Sunday, October 22, 2006

Open Minds

"The degree of surprise is the function of the openness of mind."
Fr. Stanley Jaki, The Relevance of Physics, p. 85

My experience is that whenever prayer is 'boring', it is because I think I know how it's supposed to go ("Been there, done that"). One of the great advantages of lectio divina is that it constantly challenges my idea of what thoughts I should or should not have at prayer, and what God should or should not be trying to say to me.

Chesterton once quipped that the purpose of an open mind is like that of an open mouth: to close on a good idea and chew it (I paraphrase). This is a good warning from the other side, that at some point, we must stake out some conviction in the world of ideas. Too much openness can lead to cowardliness or cynicism about the Church's message. Such was the case of those who refused to convert, claiming John the Baptist to be a demoniac and Jesus a glutton. In such a case, we actually end up closing our minds to the possibility of Truth.

However, in my experience today, the problem Fr. Jaki is describing is the more pressing of the two because more hidden. Many people today claim to have open minds but in fact have ruled out any challenges to their personal world view. Such is the scourge of individualism: to give each person the right to his own truth is to exile him to his own isolation from intimacy or even simple human conversation. Catholics might reasonably level this criticism against atheists or the 'spiritual but not religious' adherents, but we need also to ask this of ourselves: do my ideas of God, of the Church, of theology, give me an excuse not to listen to another's point of view? Do my fixed ideas seem to excuse me from obedience to a pastor or a bishop, since his views must be 'heretical'? This is a dangerous game to play with those God has chosen as our shepherds. As Abbot Marmion wrote: the Abbot (and by extension the pastor or bishop) might well be wrong; he is a fallible human being. The one who is never wrong is the one who obeys those in authority. This gift to God is the source of many supernatural graces. But it will never be ours if, by a closed mind, we fail to hear the obedience being asked of us.

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may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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