Tag Archives: St. Paul

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 – Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

Vigil Mass:
Acts 3:1-10
Ps 19        R. Their voice goes out through all the earth.
Gal 1:11-20
Jn 21: 15-19
Mass during the Day:
Acts 12:1-11
Ps 34        R. The Lord has set me free from all my fears.
2 Tim 4:6-8, 17-18
Mt 16:13-19

pavel

In our times today, many people want to pit St. Peter and St. Paul against each other. St. Peter, they say, was the Apostle who wanted everyone to obey him; he was authoritarian, that’s why he’s the first Pope: everyone had to listen to him and follow his lead. St. Paul, on the other hand, was independent; he was the firebrand Apostle who was never afraid to speak, didn’t play by the rules, and went wherever he felt the Spirit was leading him. In this way, he was the first Protestant, they say, and a truer disciple of Christ…

Nothing could be further from the truth! In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke clearly sates that the disciples of Jesus were of one heart and soul (4:32). Their union with God translated visibly into a union with each other; this was a hallmark of the early Christian community! Sts. Peter and Paul were no different: both dedicated their lives to preaching Christ and bringing people to repentance and union with God; both laid down their lives for Jesus in the Roman persecutions of Nero (64-68 AD). Both believed with one heart, preached with one heart and died with one heart. It’s for these and other reasons that the Church has held, nearly from the beginning (ca. 258 AD), a solemn feast to celebrate these two Apostles together.

When Jesus first called Peter to become a disciple, it was from the shore, as Peter and his brother Andrew were fishing. Jesus said to them, follow me, and they did (Mt 4:18-20). When Jesus was walking on water, he called out to Peter and said, come (Mt 14:29). Peter himself later even said, Look, we have left everything and followed you (Mt 19:27).

But when Jesus was arrested, and the other Apostles left Jesus, Peter, who had claimed he would follow Jesus unto death (Mt 26:33, 35), followed Him only at a distance (Mt 26:58) and even went on to deny Jesus three times (Mt 26:69-74).

After the Resurrection, Jesus again appeared to Peter from the shore. Three times He asked, Peter do you love me? (Jn 21:15-19). Having said yes, Jesus, once again called him, Follow me (Jn 21:19). And this time Peter did, even unto death. Having experienced the depths of Jesus’ love — Jesus never gave up on Peter, never rejected him, never condemned him —, Peter finally gave himself over to God’s love: Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you (Jn 21:17). And because of this abandonment to God’s love, the Holy Spirit was able to transform Peter from a man of fear and denial into one of courage and fidelity. We see this very clearly on that first Pentecost, as Peter preached the first homily and baptised 3000 people.

For his part, St. Paul started out as what he thought was a perfect Jew (Phil 3:4b-6). He was zealous for God and the Law, and strove with all his power to perfectly obey the will of God. That’s why he was able to approve of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1), and dedicate himself to stopping the Christians (Acts 8: 1, 3; 9:1-2).

But then Paul heard God’s voice: I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting (Acts 9:5). The man who once arrested Christians and would have happily killed them for God, was now awakened to God’s true identity. Paul’s zeal for the Law had blinded him to God’s identity, but God, in His loving mercy, reached out to him and turn his zeal for the Law into a zealous love for God and people. Jesus, in His mercy, called Paul to repent and be an instrument of salvation (Acts 9:15). St. Paul spent the rest of his life helping others to love and follow Jesus.

My dear brothers and sisters, our weaknesses and sins only become obstacles to following Jesus when we keep them away from Him. When we accept Jesus’ love and mercy, and give ourselves over to Him, allowing His love to transform us, our sins become shadows of the past and our weaknesses, sources of strength. Jesus was able to turn an impetuous, quick-tempered apostate and a prideful accomplice to murder into two of the greatest Saints of the Church. He turned their stubbornness and zeal into instruments of salvation for the world, and their bodies into sacrificial offerings to God. If He can do that with Peter and Paul, what will He accomplish with us if we follow Him?

As we remember these two giants of faith — upon whose faith we stand today as Roman Catholics —, may we turn to them for their example and invoke their intercessions, as we strive to give our hearts over to Jesus, so that with them, we too, might be of one heart and soul with Christ and with all believers. Amen.

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