The Importance of Thinking


Our Lord expects each of us to use the mind He has given us.

In his address to the bishops of New York during their "ad limina" visit, which canon law mandates for every five years, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of "an increased sense of concern on the part of many men and women, whatever their religious or political views, for the future of our democratic societies. They see a troubling breakdown in the intellectual, cultural and moral foundations of social life, and a growing sense of dislocation and insecurity, especially among the young".

I became mindful of this on a train when someone seated behind me spoke interminably on a cell phone about shopping for sweaters. It would be pedantic in such a circumstance to expect a conversation about polyphony, nuclear physics, or the Cambridge Platonists, but what was miserable, apart from the inconsequential subject being discussed, was the repetitiousness, profanity, and inarticulateness of the speaker – not to mention the unmodulated voice that sounded like Minnie Mouse on helium – and the total lack of regard for the other passengers. Some trains now have a "quiet car," as though silence were an oddity reserved for eccentrics. Perhaps trains will soon have a "thinking car" for those who want to perpetuate the dying custom of using one's mind.

It was "in the wilderness" – the Biblical equivalent of a "quiet car" – that John the Baptist appealed to those willing to think. Only by thinking can people avoid "dislocation and insecurity," and only by thinking about the deepest things can the "intellectual, cultural and moral foundations of social life" avoid breakdown.

Our Lord expects each of us to use the mind He has given us, and daily to be discontented with the little we know about our world. When a society breaks down, the best that dislocated and insecure people can hope for is that they might "feel good about themselves". It is a limited aspiration. St. Augustine said, "If you would obtain what you are not yet, you must always be displeased by what you are. For when you are pleased with yourself, there you have remained".

If I should have the chance to listen in on a saint talking on a cell phone, I expect that the conversation would be edifying and articulate. I do remember speaking over the telephone with Blessed Teresa of Calcutta about a newspaper that had misquoted her, and she was brief, to the point, and blunt. There was nothing dislocated or insecure in her simple eloquence, and – although she was surrounded by noise – her voice was both quiet and quieting. That is the essence of prayer, and we may be thankful that we do not need a telephone to talk to God. We only need to direct our thoughts to Him. That is what John the Baptist was saying in the wilderness. Some people thought he was crazy, but he would have said the same thing about that person on the train shouting four-letter words over a cell phone.




Father George William Rutler. "The Importance of Thinking." From the Pastor (December 11, 2011).

Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.


Father Rutler received priestly ordination in 1981. Born in 1945 and reared in the Episcopal tradition, Father Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979 and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. Father Rutler graduated from Dartmouth, where he was a Rufus Choate Scholar, and took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1989 he was regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford. Cardinal Egan appointed him Pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, effective September 17, 2001.

Since 1988 his weekly television program has been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Father Rutler has published 17 books, including: Cloud of Witnesses - Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2011 Father George W. Rutler

Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter



Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.