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September 15, 2008

Many priests, when asked about the roots of their vocations, say that as young boys they would pretend to celebrate the Mass. I did that too although I never darkened the door of a seminary later in life.

Another thing I did with greater perseverance was to play at being a newspaper editor. For four or five years in elementary school, I edited either my own or the class newspaper. At first, my mother typed it up and I distributed a few copies to the neighbours. Then, it became a class project.

Becoming a newspaper editor when I grew up was never a goal I set for myself. It was rather something that was in my blood.

In the last two articles in this series – on July 21 and Sept. 8 – I discussed how St. Paul saw idolatry – turning away from God to gods of our own making – as the basic sin. The antidote to this sin lies in thanksgiving, in humble awe before the Source of All That Is.

We need to poke at these ideas a little more.

Several times in his letters, St. Paul tells the Christian communities to put on the mind of Christ. In his letter to the Romans, he urges, "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (12:2). This transformation of the mind comes through following God's will, not the ways of the world.

t. Joseph Basilica in Edmonton is home to this stained glass image of St. Paul.


St. Joseph Basilica in Edmonton is home to this stained glass image of St. Paul.

In his next chapter, he tells the Romans, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh" (13:14).

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, "We have the mind of Christ" (2:16). In writing to the Philippians, he urges them, "Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus" (2:5). He goes on to describe how Christ was glorified only by humbling himself and then allowing himself to be further debased by humans.


Then, in his letter to the Colossians, Paul says, "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (3:2). How does one do this? By living a life "hid with Christ in God."

It is in a hidden life, not in a life of self-glorification, that one puts on the mind of Christ. Paul goes on to enumerate some of the virtues of this hidden life – compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, patience, forbearance and forgiveness.

He does not tell us that we must "have" these virtues; he says we must put them on.

This notion of putting on virtues, putting on Christ, is a curious one. In a way, it is like my experience of playing at being a newspaper editor as a child. You pretend, or act out, being Jesus Christ and you start to become Christ. There is no magic in this. Pretence becomes reality through a sort of osmosis.

In the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, "We become what we allow our minds to dwell upon." This is a crucial spiritual insight, one to which we pay too little heed. We think we can watch trashy movies or non-stop sports without it affecting who we are.

When you become engaged in watching a football game, you become football. Frankly, it's better to put on the mind of Christ than to put on the mind of football.


This is not to suggest there is no room for such diversions. But we should know what we are doing when we engage in them and not kid ourselves that we can spend all our time on idle pursuits without them deeply affecting who we are. When they do, we are guilty of idolatry.

The best way of putting on the mind of Christ is through prayer or, more precisely, through meditation, adoration and thanksgiving. Prayer of petition is good too, but in this type of prayer, our minds can become focused on the object of our desire rather than on God.

We become what we adore. We become what we meditate on.

Father Romano Guardini, a 20th century spiritual master, wrote, "Man's real world is, as it were, above him. Praising God means ascending into the homeland of our spirit where, it may be said, we truly live."

We can live in the true world or we can live in falsehood.

But even when we are not formally praying – even when we are at work, with our families or watching football – we can still put on the mind of Christ.

We must be attentive, however, and seek to view the world through the eyes of faith. "Every moment is crammed with infinite riches," wrote Jean Pierre de Caussade. "The present moment is an ever-flowing source of holiness."

Therein lies the difference between putting on the mind of a newspaper editor and putting on the mind of Christ. The newspaper editor can be left at the office; the mind of Christ should go everywhere. We should seek to be Christ in the moment that has been given.