Have you ever viewed an image of Jesus on the crucifix or seen a work of religious art and wondered why Jesus, or one of the many saintly figures have their eyes fixed in an upward direction? There is an ancient practice of suspending one’s judgement that we should re-examine this Lenten season. Eyes and minds fixed toward a heavenly direction should be the consideration.
We are all familiar with the Gospel account of the “stop judging that you may not be judged” (Mt. 7:7) imagery. Removing a splinter from our own eye before we can judge our fellow man is a huge obstacle in the spiritual life. However, what does this really mean in the Christian life, especially during Lent?
Oftentimes, we make many judgement calls during the day as part of our work, personal life and leisure time. We are exposed to various opinions and pre-conceived judgements that distract from our calling as Christians. The bombardment of voices we hear on television and social media form implicit biases that remove the dignity and respect for our fellow man. During the political season we receive numerous flyers and messages regarding platform campaign messages that add to distractions in which we let our reptilian brain take hold, thereby adding to the allegorical meaning of Plato’s cave imagery.
The early church doctor, Thomas Aquinas had something to say about our mind and intellect in his Summa Theologiae. Aquinas states, “I answer that, In the present state of life in which the soul is united to a passible body, it is impossible for our intellect to understand anything actually, except by turning to the phantasms” (https://ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/summa/summa.FP_Q84_A7.html).
St. John Damascene and the 2nd edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2559) has a beautiful quotation that reminds us that “prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God” (https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/catechism/614/).
Therefore, in order to venture out into the desert mystical experience this Lent, we must cast aside our anxious thoughts, worries, and mental distractions. Our inability to continuously go before the Lord in prayer when our thoughts separate us from the transforming grace of God are roadblocks in the spiritual journey.
St. Teresea of Avila speaks of the necessity of mental prayer in The Way of Perfection. Those holy men and women that have gone before us had the same struggles that we do today in the Christian life. However, our 21st century problems and concerns are definitely more manifest and troublesome with all of the distractions that we must cast aside.
One can associate suspending judgement with the following imagery: A stained glass window in a church is not illuminated unless the light shines to illuminate the glass. The same can be said with a dirty windshield while driving at a certain time of day in a particular direction where the road ahead is not as clear as it should be. Our minds are similar components in living out our Christian faith. How can the mind and heart turn to God unless we cast aside those thoughts that don’t allow the light and grace to transform our very being? As Jesus reminds us, He is the light of the world that shines in the darkness (Jn. 8:12). We must not let the petty distractions of our thoughts cast us into the darkness where the light of Christ Jesus wishes to dwell in our minds and hearts.
Let the crown of thorns that our Saviour was adorned with bless our minds and hearts to more heavenly matters this day. Let us set aside this day those cognitive distractions to re-center ourselves in prayer by His saving and merciful presence.
As Paul’s epistle to the Romans states, “do not conform yourself to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:2).
May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life. Amen