“What’s in your wallet?” Now, I’m actually not at all interested in the answer to this question, especially as long as we can keep paying our bills and keep the lights on in the church. But no matter how much or little media you consume, over the past decade you probably have come across this advertising tagline from Capital One Bank, usually delivered by the actors Samuel L. Jackson or Jennifer Garner.
If I had the money that Capital One Bank has for these ubiquitous commercials, I would spend it on ads that shout, “What’s in your interior monologue?” It’s not as catchy, but it’s more important.
The action of today’s Gospel parable – such as it is – takes place in the interior monologue of the dishonest judge. It’s there that we learn that he doesn’t fear God nor respect other human beings. We learn that he just cares about himself, and will make his decision in favor of the widow only because he doesn’t want to be bothered anymore. In telling this parable, Jesus doesn’t feel the need to tell us how the story works out. What we need to know is all in the judge’s thoughts.
Thoughts matter. They are the seedbed for our action and an X-ray of our character. In the practice of our faith, I wonder how much we acknowledge the importance of our thoughts. In the penitential rite, at times we confess what we do in “my thoughts, in my words” and at times in individual confession we might confess a jealous or impure thought. But how often do we think about our thoughts? For most of us, our ongoing interior monologue is more or less similar to that of the judge; it’s self-serving, it reinforces our ego.
At the very least, paying no attention to our thoughts creates what the Buddhists call the “monkey mind”: the chaotic and unsettled and disconnected nature of our thoughts. It is said that the average person has about 6,000 thoughts each day, and those thoughts are all over the place.
As Catholics, we have a wonderful contemplative tradition of clearing the mind and stilling our thoughts. From the time of the desert fathers and mothers, we have developed wonderful wisdom and methods of meditation and contemplation to stop the endless run of thoughts and empty our minds to listen to God. An example, from the fourth century monk Abba Evagrius, who once said, “If any monk wishes…to gain experience in his monastic art, then let him keep careful watch over his thoughts. Let him observe their intensity, their periods of decline, and follow them as they rise and fall.”
And here’s the thing that brings today’s Gospel full circle: The ceaseless prayer that Jesus speaks of as a necessity in today’s Gospel starts with a mind free of distractions.