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September 28, 2015

The spirit of rebellion leads society astray. Of course, many things need to be changed, and advocacy for change may need to be vociferous to be heard. Pope Francis, for example, urges that the economic, political and social systems of the world urgently need radical reform.

The spirit of rebellion that needs to be curtailed is rebellion against God. And that rebellious spirit dwells in the hearts of each person. It is not just the other guy.

Most, if not all, religions understand that purifying the imagination is essential to spiritual maturity. Thoughts not of God must be abandoned. Rebellion against God grows out of the imagination. Thoughts take root in the imagination and expand into action. If the rebellion is to end, one needs to halt first, not the actions, but the thoughts.

Sister Mary Margaret Funk, in her little book Thoughts Matter, issues a challenge to renounce "mindless thoughts." "Only when I sensed the power of my thoughts and was able to renounce them could I hear the ever so small voice of God deep inside," she wrote.

When we consider thoughts that might lead to sin, sexual thoughts may be the first that come to mind. However, sex is only one area where the imagination leads one away from God. There are seven deadly sins. Funk notes that behind each deadly sin lie thoughts that spark sin - thoughts about food, sex, things, anger, dejection, acedia, vainglory and pride.

Both immorality and the life of virtue begin in the imagination. You choose your path by what you allow your heart to ponder.

Our age glorifies rebellion against God and against legitimate authority. It feeds our rebellious imaginations with all eight types of ego-centred thoughts. Yet, when rebellion is proclaimed a virtue, why would one want to extinguish the thoughts that promote it?

Human beings will never be God. However, God offers the gift of sharing in his divinity to those who clear out space in which the Holy Spirit can dwell. "Those who live according to the Spirit," wrote St. Paul, "set their minds on things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8.5-6).

The discipline of a lifetime is to free one's imagination from the spirit of rebellion so the Spirit can enter. This is personal, interior spirituality; it is also a spirituality that reverberates through society, determining whether humanity is headed for good or for ill.