The one who has made an effort to cut down on superfluous material things will find himself less occupied by concerns about maintaining them, repairing them, updating them. The heart begins to be free. It becomes possible to pray more, according to John Cassian. But this does not mean that purity of heart has now been achieved. It is not unusual, under such circumstances, to develop a more intense awareness of one’s own weaknesses and sinful tendencies.
Rather than seeing unending streams of light proceeding from within, one may find what Cassian calls “evil thoughts” emerging. According to Cassian, this shouldn’t come as any surprise, for Jesus himself warns us that this is what we are like: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Mt. 15: 19). Perhaps I am someone who has read that passage many times in scripture, yet, when I finally realise that this is a home truth about me, it can be shocking.
This is where Cassian comes to assist – not with false consolation that endeavours to sweep all the difficulties under the carpet. He comes with true insight into the reality of our interior life. Cassian enumerates eight principal vices, or “evil thoughts,” as he calls them. He calls them “thoughts” because he knows that our deeds, whether good or bad, are conceived first as thoughts before they become actions. So, it is there, on the level of our thoughts, that conversion needs to occur.