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Captured: Weekly Message for 06-22-2021
Dear Friends in Christ,
St. Mary Magdelen dei Pazzi, a Carmelite nun and mystic once contemplated Our Lord’s Passion as a child, only eight or nine years old, and it moved her so deeply that one night she wove a crown of thorns for herself and wore it as penance. Her imagination had been captured and she put it into practice.
When I was a Brother on the path to the priesthood on two occasions I witnessed how giving a blank paper and crayons to some rambunctious children waiting for their parents captured their attention and their imagination. We’ve all imagined and pretended all sorts of things in our childhood, often inspired by the videos we’ve seen and the books we’ve read. Entertainment often strives to capture our imagination with drama, super-heroes, space operas, fantasy, romance, horror, and numberless other ideas about persons, places, events, and things.
Sometimes we forget that the goal of art is to represent reality or depict imagination inspired by reality, but it is not a substitute for what it portrays. A definition of mental illness is the disconnect in the afflicted person between what is real and what isn’t. The greater the disconnect, the greater the illness as they clash repeatedly with the truth around them and in them that doesn’t correspond to what is really real. Many forms of entertainment today try to help their consumers escape reality, and the investment of time, attention, and even aspiration for those imagined realities can wound us spiritually and even mentally instead of helping us to relax. People who struggle in life and with low self-esteem can easily slip into aspiring for imagined things that either never can be or never should be, paving the way to unhappiness, mental illness, or sin. They can also lose themselves in fantasy at the expense of their reality.
The imagination is not just a weakness or an escape hatch from life. St. Ignatius of Loyola as part of his Spiritual Exercises proposed a technique to use during contemplative prayer called a composition of place. Composition of place consists of using your imagination to envision an event, moment, place, or person from Sacred Scripture and putting yourself there to see what insights and sentiments arise. You not only wield your imagination; you invite the Holy Spirit to capture it and shape it as well.
When is the last time you’ve really contemplated a moment in Our Lord’s life that speaks to you? Identified with one of his disciples in a deeper way? Composition of place helps you set the scene, the actors, the drama, and the emotion, but you don’t do it alone. The Lord works through your imagination to speak to you. The added benefit of contemplating Sacred Scripture and the saints is that it gradually shapes your dreams and aspirations so that when contrary ones try to capture your imagination (or even enslave it) you can identify and avoid the danger more effectively. The Word of God, whether the Person of Jesus Christ or Sacred Scripture, is not just a fantasy; it is the truth that seeks to truly lead you to something beyond your dreams: Heaven.
May the Lord capture your imagination now and always.
Father Nikola Derpich, L.C.
Maximizing the Mass