Wednesday of the Twenty–Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious:
immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry,
sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy,
outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness,
dissensions, factions, occasions of envy,
drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.
I warn you, as I warned you before,
that those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
Those who deny the spirit usually do so in order to dismiss the good that comes with the life of spirit. The allure of the flesh drives their mind to adopt the necessary logic to justify their skepticism. As Paul says in Philippians 3:19, “Their God is their stomach.” In most cases, their appetites, not their minds, direct their course through life and all good things eventually fall by the wayside while every evil thing crops up on the horizon.
In the struggle for holiness, no one should imagine that it is a conflict of mind over the body—the body will win every time—but rather is a conflict of the soul with the flesh. The very force that works upon the mind and the will, one’s own spirit, must subdue the other force that can do the same, one’s body. While not inherently evil, the body can open the forces of evil into one’s life if not controlled. Like an ignorant mob instigating a reign of prejudice and terror that tears apart the history and culture of a nation, the unbridled impulses of the body can decimate the nobler parts of a man. The life of the spirit properly contains these hordes and channels their energy towards more constructive ends. The spiritual individual can truly regain his humanity and adopt the virtues that Paul speaks of: “ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
Unfortunately, the soul often loses in its struggle with the body. After all, the body has the world on its side while the soul has God, whom many people foolishly choose to ignore. The lonely soldier that fights for the soul easily succumbs to the throng of armies fighting for the body. Neutrality does not exist in the battlefield of the one’s self: either the spirit rules or the flesh does; any wavering on this point inevitably favors the latter.
At first the victory of the flesh over the soul feels wonderful. One can sin with utter abandonment, delighting in the pleasures of the world. Jettisoning the burden of self-sacrifice and personal growth, the sinner can live like a child again except with the strength and spending-power of an adult. Anything seems possible in those early period of the flesh: relationships, food, politics, and entertainment all serve as perfectly fine idols to worship. All one has to do is have these things at hand forever until they die in perfect ignorant bliss. To this end, human progress has made great strides in supplying the spiritually impoverished with all the bodily goods they could possibly want.
However, these goods, these friendly ubiquitous idols, suffer the same fate as the bodies they satisfy: they grow old and pass away. Lust does not last, nor does gluttony, nor does vanity, nor does sloth. They peak, and then they fade, leaving a person empty. The body which triumphed in its success now struggles to continue as its kingdom declines. It desperately clutches some new source of joy or pleasure even to the point of enduring great suffering, much like an old despot starving his own people and brutalizing any opposition just to remain in power. By their very nature, these pleasures quickly degenerate into division, enmity, mediocrity, and desolation. Nothing but corruption can result from selfishness.
By contrast, the spiritual life brings about spiritual goods, the goods that last. Through His grace, God confers these gifts upon men from within. They, like the spirit, endure forever and require nothing from the world; hence, the world spurns the spiritual life and constantly denies its existence. Rather than dividing people and stoking hatred, these spiritual goods bring people together in true sincere manner. Far from encouraging mediocrity and self-indulgence, the spiritual life nurtures personal excellence and “self-control.”
St. Theresa of Avila, whose feast day the Church celebrates today, strove for this life of the spirit for much of her life. All of a sudden the spiritual life brought about all the goods that Paul mentions. Theresa personally discovered what grace lay in the life of the spirit that so many Christians took for granted. Illuminated by God, she created many new monasteries, reformed her own order, and wrote many crucial works on the spiritual life and the many barriers that prevented its full adoption. She demonstrated that the life of a Christian means pursuing this life of the spirit, and that a life of the spirit is ultimately a life that never ends.