Cognitive Therapy

Being at IPF is always a wonderful time to gather many precious stones of insight from the extraordinary minds of those spiritual giants that assemble here each summer. I will try to share what I can here as I am able so you, too, can have a share in these riches.


Yesterday, I spoke with a priest from Malta who was celebrating that very day his 25th anniversary of priestly ordination. After I wished him well, he said to me with great directness and simplicity:

I awoke this morning and at once prayed the Te Deum (see here for text). My priesthood is not about me, but (as he pointed up) about Him. I am so grateful to have been given this gift, but we’ll see what God thinks of what I’ve made of it. Pope Francis said recently, If someone says to you, “I chose to be a priest,” or, “I chose this vocation,” say back to them, “No, no, you are mistaken! You did not choose, but you were chosen; it’s all gift.”

As I thought about these words later, I re-appreciated the crucial importance of gratitude as the firm ground of humility. In a genuinely grateful person, you see joy, you see generosity and you see a self-effacing approach to their achievements. I have always been arrested by the thought that absolutely everything we have is received. Just think, our very existence at every nanosecond stands on the precipice of non-being as we rest on God’s sustaining will by which we continue in existence. As someone I know once said, “God forgets you for a second, poof! you’re gone.” And more, everything we receive from God we hold in store for His glory and the well-being of others (which is really a tautology), but especially for the well-being of those who sin against us (cf. Luke 6:32). This last point explicates the inner logic of the Holy Eucharist that inextricably joins Jesus’ thanksgiving, his love of the Father’s glory, and his sacrificial love wholly out-poured on us sinners (cf. Romans 5:8).

Incidentally, after our exchange, I asked Fr. Malta if I could share his words publicly. He said with a wry smile,

Sorry, everything I say is copyrighted, meaning that you have the right to copy everything I say. I have to say, we Westerners are so obsessed with “my rights” — my private property and my possessive ownership — that we often forget all we are given we are given to give away. Bonum est diffusivum sui, ‘goodness shares itself out.’ Every gift of the good God is good, and so if I possesses a gift I must always be anxiously concerned to carefully decide, not whether I will give that gift away, but how and to whom I will rightly give it; who will benefit from it.


Later that same day, in a brilliant lecture on Ignatian discernment of spirits, Fr. Tim Gallagher quoted St. Benedict in regard to the importance of “guarding our thoughts”:

As soon as wrongful thoughts come into your heart, dash them against the rock of Christ.

That set my mind a’wandering.

Christians who wish to grow in the spiritual life must bring all of their thinking to Jesus – in prayer, in the evening examination of consciousness, when we read, in conversations, or when we are assailed by thoughts of fear or temptation — and frequently pause in the midst of our ceaseless cogitations to relate thoughts to Jesus. Why? So that we might deepen our communion and intimacy with him, and draw our mind into greater harmony with his. St. Paul makes this point beautifully in 2 Cor. 10:5: “…take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.” How we think about ourselves, loved ones, friends, co-workers, politicians, church leaders, as well as our convictions, opinions, doubts and beliefs must be brought into the light of Christ regularly.

As Catholics, we affirm that the teaching of the Holy Scriptures as interpreted by the Church is the authentic, authoritative, trustworthy and definitive manifestation of the thinking of the Risen Jesus. Hence, obedience to the Church’s voice is obedience to Christ’s voice (cf. Luke 10:16). Even as this might present a stinging challenge to our warped perception that obedience to truth threatens our rightful and autonomous freedom, it also offers us a wonderful relief in the knowledge that we need not stumble about in the darkness seeking Christ’s mind on this or that point (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15). That said, there is much that is unique to our own individual life circumstances, unique personality, particular relationships, personal vocation. In addition, the application of general truths of faith and morals to very specific situations requires detailed, intimate and constant engagement of my mind with Jesus’ mind. “Lord, what should I think of this?” This is what we call the work of discernment, that art of bringing our thinking, choosing, desiring, feeling into harmony with the mind and will of Jesus by means of a refined attentiveness to the movements of the Holy Spirit.

But my point here is to simply emphasize the essential value of baring your thoughts to God, being open to God baring His thoughts to you, and petitioning Him for light to illumine your path.


A number of years ago, I knew a Catholic woman who was advanced both in years and in holiness, a rustic mystic if there ever was one. She was speaking once about the importance of sharing our inner lives very openly and honestly with Christ in prayer. Even relating to Him the minor details of our day. This was a new insight for me. She shared a remarkable story to illustrate her point on this matter:

One day I was praying in the evening after a long and hard day. I prayed Vespers, spent time interceding for the many people I am bound to pray for daily, but at the end of my prayer time I felt the Lord say to me very tenderly, “Why did you not tell me of the details of your day, of your smallest concerns and joys?” I was taken aback, and said, “Lord, they seem so trivial!” I again felt the Lord’s voice whisper back, “Like the hairs on your head…” I knew he was speaking of the Gospel [Luke 12:7].

What I suddenly realized as the Lord spoke these words was not only that he was very surprisingly interested in my small and insignificant life — what love! — but that whatever I withheld from him, fail to freely reveal to him, he could not bring under his sway; could not heal, purify or illumine with his kindly light.

This all reminded me, finally, of a lovely music video someone sent me recently that sets Bl. Newman’s prayer, Lead, Kindly Light to song and homey image. Enjoy:

3 comments on “Cognitive Therapy

  1. […] Being at IPF is always a wonderful time to gather many precious stones of insight from the extraordinary minds of those spiritual giants that assemble here each summer. I will try to share what I can here as I am able so you, too, can have a share …read more […]

  2. Paige says:

    Dr. Neal, Thank you for sharing these precious stones! This was a very helpful blog for me today. Hope to catch up with you soon. God bless

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