What Does it Mean to "Dwell" on Thoughts?


I’ve often heard it said by both people online and by priests that thoughts aren’t a sin unless one dwells on them. This makes sense, because even if we “will” a thought it’s probably only partially willed because it’s impossible to think of nothing, and if a random thought appears it’s totally unintentional.

Now here’s the question: What does dwelling mean? Do I understand it correctly?

Here’s two examples.

1.) Somehow you come up with a humorous thought that uses the Lord’s name in vain. Probably when daydreaming or the like. The intent is probably negligible because you would never intentionally try to think the Lord’s name in vain. Once realized, you decide to ignore the thought.

2.) Your mind conjures up impure images from before you were Catholic (or perhaps unintentionally viewed images). You realize the thoughts, then ignore them to get rid of them.

I guess I’d just like a definition of what the Catholic meaning of “Dwelling” is in regards to sin.


I would call it “dwelling” if we intentionally bring up those thoughts and spend lots of time entertaining them. The word means:

  1. to remain for a time
  2. to live as a resident

It comes from the Old English “dwellan,” meaning “to go astray.”

Does that help?


To embrace, to examine for pleasure, to think about for the sake of consideration, to avoid shunning, to allow to continue, etc., etc., etc.

We are to avoid sinful thoughts and to call upon God and Our Lady and other intercessors when we come across them. We are to flee those thoughts, because playing with temptation is like playing with a tar baby.

When we do the opposite of that, we are (to a lesser or greater extent) dwelling on those thoughts.

Just don’t get too formulaic and legalistic. Christ is not a calculus equation, He’s a person who loves you and who desires you.

Jesus, I love you, possess me.


In your examples this does not seem to me like dwelling.
dwelling could look like

  1. yeah bob would like that maybe even jim and you think of their reactions as you tell your funny to them. Then moving on to different pastures of the mind and not rejecting this thought could be sinful.
  2. Oh yeah that was hot! same as above.


Thanks for the replies! I thought it was something along those lines. :thumbsup:


I think this is an area where it’s really easy to get paranoid, too. It’s impossible to try NOT to think of something. For example, if I say “don’t think about a pink elephant” your mind is going to conjure an image of a pink elephant. Similarly, if you tell yourself “don’t think blasphemous thoughts” or “don’t picture lewd images” your mind is going to do just that. The harder you try to fight it, the more your mind will bring it to the surface.


Yes as even ancient Christian Spiritual writers have noted for centuries :slight_smile:
To re-post a post of mine from another thread (getting into things in general - I have not read all of the thread here):


All sorts of thoughts can happen to us out of the blue…

(not sought…one is not say entering into a near occasion willie nillie etc…they just happen…one does not want them…they may even be rather annoying…)

Be they impure etc

The fact that a thought happened to one- does not mean per se there was any sin.

And for mortal sin one needs not only grave matter, full knowledge and deliberate (complete) consent…

Just cause a thought happened to you does not mean there was any sin. Let alone mortal sin.

Just calmly turn to something good…


For the next few moments --try real hard NOT to think of an Apple.

then scroll down.

What did you think of?

An apple.

Even though your will was against it (you did not want to think of an apple!)

Now back to unwanted thoughts…

The more you fear and try hard not to have them…the more they will likely come and bother you.

The best thing to do with such thoughts is not to fight them directly --not fear that they will come—simply do not consent and simply and calmly turn to something else…(or it may be best to keep doing the good thing one is doing…like they come out of the blue when your at work …keep working…keep praying …etc)

It is an age old trouble that can happen - as one can find in spiritual works down through the ages.

There is a story from the desert of the early Centuries of the Church where a younger hermit when to an older one with the problems of thoughts happening to him all the time…the older hermit told him to go outside open his cloak and catch the wind.

The younger hermit said such is not possible…

the older hermit replied --neither is it possible to stop all the thoughts that can come to you…(then basically he said his task was not to consent…if they should happen…hence I would add one would turn to something else that is good…).

Ignore such unwanted thoughts like one would ignore a hissing goose or a barking dog. One does not stop to argue with a hissing goose or a barking dog does one? No one keeps on walking…

(as noted above the image there comes from a Carthusian Monk from centuries ago…)

Ignore such unwanted thoughts and do not fear them…just calmly turn to something good.

I will note for some - they may struggle with OCD - in which case they ought to seek out medical assistance (site I heard on Cath. Answers and saved for those it would be helpful for catholictherapists.com/)


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