Tag Archives: spiritual life

Homily – The Flesh vs. The Spirit (Sunday OT 14 A)

Zech 9:9-10
Ps 145       R/. I will bless your name for ever, my king and my God.
Rom 8:9, 11-13
Mt 11:25-30


In our second reading today, St. Paul reminds us: Brothers and sisters: You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit (Rom 8:9). Flesh and Spirit — St. Paul uses these images to symbolise the internal struggle of the Christian: the battle against our tendency to sin. This is a major theme in Paul’s letters.

But he’s not using this to make a commentary on the body, as if to say that the body — or material reality — is bad and only the spiritual is good. He’s using these words to symbolise deeper realities. For Paul, the flesh symbolises the life of sin (elsewhere he calls it the ‘spirit of the world’), and the Spirit symbolises the life of grace.

St. Paul is trying to help us understand the spiritual struggle that lies in each of our hearts. Deep within us, due to original sin, is the tendency to sin — what we call, concupiscence —, and if we look closely at this tendency and where it points, it becomes easy for us to see why St. Paul clumps it all in together under the name the flesh. Our tendency to sin is always directly to pleasure: be it lust, gluttony, greed, pride, anger, sloth or envy, each of these deals with a certain sense of the pleasures of the body. That’s pretty obvious when it comes to lust, gluttony and sloth, but it’s also true of the others. Greed, for example, is really just a lust for money or material things. And pride is really about puffing one’s own ego to make ourselves bigger than we really are. That’s why we give it bodily terms? (i.e., ‘You’re so full of yourself’, or ‘What a fat head’, etc.). These sinful attractions are what St. Paul means by the flesh, and they’re something toward which each of us leans because of original sin.

But St. Paul seeks to remind the Romans (and us, too!), that we’re not slaves to these fleshly desires. No, we’ve been redeemed by Christ! In Baptism, our fleshliness (these sinful tendencies) was put to death on the Cross so that we could receive new life in Christ through the Holy Spirit. This is why St. Paul tells us, You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit.

We’ve been claimed by Christ, and it’s His Spirit that now dwells in us. We’re no longer ‘fleshly’ beings, but born of the Spirit. And it’s this life in the Holy Spirit that ought to direct our lives, not our base inclinations to sin, our concupiscence. That’s why we need to do battle with our tendency to sin, so that the life of grace we received in Baptism can continue and grow even stronger. Because, as St. Paul rightly says, if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Rom 8:13).

Jesus has redeemed us by His Death, and He continues to save us through the forgiveness of sins in Confession, not so that we might continue to die according to the desires of the flesh, but so that we might live according to the grace of the Holy Spirit.

That’s why in the spiritual life we often speak of ‘dying to self’. To die to self doesn’t mean that we become disinterested in ourselves and allow ourselves to be victimised by the sinfulness of others. Rather, it means that we struggle against our desire for sin so that we can truly live according to God’s love as His sons and daughters. It means that we must chose to abandon certain practices, certain likes, certain ways of living — that’s the dying part — so that we can remain faithful to God’s commandments.

We have to let go of our sinful habits, and even grow to hate them, so that we can choose to act in love instead of selfishness. And we call it dying because it’s not easy and often feels like we’re dying when we change our ways. It costs us something. In order to receive the grace God has in store for us, we first have to let go of what we’re already holding. That’s why Jesus said in last Sunday’s Gospel, those who lose their life for my sake will find it (Mt 10:39).

This, my brothers and sisters, is what God has hidden from the wise and the intelligent but has revealed to little infants (cf. Mt 11:25). We are called to die to sin, to die to self, so as to live for and with Christ. That’s why it’s so important for us to be constantly examining our hearts: are we living according to the flesh, or according to the Spirit? And this is why it’s so important for us to be constantly repenting of our sinfulness and clinging to God’s mercy and grace. Because we can’t win this battle for ourselves, we can only win if we allow the Holy Spirit to take over, to heal and to lead us in the ways of God. No, we are not of the flesh; we are of the Spirit, and therefore we must live by the Holy Spirit.

Breathe into us, Holy Spirit, that our thoughts may all be holy.
Move in us, Holy Spirit, that our work, too, may be holy.
Attract our hearts, Holy Spirit, that we may love only what is holy.
Strengthen us, Holy Spirit, that we may defend all that is holy.
Protect us, Holy Spirit, that we may always be holy (cf. St. Augustine).

Amen.

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Homily – Pentecost 2014

Acts 2:1-11
Ps 104       R/. Lord, send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13
Jn 20:19-23

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“Chasuble of S’ Thomas Becket”, by The Saint Bede Studio (http://saintbedestudio.blogspot.ca/2013/09/chasuble-of-s-thomas-becket-3.html). This copyright image may not be reproduced without permission.

I think that of all the liturgical colours of the Church, red is my favourite. It’s my favourite because it’s a vibrant, powerful and bold colour; a passionate colour that evokes two equally bold and powerful things: fire and blood.

Fire is powerful and passionate; it’s alive, and in a sense, it’s zealous: it always seeks to grow, to spread. But fire isn’t just a force of destruction; it’s only destructive when it’s wild and uncontrolled. When it’s controlled and tempered, fire is actually a force for good, because it purifies and strengthens.

Fire purifies by burning away impurities, junk that contaminates. We see this most clearly in how refiners use fire to purify metals by burning away the dirt from the precious metals, to leave behind only what is pure, perfect and precious.

Fire also strengthens. A blacksmith uses fire to soften metal so that he might shape it, bend it, and fold it, making it stronger and fit for a variety of uses. Fire purifies and strengthens.

Blood, too, is passionate, because it carries life: our bodies need blood to function; without it, we die. And so blood represents life and carries with it a sense of sacredness. That’s why, in the Old Testament, animal blood was poured out in sacrifice (oblation) to God to represent the offering of life. And that’s precisely the meaning Jesus gave it at the Last Supper: Take this all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood… which will be poured out for you … for the forgiveness of sins (Words of Institution). In other words: ‘Take my life, O God, that they may have life and have it in abundance’ (cf. Jn 10:10).

The Martyrs of the Faith deeply understood this reality, that’s why they found joy in offering their lives, in shedding their blood for God in imitation of our Lord. There can be no greater offering than giving one’s own life to God out of love for Him (cf. Jn 15:13). Blood is life and passion.

Fire and blood — purification, strengthening, life and passion —: this is what the colour red symbolises, and it’s not just my own sentimental interpretation; it’s the very reason we use the colour red for the feast of martyrs and for the Solemnity of Pentecost, which we celebrate today, because the Holy Spirit is ‘fire’ and ‘blood’.

confirmation2As the Acts of the Apostles recount in the first reading, the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles as tongues of fire, flames resting on each of them (Acts 2:3), because the Holy Spirit, like fire, purifies and strengthens!

The Holy Spirit, whom we received at Baptism, softens and shapes us as fire does steel, and if we abandon ourselves to His grace, He also purifies us as one refines silver and gold. But just like fire burns, so also the Spirit’s work in us is at times painful, because we really do need to be purified. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the imperfections we carry, and then allow the fire of His grace to burn them away. And this is often painful, because it means letting go of things: it means letting go of our sins and changing our ways and our minds; in some cases it means letting go of certain friends or activities; it means growing in faith and love. But the rewards are far greater than its pain! The more we’re purified, the closer we get to the Lord, the more intimate we become with Him; and that’s precisely what it’s for!

As the silversmith melts ore in fire to burn away the impurities and reveal the beauty and value of the silver, so too the Spirit burns away our impurities so that our beauty and value as children of God is made more and more visible. But this process takes time. Like silver, we can’t take the whole process of purification in one shot; it has to be carried out gradually, allowing the impurities to burn away at successive degrees, beginning first with the big stuff, and then with the smaller stuff.

But I’ll warn you: the closer we get to Christ, the more imperfections we notice in ourselves. But this shouldn’t lead us to despair, because it’s a sign of progression, a sign that the process of perfection and growth is working! And as the silversmith knows that the silver is ready when he can see his own reflection in it, so also will the Holy Spirit have accomplished His work of purification when we perfectly reflect the image of Christ in our lives.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is the goal of the Christian life: to become the perfect image of Christ. And the role of the Holy Spirit is to purify us into living icons of Christ, and to strengthen us in that journey so that we might better and more joyfully reflect this image to all those around us. This is what we mean by ‘holiness’, and it’s to this that each of us have been called by Baptism.

The goal of following Christ is to become like Him: discipleship means imitation, and the Holy Spirit is the One who teaches and helps us to imitate the Lord. That’s why the He’s ‘fire’.

But the Spirit is also blood. As flowing blood is the sign of life in the body, so too is the Spirit working in us the sign of spiritual life. And as blood is the bond between family members, so too is the Spirit the bond that unites us as members of the Church, brothers and sisters in Christ.

The gift of the Spirit at Baptism enters into us as the spiritual life-blood of our relationship with God and with each other: we belong to God because His Spirit dwells in us, and we belong to each other because we share the same Spirit. This is renewed and strengthened in us through the Sacrament of Confirmation, where we’re ‘strengthened’ — ‘confirmation’ means ‘strengthening’ — with the Spirit for the prophetic role of service and mission to the world, because our sanctification in the fire of the Spirit isn’t just for ourselves: it’s also with and for others, those in the Church and those outside her embrace.

And so this life in the Spirit is meant to be shared, and shared joyfully! The experience of being purified and strengthened by the Spirit (in being sanctified) is Good News! And so the life we receive from the Spirit is one of evangelisation and zeal; it’s meant to send us out to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Good News of Christ Jesus: Receive the Holy Spirit, as the Father sent me, so I send you (Jn 20:22, 21). The Holy Spirit isn’t a secret to be kept, but a joy to be lived and shared.

My brothers and sisters, as we rejoice today in the Solemnity of Pentecost, may we abandon ourselves to the fire of the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to purify and strengthen us, to renew in us a share in His divine life so that we might bring Christ to all nations, and all nations to Christ. Amen.

Pentecost, by Duccio Di Buoninsegna (1308-11). Located in the Museo Dell'Opera Del Duomo, Siena, Italy.

Pentecost, by Duccio Di Buoninsegna (1308-11). Located in the Museo Dell’Opera Del Duomo, Siena, Italy.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
V/. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
R/. And you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.

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Homily – Presentation of the Lord


Mal3:1-4
Ps 24     R/.  The Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory!
Heb 2:10-11, 13b-18
Lk 2:22-40

The Presentation (by Bl. Fra Angelico?(

The Presentation of the Lord (by Fra Angelico?)

In our readings today we encounter two prophecies: the first from Malachi (Mal 3:1-4), and the second from Simeon (Lk 2:28-35).  The first prophecy points us backward, and the second points us forward.  Here’s what I mean:

In the Catholic order of books in the Old Testament Malachi is the last book because of his direct prophecies to the coming Messiah.  What we hear from him today is precisely one of those prophecies: See, I am sending my messenger … and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.  The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed, he is coming (Mal 3:1).  Through his prophecy, Malachi is pointing us to the birth of Christ, to the Nativity, which we celebrated just 40 days ago.  And he speaks of Jesus as being a refiner, one who purifies, who separates the dross from what is precious.  In other words, Jesus’ mission will be one of division: He will separate what is bad from what is good: But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?  For he is like a refiner’s fire…; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver (Mal 3:2-3).

And it didn’t take long for this to happen: remember the contrast between the Magi and Herod?  Because the Magi were seeking the light of righteousness and truth, they were able to rejoice in the birth of Jesus.  Herod, on the other hand, because he loved the darkness of pride and power, feared Jesus and sought to kill Him (cf. Mt 2).

And it’s this same theme of division and purification that Simeon takes up in his prophecy: This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed (Lk 2:34-35).  The Gospels are full of accounts that Jesus was loved by some and rejected by others.  The humble and lowly, the poor and needy, the weak and downtrodden… those who acknowledged their need for salvation recognised Jesus and rejoiced in His mercy and love.  But the proud, the arrogant, the rebellious, the selfish, the greedy… those who sought themselves rejected Jesus and feared His words.  This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many (Lk 2:34).

My brothers and sisters, this dynamic continues even today!  Every time we meet Jesus — whether in prayer, in that whisper that calls us to do something or avoid something, in Scripture, in Church teaching…  Every time we meet Jesus, we’re confronted by this reality of falling and rising.  And every time, we’re confronted we will either rejoice or fear; there’s no other option, only joy or fear.  We’ll either embrace God’s presence and rejoice in His mercy and forgiveness, or we’ll turn away in fear of His judgement.

Now you might think this sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s a profound reality of our spiritual life.  Everyday, we’re confronted by Jesus — often in small little ways we don’t always notice —, and how we respond to these encounters with Jesus will either bring us closer to Him or further away from Him.  When we sense that we ought to pray but avoid it to do something else, we say ‘no’ and we turn away from Jesus.  When our conscience tells us not to do something but we do it anyway, we turn away from Jesus.  When we respond in pride and anger instead of patience and love, we turn away from Jesus. Every time we say ‘no’, no matter how small, we turn away from Jesus.

But inversely, when we take the time to thank Jesus because we just missed an accident, we grow closer to Him.  When we make efforts to be patient with someone who’s slow, we grow closer to Jesus.  When we decide to fast from something we enjoy in order to discipline our desires, we grow closer to Jesus.  When we do something we don’t want to but because someone needs it, we grow closer to Jesus.  When we share what we need with those need who need it more, we grow closer to Jesus. Every time we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, no matter how small, we grow closer to Him.Sacred Heart

 

If you listened carefully to these examples, you’ll have noticed that in both responses (turning away or growing closer) there’s suffering.  When we turn away from Jesus we suffer the torments of sin; that’s pretty obvious.  But did you know that when we turn to Jesus we also suffer?  That’s the image of the refiner Malachi was using.  Just like precious minerals are purified by fire to reveal their value and beauty, so to are we purified by fire, the fire of divine Love.  That’s why the image of the Sacred Heart has flames on top of it: Jesus’ love for us burns within Him like a fiery furnace, and when we embrace it, it burns away from us all that’s impure, all that’s not like Jesus.  And while this is really a spiritual analogy, at times it is painful.  We need only look to the Saints to see this.  But we mustn’t be afraid of this purifying suffering, because when we do look at the Saints, we also see that those who embrace Jesus’ purifying love are also filled with joy, because though purification can be painful, it always works for our good, for our intimacy with Jesus, for our sanctification.

Even Jesus had to go through this.  That’s why today’s prophecies also point us to the future: to the Cross.  As the letter to the Hebrews says, Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Heb 5:8-9).  And, It was fitting that God…, in bringing many sons and daughters to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Heb 2:10).

By denying His own will for the sake of the Father’s will, Jesus shows us the way to perfection, and this perfection reaches its high point on the Cross, as Jesus gives Himself entirely over to the Father.  But it’s only because of the Cross that we have the Resurrection.  New life can only be received once we’ve allowed our ‘old life’ to die on the Cross.  By embracing the purifying love of Jesus, by allowing Him to change our hearts and habits — as painful as that might be —, we’re able experience even on this side of Heaven the life of the resurrection.  We need only abandon ourselves to Jesus and His will, and to trust that Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested (Heb 2:18).

So it’s not by accident that Blessed Pope John Paul II joined to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord the World Day for Consecrated Life, because like Christ, consecrated men and women, through their consecration, dedicate their lives to the pursuit of the purifying love of Jesus.

And so, as we rejoice today that the Lord has entered His Temple — and He entered the Temple of our hearts at Baptism —, may we praise Him and rejoice in His mercy, so as to entrust ourselves to Him and be purified by His burning love.  Amen.

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