From Chapter 1 of Saint Josemaría Escrivá’s book The Way: Character
Get rid of those useless thoughts which, at best, are but a waste of time.
“A thought which does not result in an action is nothing much, and an action which does not proceed from a thought is nothing at all.” – George Bernanos, author
What constitutes a “useless thought”? Here are a few I found scattered around the internet:
- To measure the correct length of stirrup leather, you put the stirrup in your arm pit.
- One human hair can support 3.5 ounces.
- Two-thirds of the world’s eggplant is grown in New Jersey.
- There are 293 ways to make change for a dollar.
- A Blue whale’s tongue weighs more than an elephant.
- The Statue of Liberty’s index finger is eight feet and one inch long.
So maybe those lean more towards the trivial and are not really thoughts. Yet someone had to think to look the up and write them down. It seems to me at times that in an age where we have access to all sorts of knowledge, information and images of our world, and even inner and outer space) in the palms of our hands on our SmartPhone screens, we use them to play solitaire, Angry Birds, or cat videos on YouTube. We sit in front of televisions screens watching the worst of humanity and computer screens linking us to stories documenting the worst of humanity.
And our minds are filled with useless thoughts, if we bother to think at all.
Ok…I’m talking about we. I’m talking about me.
“God! How is it that we fail to recognize that the mask of pleasure, stripped of all hypocrisy, is that of anguish?” – The Diary of a Country Priest by George Bernanos (1936).
Karl Rahner alluded to this silent anguish of the routine in his 1960 book Encounters with Silence. He wrote:
Even if I should try to escape from my routine by becoming a Carthusian, so that I’d have nothing more to do but spend my days in silent adoration of Your holy presence, would that solve my problem? Would that really lift me out of my rut?
I’m afraid not, since not even the sacred actions I now perform are free from the corrosive dust of this spirit of routine. When I think of all the hours I have spent at Your holy altar, or reciting Your Church’s official prayer in my Breviary, then it becomes clear to me that I myself am responsible for making my life so humdrum. It’s not the affairs of the world that make my days dull and insignificant; I myself have dug the rut. Through my own attitude I can transform the holiest events into the grey tedium of dull routine. My days don’t make me dull—it’s the other way around.
I can’t speak for others, only for myself. But based upon what I know are my own struggles I recognize them rampant in our world. We have grown achingly bored. We’ve lost our sense of purpose. We have dug our own rut.
The old Baltimore Catechism asked the following question in Chapter 1:
Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.
We are meant for the gift of both sanctifying and actual grace. We can experience these through the Divine Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity (Love). So what are these virtues?
Q. What is Faith?
A. Faith is a Divine virtue by which we firmly believe the truths which God has revealed.
Q. What is Hope?
A. Hope is a Divine virtue by which we firmly trust that God will give us eternal life and the means to obtain it.
Q. What is Charity?
A. Charity is a Divine virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.
We can also receive God’s grace through the Sacraments, but that’s a topic for another day. So, the obvious question:
Q. Is there any other means of obtaining God’s grace than the Sacraments?
A. There is another means of obtaining God’s grace, and it is prayer.
Q. What is prayer?
A. Prayer is the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God to adore Him, to thank Him for His benefits, to ask His forgiveness, and to beg of Him all the graces we need whether for soul or body.
I will be doing more writings on prayer in its various forms in the future as I’ve been doing a lot of research on the subject for a project I’m going to be writing. I can also confess to you that the times in my life where I have not been in the silent anguish of the dull routine of life…and have known and been aware of a purpose for my life…have been times when I’ve immersed myself in the consistency of prayer in one form or the other. In doing so I was placing myself within the reach of God, who is Love itself.
“The lowest of human beings, even though he no longer thinks he can love, still has in him the power of loving… God is love itself… If you want to love, don’t place yourself beyond love’s reach.” – The Diary of a Country Priest by George Bernanos (1936).
Let’s stop wasting our time on useless thoughts. As Andy Defresne told Red in The Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.”