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Fr. Glenn: The Spirit And The Flesh

on August 25, 2019 - 7:59am

By Fr. Glenn Jones

How ‘bout that stock market Friday, huh? Ouch. Like a submarine under attack, it was “dive, dive, dive!” And the ol’ pitiful portfolio looked … well … pitifull-er. Good thing that retirement is not around the corner—age 115 is starting to look do-able. If the ol’ jalopy will last that long…

And yet, what a great couple of days! … for me, at least. Received happy news from one of my old parish staff, and got to see members of not one, but two!, of my old Los Alamos parish families. Being single, a Catholic priest’s parish becomes his family, and so each time some of them stop by after he’s left becomes like brothers and sisters, sons and daughters—and as we get older, the grandkids—come to visit. Joy.

In such times—those of financial stress contrasting with those of familial joy, or vice versa—one gets to thinking about the disparity of the things of the spirit and the flesh—remembering St. Paul: “…the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.” (Galatians 5:17) In that passage, Paul begins speaking primarily about sexual license, but he then includes: “… enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.” And we might also juxtapose with these—“cherry-picking” scripture a bit, but I think validly—that well-known passage: “…those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils…” (1 Timothy 6:9-10)

And why does Paul condemn these … and following his Master, Jesus, by the way? Need we really ask? 

How much ruination do we witness of what really matters in preference for the quicker ... the easier … the more immediate—the “flesh” over the spirit … the worldly over the Heavenly. So many families shattered by infidelity, greed, addictions, jealousies, old grudges, etc. Thus we see the truth in Paul’s statement about how the things of the flesh—re: unreined passions—ruin the true things of the spirit, even those spiritual things in which we participate on just an earthly level: family relationships and friendships, so long carefully cultivated and cherished, and yet so easily destroyed in a moment of hasty, unconsidered capitulation to temptations of “the flesh”: pride, sensual pleasure, greed. Rose gardeners ripping up cherished stems at a fleeting and so very transient fragrance of a lilac.

And so, it comes down to perspective and balance. We live in the flesh, so we cannot ignore it; as the old saw goes about evangelization of the poor: “It’s hard to fill their hearts when their stomachs are empty.” Even St. Paul writes about assisting tending the physical needs, and that:  “…children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children.” (2 Corinthians 12:14). And yet, the fulfilling of physical need is by far secondary … meant only to support the pursuit of spiritual need: of ourselves, yes, but also of all others, in becoming a vehicle of kindness and charity. To be hope to those without hope. To be the salt of the earth as Jesus urges us to be, making this earthly physical life which can be insipid all the more palatable for all around us. And thus to give to another is to give twice: to the one in need, and yet also to one’s own spiritual self. 

In the beginning of the comic movie “An Ideal Husband”, the protagonist rather repulsively muses: “When one loves oneself, it’s the beginning of a lifelong romance.” No doubt, but also a life of narcissism and self-absorption, and, in the end, spiritual desolation. We thrive not by seeking ourselves, but by seeking the good of others … the things of the spirit: our relationships, and our love for one another. Idolatry of the things of the flesh leads to worship of self, and one who loves gold will one day realize that it is a cold embrace … the most fickle of mistresses. The romance will be quite one-sided. Wealth—whether in money, intellect, talents or compassion—is only true wealth if its gifts are shared with others.

So, rather than the cold of gold, our goal should be in seeking the true good of one another—not of the flesh, but of the spirit. And it is Jesus who leads the way in this most of all, for “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16)

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10-11)

Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.