Life in the Spirit Week 1

(Homily for Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

Message: Life in the Spirit begins with humility.

This week we return to Sundays of Ordinary Time. It's been a while. We observed 40 days of Lent, 50 days of Easter and then some special feasts: Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi and, last Sunday, Saint Peter and Saint Paul. So after four months we return to Ordinary Time.

I love Ordinary Time. I like the sequential readings from the Gospels and New Testament letters. For the next five weeks we will have readings from Chapter 8 of Romans - one of the most significant parts of the Bible. This chapter describes our new life in the Holy Spirit. For these five week I will focus on that theme: Life in the Spirit.*

"You are in the spirit," says St. Paul. To understand this new life in the spirit, we need to grasp the distinction between spirit and flesh: "You are not in the are in the spirit."

Flesh refers to more than the disordered attraction to sensual pleasures: gluttony, lust, laziness and so on. Sins of the flesh also include "enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envy, drinking bouts, orgies and the like." Flesh (in this context) refers to the downward pull of our human nature.

It's like the prayer of the man who said, "So far, God, I've done all right. I haven't gossiped, haven't lost my temper, haven't been selfish, grumpy, nasty or overindulgent. I'm really happy about that. But, now, I have to get out of bed and I am going to need lots of help!"

Well, you get the point. We make brave resolutions, but something always seems to get in the way. As Jesus says, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

In the first chapters of Romans St. Paul analyzes our human reality. The good, the beautiful, the noble attracts us, but our actual performance falls short. We don't do the good we want and the evil that we hate, those things we do.**

According to Paul there's only one solution to our human dilemma: God taking on our human condition in Jesus and giving us the gift of the Spirit. In the coming Sundays we will explore that life in the Spirit. But let me warn you from the beginning: In order for the Spirit to lift you up, you must first get low. Jesus tells us that the Father has hidden these things from the wise and learned, but has revealed them to little ones.

You have to get low - and you also have to get together. Life in the Spirit always has a community dimension. We'll talk more about that, but since this weekend we celebrate Independence Day, I want to make a brief application to our nation.

Our Founding Fathers spoke about forming a "republic of virtue." They knew that a free society could not exist unless citizens strive for virtue. They recognized of course that not everyone would be virtuous. For that reason we have laws and police to restrain evil doers. But laws can only go so far. Unless people practice self-restraint, the Founders knew that freedom could not last. Only a republic of virtue can preserve liberty.

In the coming weeks we will see what St. Paul says about freedom. As we shall see, freedom is central to the new life in the Spirit. For this Sunday I want to underscore that life in the Spirit begins with humility. "Come to me," Jesus invites, "and I will we give you rest." The flesh is weak and it always will be until we get glorified bodies. But even now in Jesus we can surprise others and surprise ourselves.

Next Sunday we will open up some of those surprises. Today I conclude with Jesus' words. They comprise our first step to life in the Spirit: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of yoke is easy and my burden light." Amen.


*Here is the plan:

Week 1: Humility - "You are not in the flesh; on the contrary you are in the spirit"..."spirit willing, but flesh weak"
Week 2: Freedom - "the glorious freedom of the children of God"
Week 3: Prayer - "we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes..."
Week 4: Overcoming Envy - "all things work for good for those who love God."
Week 5: Trust - "What will separate us from the love of God?"

*About the moral law (rule of decent behavior, Law of Nature) and our inability to keep it, C.S. Lewis had this to say:

I do not succeed in keeping the Law of Nature very well, and the moment anyone tells me I am not keeping it, there starts up in my mind a string of excuses as long as your arm. The question at the moment is not whether they are good excuses. The point is that they are one more proof of how deeply, whether we like it or not, we believe in the Law of Nature. If we do not believe in decent behaviour, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? The truth is, we believe in decency so much - we feel the Rule or Law pressing on us so - that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility. For you notice that it is only for our bad behaviour that we find all these explanations.

It is only our bad temper that we put down to being tired or worried or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves. These, then, are the two points I wanted to make. These, then, are the two points I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in. (Mere Christianity)

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From Archives (for Fourteenth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2017: Spiritual Warfare Week 3: The Yoke of Jesus
2014: Life in the Spirit Week 1
2011: Take My Yoke
2008: Not Debtors to the Flesh
2005: The Real Revolution
2002: Come to Me You Who Are Burdened
1999: Where are the Catholic Politicians?

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Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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