Mind your Mind! A Reflection on the Battleground of the Mind

5.11.16In the Gospel for Mass yesterday (Wednesday after Ascension), the Lord said that the world would hate and persecute the disciples and He thus prayed that we would be consecrated in the truth. In the first reading, St. Paul warned the presbyters that after his departure “savage wolves” would seek to mislead the faithful. We hardly ever talk like this today, but there is a great battle for our hearts and minds. How seriously do we consider this battle?

There is also a tendency today to trivialize and reduce the human person. One of the ways we do this is by claiming that it doesn’t really matter what people think or believe; all that matters is that they behave well. For example, we think that if a man is a good citizen, pays his taxes, doesn’t beat his wife, and is kind to children and animals then it doesn’t matter what he believes. But this trivializes us, because we were made to know the one, true God. We were made to know the truth and, knowing this truth, to be set free (Jn 8:32). God’s plan for us is more than just that we behave well from some humanistic perspective. He offers each of us a complete transformation: a new mind and new heart, attained through personal knowledge and experience of Him. Now all of this will surely affect our behavior, but we must be clear that God is offering us much more than just being considered nice in the eyes of men and getting along with people.

One of the ways Scripture expresses what God is offering us at a deeper level is the appeal to the mind that so frequently occurs in the New Testament. The very first words of Jesus as He began His public ministry announced the invitation to receive a new mind. Sadly, most English translations do not adequately capture what the Greek text actually reports Jesus as saying. Most English renderings of Jesus’ opening words are “Repent and believe the Good News” (cf. Mark 1:15; Matt 3:2). The most common meaning of “to repent” is to reform one’s behavior, to do good and avoid evil, to stop sinning. But the Greek word used in the text is far richer than this. Μετανοείτε (metanoeite) most literally means “to come to a new mind.” It comes from  meta  (hard to translate perfectly into English but often indicating accompaniment, change, or movement of some sort) and nous or noieo (meaning mind or thought). Hence metanoeite means thinking differently, reconsidering, coming to a new mind. So what the Lord is more fully saying is “Come to new mind and believe in the Good News.”

Thus Jesus is not merely saying that we should clean up our act, He is inviting us to come to a new mind, which He alone can give us. If we think differently we will surely act differently. Hence metanoeite can and does include the notion of reformed behavior. But notice that this reformed behavior is the result of a new mind. If we think differently (by the new mind Christ will give us) we will start to see things more as God does. We will share His priorities, His vision. We will love what He loves. We will think more as He does. This, then, will effect a change in our behavior.

There is a famous quote (attributed to various sources) that goes, “Sow a thought, reap a deed. Sow a deed, reap a habit. Sow a habit reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.” Notice how it all begins with the mind. Our mind shapes our decisions, habits, character, and ultimately our destiny.

The mind is the deepest part of the human person. It is not always possible in Scripture to perfectly distinguish between the words mind and heart. Sometimes they are used interchangeably, and at other times distinctively. But for our purposes here, the mind can be understood as quite similar to the heart in that it is at the deepest part of the human person, where thought, memory, imagination, and deliberation take place. The mind is not to be equated merely with the brain or the intellect; it is deeper and richer than these. The mind is not simply a function of the physical body, but rather involves the soul as well. The mind is where we live, think, reflect, ponder, remember, and deliberate.

Hence, in appealing to the mind, God is offering a transformation of the whole human person, for it is from within the mind and heart that all proceeds forth. Good behavior is a nice goal, but God does not trivialize us by trying to reform only our behavior. He offers us much more: to transform us.

Thus, what a person thinks and believes does matter. In these hyper-tolerant times, in which tolerance is one of the few agreed-upon virtues remaining, we like to brush aside the details. We are almost proud of ourselves for affirming that people can think and believe whatever they want as long as they behave well. Well, perhaps a person is free to think whatever he pleases, but we are foolish if we think that this does not ultimately influence behavior. Our dignity is that we were made to know the truth and thus to know Jesus Christ, who is the truth and the only way to the Father (Jn 14:6). Hence our dignity is not just an outer transformation but an inner one as well. In fact, it is an inner transformation that leads to an outer transformation.

Below are a few more Scripture passages that refer to the mind as the locus of transformation and as the main battleground where grace must win. Without a transformed, clear, sober mind we will give way to sin and bad behavior. Transformation begins with the mind. My comments on each text are in red.

  1. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:2). Note that transformation comes by the renewal of our mind.
  2. The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness. … for although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their senseless minds were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools …. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. … he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them (Rom 1:18 ff selectae). Notice how a suppression of the truth leads to a depraved mind, and a depraved mind leads to depraved and shameless behavior. It begins in the mind, which is the real battleground.
  3. Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires (Rom 8:5). Sinful nature proceeds from a worldly mind. Those who have received the gift of the Spirit and embraced it fully have their minds set on what God desires. The remainder of Romans 8 goes on to describe the complete transformation of the human person that results from having a mind set on what God desires.
  4. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor 4:4). This text simply says that worldly thinking leads to spiritual blindness.
  5. So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. You, however, did not come to know Christ that way … put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:17-24) The bad behavior of the Gentiles comes from minds that are frivolous and darkened. The new mind we receive from Christ gives us a new (transformed) self.
  6. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things (Phil 3:19). Destruction comes from a mind that is set on earthly things.
  7. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people (Heb 8:10). God wants to transform us interiorly, not merely to improve our behavior. He wants to give each of us a new mind and heart that have his law written deeply in them.
  8. The double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). When the mind is divided or impure, behavior is corrupted.
  9. Therefore, gird the loins of your mind; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:13). A sober and clear mind that actively seeks God’s will, leads to a self-controlled and hopeful life.
  10. The end of all things is near. Therefore, be of clear mind and self-controlled so that you can pray (1 Peter 4:7). In turbulent times, it is necessary to have a clear, sober mind so as to be able to control one’s behavior and to be serene enough to pray.

The lyrics of this song (“Caribbean Medley” or “I’ve Got My Mind Made Up,” by Donnie McClurkin) say, “I’ve got my mind made up and I won’t turn back because I want to see my Jesus someday.”

4 Replies to “Mind your Mind! A Reflection on the Battleground of the Mind”

  1. I remember when I first started going to church, it seemed as if repenting meant being sorry, a formal apology to be sure, but if you were sorry, you had repented. I didn’t know Greek, didn’t know Swahili, really didn’t know anything and certainly did not know what it meant to repent, but Jesus is fixing that for me. He gave me a verse a while back that on the surface seems to have nothing what-so-ever to do with repenting and yet it has done more for my understanding of what it means to repent then anything else. He told me a day coming when He will separate the sheep from the goats, so if you’re not a goat, you had better start being a sheep. When I was growing up I tried being a goat, I’d try and hang with the bad boys, stay out all night, get into trouble drink a little smoke a little, it seemed as if they were having all the fun, most of the women loved the bad boys and did I ever try to be one of them. But now He has told me perilous times are a coming and it is time to choose which you are going to be. Will you be able when a famine comes trust Jesus or are you going to steal and rob to get what you want? When you see the mob carrying guns and torches and clubs only the goats will be there, if you cannot see yourself in that crowd then you probably are not a goat. But if you want to be a sheep you have to get right with Jesus, you have to let Him purge out all that poison, and it is not easy. The fantasies in my mind always telling me that the next time will be the best are the hardest to overcome, because the reality was never as good as the fantasy, thoughts still intrude while I am sleeping, seeing a pretty woman will trigger thoughts, a scent, seeing someone from my past. It is only the patience and the mercy and the Grace of Jesus teaching me what repentance means that is offering me any chance because I know that I’am not a goat, that I can’t be a goat. Paul said you have to corral your thoughts and in Ezekiel it says that we live in the chambers of our imagery, so true, but there is hope, but first you have to make up your mind are you a sheep or a goat?

    1. I experienced so much familiarity in your words I considered I may have been one of your bros at a point in time. Custody of the eyes, uttering short prayers, (i.e. the Marian prayer is my favorite), and trust is what will get us through these evil thoughts and temptations. A final thought to ponder and meditate upon, one I find particularly strengthening, is from the words of St John Vianney:

      “The greatest of all evils is not to be tempted, because there are then grounds for believing that the devil looks upon us as his property.”

  2. I loved you explanation of metanoia Monsignor. It is the internal war that we fight that is often the hardest. I have heard it said that Calvary was nothing more than the aftermath of the battle Our Lord won in Gethsemane, and I think that there is more than a grain of truth in this.

    If you will permit an aside there is another word in Christ’s proclamation that needs to be discussed: εὐαγγέλιον or Gospel. This word is usually translated as ‘Good News,’ and while that is not incorrect it is not complete. The sense of the word is a great and happy proclamation. In this case it is a proclamation of victory and of life. We must never forget that. This is all about winning. There is too much contemporary Catholic devotional material out there that focuses on the weakness and suffering and pathetic picture of Christ on the Cross but, while there is some truth in this, we must never forget that the Cross was a great victory: the greatest victory ever won in fact. That the crown of thorns on his holy head was not simply an instrument of torment but the laurel crown of a conqueror, and He knew all of this WHILE He was suffering. We must never forget this, especially in the days, weeks, months, and years that must now come.

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