Renewal of the Mind

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Yesterday I took an online test on the BBC website to determine whether I think more like a man or a woman.  Don’t worry.  I think like a man.  And yet sometimes, that statement “You think like a man” is not always spoken in a positive way.  When I hear people say “You think like a man,” I imagine what they meant to say was “You think like a pig,” which incidentally is never ever meant as a compliment.  And yet I have no earthly clue how anyone could conclusively know how a pig would think!  I have never heard of a scientific study that can make such a claim.  Remarkably, if a woman was told to just quit “thinking like a woman for ten minutes,” it would be considered highly offensive!  Yet that is who we are, and some things about us are determined by biology.

Nonetheless our culture and language have developed ways of expressing that unique human ability to detach oneself from one’s predetermined mindset, and inhabit someone else’s brain, woman or man, child or adult, liberal or conservative, even for just a brief moment.  “Imagine what it must be like in someone else’ shoes.”  Somehow that image doesn’t sound much like we would accurately identify with another person’s troubles just by wearing their shoes, because if the shoes don’t fit, you’ll either be in a lot of pain or you’ll resemble someone who typically wears a red nose and lives in a giant tent.  But we are able in some fashion to imagine how another person might think or act.  We ourselves might not arrive at the same conclusion, but we can follow their thought process, maybe even put our finger where we encounter a disconnect.  We all think the way we like, and most of us like the way we think.

What it comes down to is a matter of perspective.  It is often not fundamentally the difference between right and wrong, although some people can be so passionate about the truth they perceive that they cannot reasonably imagine anyone perceiving a different truth altogether … Dr. Sheldon Cooper, for instance, as well as the growing number of candidates with political aspirations.  Rather, when it comes to perspectives, there is always the likelihood that another, or many other perspectives exist.  The church certainly teaches the existence of absolute truth, but not every person is able to comprehend absolute truth.  And the existence of absolute truth is not altered by a person’s inability to comprehend it, much like the existence of God does not depend on whether or not people choose to believe in him.  Faith is both God’s invitation and a free choice we make.  Yet some people choose not to believe despite God’s invitation.  Ultimately, absolute truth will always be beyond our ability to understand completely.  So we take truth in smaller portions, and sometimes we come across people who possess a portion of the truth that we have never encountered.  If our minds and hearts are open to different perspectives from our own, we just might add to our store of truth, and even learn something of another person’s mindset.  We don’t have to agree with the conclusions they arrive at necessarily, but we get a broader view.  And if we come to a new understanding, we arrive at new truths we did not know before – about ourselves, about other people, about the world around us, even about God.

In fact, in his letter to the Romans from which we read today, Paul insists that we offer our bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, [our] spiritual worship.”  We are to resist the present age with its seductions, and “be transformed by the renewal of [our] mind, that [we] may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”  When our mind is renewed by this offering of our bodies as a living sacrifice to God, we take on a fresh new way of thinking, a new perspective that is alien to unbelievers and those who live and work on a merely secular or worldly plane.  One who has been enlightened by God can sometimes feel disconnected from their former way of life.  They know there is something different about themselves, although they might not be able to name it.  They see with new eyes.  They grasp with new minds.  They understand with new hearts.

Every so often I come across an author, a film director, or some celebrity being interviewed on the radio or TV, who will admit to being raised Catholic, but sadly is no longer actively engaged in the practice of the faith.  I seldom listen to strictly religious programs, so I welcome different perspectives and insights.  I am convinced a level of openness helps me understand how to do my job better, as I can get a telling glimpse of the gap that separates my perception from their perception of what it means to be Catholic.  For instance, I recall an author talk about how he accomplished everything that was required of Catholics growing up, including but not limited to receiving the sacrament of Confirmation.  Often this is the point that marks the end of some people’s identification with the Catholic Church.  They fulfilled what was required of them, they graduated, they haven’t been back since.  They don’t see the need to return since they figure they didn’t get anything good in exchange.  The demands of their baptism are seen only in light of the senses and the mentality of the prevailing culture.  Only those things are of any worth that serve a material purpose, that attracts attention, that enhances one’s stature, that keeps one in the good graces of the powers that be.  Values beyond this earthly existence are of little consequence.  If you can’t take it with you when you die, how could it be worth the trouble?

That is why when Jesus suggested his hour glory was fast approaching, that he would soon be fulfilling the purpose for which the Father sent him, that he would have to suffer greatly at the hands of the elders, the chief priests, and scribes, that he would be put to death and be raised on the third day, he was met with opposition from Peter, and perhaps less vocally from some of his other disciples.  “God forbid, Lord!  No such thing shall ever happen to you!”  What Jesus saw as his hour of glory, the fulfillment of his purpose on earth, was foreign to those whose vision was limited by their physical senses, whose values coincided only with those of the prevailing secular culture, which centered around material happiness and external appearance and popular acclaim.  “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”  That would have been no surprise, as Jesus’ disciples were all human beings.  But despite their daily contact with the only-begotten Son of the Father, despite their daily exposure to his teachings, his marvelous signs, and the example of his holy life, they still did not see past their earthly existence.  The renewal of their minds was yet to come.  We know they would be different people after the resurrection, that they would undergo profound transformation … but not yet.  Like the prophet Jeremiah, the time would come when the fire of God’s Spirit will burn in their hearts, and they will not be able to hold it in.  Thinking as God does will become second nature.  And they would not think twice about handing their lives over in the face of great persecution, because nothing in this world would be of greater value than the Kingdom of God, while the world dismissed them as they did their Master, who incidentally did not think like they did.  Have you began to see with new eyes yet, or are you still awaiting the renewal of your mind?