A few months ago I caught part of an old episode of Leave it to Beaver, that late 1950’s family television series. Apparently The Beav (one of the sons) was distraught that his baby picture didn’t win a contest. His father, Ward, tried to console him using the “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” line. Ward went on to add, “Sometimes, ugliness is too,” and for those who would laugh at the picture, Ward said, well, the “ugliness was in their head.”
So the Beav, clearly inquiring for all of America, asks, “Do you mean that all of the bad stuff in the world is in people’s minds, then?” Ward answered, “A lot of it is.”
Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful to believe that all the bad stuff was just in our heads?
While it may seem that Ward totally missed the boat here–because there is definitely penetrating evil in the world today–he may not have been completely wrong. I am thinking of that passage from Mark 7:18 where the disciples of Jesus started questioning him about what he had been saying to the Pharisees and the crowds that had gathered around him.
“Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”
Now Jesus had been speaking about all of the burdens the Pharisees had been placing on people (such as ritual purifcation, handwashing, etc.), but in verses 21-23 he also went on to say: “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
So, back to Ward. Is the ugliness in our heads? Where does the first thought of evil come from anyway?
Consider this. A thought enters your head and you meditate on it. You let your imagination run with it. Now if it is a good thought, wonderful. But what if you are dreaming up a mean retort, or imagining that your twisted sense of justice be delivered to one who has treated you unfairly? While at that point the ugliness is still in our head, we must be careful, for we may easily be tempted to act upon it. I suppose our ruminations would fit in the category of “evil thoughts” on St. Mark’s list, although the sense of them being evil may be a little strong.
You see, our bad thoughts can lead us into danger if we entertain them too long, or enjoy them too much. Thinking a thought that pops into our head is not sinful, but dwelling on thoughts that are not healthy can be, or they can lead us into sin. That is why, if we find them prevailing over us, it is best to find a remedy for ridding ourselves of them.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes varying degrees of sin (venial/mortal). Jesus provides the remedy for sin in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But, even after we have admitted our sin and been forgiven for it, there is still work to be done. The damage our sin has caused is very real and needs to be repaired as best we can. As we move through these days of Lent, it becomes especially important that we set our hearts on Jesus. Once freed of the immediate sins we commit, we should begin to examine how to amend our lives so that we have the best possible chance of avoiding those sins in the future.
If what we have within is in danger of defiling the outside, then we better make very sure our “within” is as clean as possible. We will want to be aware of any tendency to dwell on that which we may be tempted to act upon. It is there, in our actions fed by our inclination to sin, that the “ugliness in our heads” becomes the “bad stuff in the world.”
This is truly the work of not only Lent, but also of the entire year. This is a time of cleansing that helps us turn away from sin. This is conversion. We are not converted when we acknowledge and confess our sins and continue on our way, the same as before. Conversion is transformation. Our lives will look different when they are transformed by Christ.
While poor Ward Cleaver is often mocked for his holier-than-thou attitude, and The Beav is often made fun of for his naivete, maybe they shouldn’t be dismissed so quickly by those of us who still need to work on ridding ourselves of the ugliness in our heads.
Copyright 2012 Janet Cassidy