression of those thoughts which, for example, bring up certain unconscious or semi-conscious feelings, and make us see the shadows that still dwell within us. On the contrary, the rejection of bad thoughts is done through the invocation of the Name of the Lord, so that He, through His Spirit, touches them and dissolves them in us. Thus, they are not being repressed, relegating them to the unconscious, where they could continue their destructive work undetected.

Now, it is necessary to know how to distinguish between a strong bad thought that suddenly attacks me, wanting to exercise a kind of dictatorial power over me; and another thought that, rather, is slowly emerging within me, like a seduction or a disturbance. In the first case, it may be a direct attack by the forces of Evil. In the second case, it is usually a matter of thoughts coming from our heart, although it is also possible that both elements are intermingled. It could be the case that negative thoughts arise from my own heart, and that it is the demonic powers who are responsible for increasing them and turning them into a real torment. For example, a whole tower of intense thoughts of self-accusation can be built up, with which the demon wants to lead the person to despair.

In the first case, when the evil thoughts are direct attacks of Evil, it is necessary to arm oneself immediately with the Word of God, to invoke the Name of the Lord and even to make a prayer of renunciation of the powers of evil. If one takes this determined attitude and is ready to fight, calm usually returns after a while and the soul recovers inner peace. Through these experiences, God teaches us the importance of being always vigilant, and a firm trust in His strength and presence grows in us.

In the second case, when it is a question of thoughts that come from our own heart, the struggle is often longer, for it is not only a question of a concrete resistance to a bad thought, but of everything within us constantly turning to God. The insistent invocation of His Name takes away the strength of evil thoughts; and, at the same time, our interior becomes more and more open to the Holy Spirit. God uses these circumstances to purify our heart and increase its capacity to love.

In both forms of combat, we can only be victorious if we do not give our consent to evil thoughts, if we do not dialogue or negotiate with them, if we do not allow ourselves to be seduced by their possible attractiveness or justify their content. Only under this condition will we have the necessary strength to fight and overcome these destructive thoughts in the Lord. Otherwise, we would be inwardly weakened, because perhaps we still give them a secret consent, which makes it impossible for us to distance ourselves with sufficient determination and to resort to the corresponding spiritual weapons.

The fight can become really fierce, depending on the intensity of the demonic attacks or on how deeply rooted those thoughts are within us. However, God’s grace strengthens us for the confrontation and makes our will capable of detaching itself from evil thoughts and turning to Him.

In these struggles we must not lose heart, even if we do not always emerge victorious. In the defeats, we can realize where the mistake was and decide to be more vigilant the next time. In no case can we give up! If God allows us to face these struggles, it means that He has begun to guide us towards a deeper path. In this context, it is worth mentioning that these kinds of struggles not only serve for the purification and consolidation of one’s own soul; but, beyond the personal, they could have different meanings, which we will talk about on another occasion.

Tomorrow we will continue to develop the theme of the asceticism of thoughts: What to do with those thoughts that are not directly sinful, but useless?