Oftentimes we hide thoughts and feelings within ourselves, allowing them to grow and develop in secret, and merely defining ourselves by our actions. Something I heard yesterday put the final piece into my puzzle, so to speak, concerning thought. A man was giving a sermon, or talk, recorded on tape... and said "We say the same thing of all saints, that they remind us of Jesus. Why? They spent their entire lives thinking about and imitating Jesus." Thought is more powerful and influential in our lives then we would like to believe, and the rewards of pursuing sanctity of thought are very great.
A few days ago the gospel message in Mass was this "Your righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and pharisees. If you are angry, be reconciled, do not foster jealousy or hatred in your hearts." While this is not word for word from Scripture, it is enough to see that Jesus wanted more than good acts, He wants us to be good within and without. He tells us that lust in the heart is already a sin, and that hatred within us is also sinful. We may never let these thoughts become actions, and still they are harmful. Why?
Say, for a moment, that you are very angry with someone for something they did to you. Perhaps you will speak within your heart: "I hate him! I wish he was dead! Oh, how I'd get back at him to show him how he's hurt me if only I have the chance..." Perhaps you don't have the chance to "get back at him", but are you able to love him? Maybe you say you forgive, but could you embrace him? But, what of this? It would seem that it is not important if you are never this fully reconciled... after all, you could just break off the friendship and never speak to this person again. Jesus has told us differently, we are to love each other as He loves us, and if we do not, we are unable to love Him fully.
No matter how secret our thoughts and dreams are, God knows them and we know them. By hiding a darkness in ourselves, by pulling it farther and farther from the light, we allow it to take hold of us and corrupt us from where we are most susceptible: from within. Maybe we doubt the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and think in our hearts that we doubt, and thus receive Him as a mere formality. Maybe other areas of our faith have been scrutinized and rejected in our hearts, though we continue attending Mass every Sunday, we fall away. Perhaps we think about lust, impurity, demons, evils of all kinds... we hurt ourselves, we begin to feel caged by law, and we allow this corruption to control us. Evil never remains in the heart, what we are within will show without sooner or later.
We are called to be saints, to be perfect as Jesus is perfect, and therefore we must try to be saintly in our thoughts. St. Paul tells us to desire the better gifts, for if we desire them, we shall have them. Jesus tells us that to love God is the greatest commandment, and to love our neighbor is next. If we claim to love, say that we love, we shall truly love and shall discover the God who is love. St. Thomas Aquinas says: "What does it take to be a saint? Will it." If we desire to be saints, truly desire to be saints, we can become them.
If we pray the rosary, meditate on the Scripture, study God in our hearts, and participate in the Mystery of the Mass, we will become more and more like Christ. If our orientation is on heaven, and we want holiness, these thoughts, these desires, will become our active pursuits. If we dream of Christ and of Heaven, we will increase in the virtue of hope, and will find peace, a peace which others can recognize in us. By cleaning our hearts of evil, and filling them with good, the darkness that could enslave us comes more and more into the light... and we find, to our joy, that we are freed of the confines of evil which hinder our spirituality and willingness to do good.
My whole vocation has been a living example of this principle. I was still very young when I read my first saint books, and decided that I too would like to be a saint. I grew up reading their lives, learning from them, and trying to imitate them. For a time my actions were poor imitations of theirs... I prayed, practiced certain austerities, pursued a religious vocation, tried constantly to love Jesus, and sought to be an instrument of peace. Then I found a greater pursuit: union with Christ. I saw the Mystery, and wanted it, and my vocation is a fruit of this desire. I would not be so bold to say that if God had not so tenderly guided my young mind, my thoughts and my desires, I would be where I am today and pursuing the vocation I am pursuing. Even someone like me can find this great good, if only I seek it. I will try my whole life and never reach the greatness of the saints, I will still be weak and unable to achieve perfection, but by merit of my intent and desire to be good, Jesus' mercy will accept me into the throngs of the blessed.
Let us pray then that our thoughts, as well of our deeds, are always in active pursuit of sanctity. This is what it takes to be a saint, and to disregard our thoughts is dangerous.