Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

18 September A.D. 2011

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

“The flesh lusts against the spirit; and the spirit lusts against the flesh.”[1]

    One of the most powerful errors that has ever influenced human thinking is the false notion that the universe was created jointly by two equally powerful but directly opposing forces, or “gods”;  the good “god” who made spirit and light, and the bad “god” who made darkness and the material world.  This mistaken notion views man as an unfortunate creature; a soul trapped inside a body: a creature in which the two principles of matter and spirit are continually at war.

    This sort of “dualism” was popular among the Persians before the time of Christ, infected even such an intellect as Saint Augustine in the 4th century, resurfaced in southern France and northern Italy during the middle ages, and persists even in our own culture.  Not surprisingly, since it falsely splits things into two factions, it presents itself sometimes in one way and sometimes in another:  Sometimes it is the material that is glorified at the expense of the spirit;  cultures in which man subjugates his will and his spirit and his values to the production of more and better material goods.  Sometimes it is the spiritual that is falsely exalted above the material; cultures in which suicide is thought to virtuously release the spirit from its material prison, or in which childbearing is condemned for its enslavement of souls in material bodies.

    The truth, of course, is that one God created all things, both material and spiritual.  And His entire creation is good, both material and spiritual.  It is only by the misuse of created things that evil enters into the world.  The angels have no material component, yet we know that some of them sinned while others gained merit in the sight of God.

    Man sins in a similar way:  the spiritual part of him decides to misuse, in some way, that small part of the created world over which he has control.  Perhaps he decides to misuse his intellect, in order to defy God or to plan evil against his fellow man.  Or, perhaps, he decides to misuse some material thing in a way that God didn't plan it to be used.  Saint Paul gives us a variety of examples in today's epistle:  fornication, hatred, envy, quarrels, idolatry, and drunkenness, to name a few.[2]

    If you examine the list that Saint Paul presents, you will quickly see that each vice is a mis-use of some legitimate and praiseworthy thing.  Fornication misuses the power God gave us in order to “increase and multiply.”[3]   Idolatry is a misuse of the power and the inclination that God gave us to love He Himself. [4]  Drunkenness is nothing other than the misuse of the wine that God made “to cheer the hearts of men.”[5]  All of the others are the same—misuses of something good for a purpose at variance with their creation.

    The good news in Saint Paul's epistle is that while in the past all of these things were merely condemned by the Law of Moses, the Gospel of Christ gives us positive assistance in using what God has given us in a proper manner.  As we grow in the spiritual life we will grow in the faith, chastity, joy, peace, and patience, and the other gifts that are necessary to control our impulses to misuse God's gifts.  It is grace that perfects nature: prayer and penance, the Mass and the Sacraments, our interior life with God will produce the virtues necessary for us to avoid the vices of this world.

    And, our Lord, of course, is not suggesting that we should go around without clothes like the lilies, or that we should expect to live off the land like the birds.  Remember that the Semitic languages often make a point with hyperbole—an exaggeration that everyone knows is an exaggeration. But He is telling us that we must put our material and spiritual inclinations in proper perspective.

    He uses an interesting phrase:  “You cannot serve God and mammon.”[6]  The word is from the Greek mammonas, (μαμμωνάς) and is often thought of as the personification of mis-gotten wealth—a sort of false god of riches.  In modern English we would say: “You cannot serve God and material riches.”  He is not telling us that material things are bad, but rather that there really is no choice.  God is the Creator, and material things are His creations.  Material things are our fellow creatures; many of them inferior to us in a variety of ways;  they have no claim on our service or on our worship.  To serve them to the point of worship would be idolatry, a direct contradiction of the worship which is due to God alone.

    Our Father knows that we need the things of the world—that all of His creations are good—but “seek first the kingdom of God and His justice; and all these things shall be added unto you.”[7]



[1]   Epistle: Galatians v: 16-24

[2]   Epistle: ibid.

[6]   Gospel: Matthew vi: 24-33

[7]   Gospel: ibid.

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