Wednesday, June 3, 2015


As a convert, I'm always behind the curve and am constantly discovering delightful customs that date back centuries. 

One that's come to my attention lately is the phrase "custody of the eyes"--In Latin, custodia occulorum--and its cousins: custody of the ears and custody of the heart. 

These strike me as capital notions. For instance--why does the Church not rise up as one and say that to watch Fox News for five hours, or even five minutes, a day is a giant sin? How can any follower of Christ think it's okay to subject oneself to hate, fear, us versus them, sensationalistic, voyeuristic, profit-based, ratings-desperate dreck? And that's just the news!

A reader once asked: Don't you think we should leave [the formation of our faith and conscience] to those who know better than us? He was referring to EWTN. I replied, "Good God, NO! I don't cede the responsibility for my soul to a television show!" 

Who is encouraging such nonsense! Custody of the eyes, custody of the ears. We will be answerable for our own lives. Read the Gospels. Grope your own way to Christ. 

Beyond that, why are we not outdoors? Why are we not planting a seed, marveling at a leaf, pondering a bird? What about our responsibility to praise? 

We may not be watching porn but we can be watching another kind of porn: stories that are coarse, vulgar, boorish or simply stupid. Stories meant to whip us into panic to stop thinking for ourselves, to anesthetize the existential loneliness and pain that, if we let them, lead us to seek beauty, truth, love. 

And could we possibly have been granted the miracle of life only to squander it watching pet videos?  

Custody of the ears, custody of the eyes. I don't need to be encouraged to fritter away my short time on earth watching and listening to things that don't feed me. I don't need to be encouraged to scandal-monger.I don't need to be encouraged in my resentment, hostility, impatience, distrust, cowardice, fear, willingness to believe the worst about the other.  How can we think this has anything to do with Christ? 

Our "opinions" can't speak any louder than our lives, our purity of heart. What do we look at and listen to? How do we spend our time? How do we order our day? What do our thoughts consist of?

What are our resentments, secrets, fears?

Those are the real things to take into the confessional. 

We can be following the letter of the law and derogating the spirit at every turn.

Learn a musical instrument. Plant a garden. Sit down across from a real, live, breathing human being and listen to his or her story. 

Or better yet--tell your own. 



  1. Bingo. These are my very sentiments. 20 years ago I gave up TV for lent and the box has never reentered my home. It has a been such a gift because it has allowed me to focus on my art . I have so many paintings to create and share and endless encounters with beauty to still discover. Thanks Heather for this post. Enjoy your new home away from home this summer!

  2. "Sit down across from a real, live, breathing human being and listen to his or her story."

    You always seem to post these gems the day after I've been guilty of harangue and irritable polemic! But yes, compassion trumps ideology, and the human heart is the magna veritas that will prevail over politics.

    By the by, I hope you jump ahead in the June Magnificat to the 18th, and read Fr Alfred Delp's very sagacious entry, somewhat similar to the theme you've addressed here.

    And let us all retain our resiliency and sense of humor/humanity!

  3. So happy to hear that I'm not the only one who sees the hatred spewed forth on Fox News.
    EWTN's Raymond Arroyo is another who causes me to arrest my ears, eyes and stomach with some of his very us-versus-them guests -- especially his BFFs, Best Fox Friends.

  4. My gratitude to you for this insight.

  5. Yes, spot on! All of this inspires ...
    Re: the TV ... my housemates and I don't have one and it's amazing how many people comment on this and want to know why. I'ts a beautiful chance to say, "Well, we don't want to get to the end of our lives and realise we spent so much of it in front of the telly...". Plus, most of it is t-r-a-s-h ...

  6. Now there's a provocative post! Give me cat videos, or give me death! I never watch them myself but the wonder of God's creation isn't limited to gardens and humans and such. Simulacrum isn't so bad; art before cameras was extremely realistic and thus a sort of stand-in for the screen.

    I think we all should spend less time on politics unless one feels specifically called in that direction and has something positive to contribute. And obviously MSNBC and the networks deserve as much opprobrium as Fox if not more. Fox News is popular due to the lack of alternatives in the current liberal media environment and as such deserves a place at the table for diversity of opinion. Many who promote diversity, don't much like it in ideas or speech.

  7. Its funny, but I have often wondered why more people DON'T watch pet videos. I find babies and animals unfailingly wonderful, genuine, authentic, unpretentious, and real. No matter how many doting moms and dads and pet owners video their very young children or animals, no matter how much of a cliche their cuteness may be, they - the young children or animals - are always natural. I love to see their un-pretentiousness and their simplicity and, well, what else can i say. It's a thumbs up to pet videos from me. For the rest - i agree.

  8. Thanks to those of you who grasped that the point of the post was that we're called to examine how we spend our time.

    I'm thinking there are two (at least) questions about what I'm watching and listening to. One is whether I'm using books, films, TV, videos, music, etc. to anesthetize myself, to stay stuck, to isolate myself, to create the wrong kind of security, comfort etc. In that case, I'm using even "good" books, films, videos etc. for the wrong reason. I can be learning about jazz, for example, which seems like and is a good thing, but if I'm learning about jazz five nights a week and saying no when someone asks me to come visit them in the hospital, or to attend their birthday party, or when I could make some phone calls to difficult people who I know would like to hear from me, then I have to pay a little more attention.

    The second question has to do with whether what I'm watching or listening to leads toward or away from one of my favorite quotes, which is from 6th c. monk Dorotheus of Gaza: "The root of all disturbance, if one will go to its source, is that no one will blame himself."

    The problem isn't out there. The problem is me. Always. If I'm interpreting neutral comments, or even kindly help, as a challenge, I'm in trouble. If I'm perpetually aggrieved, if I can only communicate by arguing, if I spend my day drafting sharp retorts to some MORON, I'm in trouble.

    If I have to reduce everything said by another into a "political" category, argue points upon which the other has already pleasantly agreed, and create entirely unnecessary drama--for myself and everyone around me--I'm in trouble.

    Because I, for one, don't have time for that!
    Live and let live. Live fully.


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