12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Preached June 25, 2017; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon

In today’s Gospel Jesus says, Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Among other things this means that in addition to the death of the body, there is also a sort of ‘death of the soul’. Likewise, in addition to the life of the body, there is a ‘life of the soul’.

St. Paul also is speaking of the life and death of the soul when he writes about sin entering the world through one man, Adam, and through sin, death. That death, however, is reversed by the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ.

What is meant by the life and death of the soul?

Since all of us here are living, if we speak of the life and death of the soul, we are speaking of something different; not everyone who lives a human life has a ‘living soul’ so to speak.

In the first place the life of the soul is the grace of God, sanctifying grace. That is what, in the first place, Adam lost for himself and his offspring through his transgression and that is what, above all, Jesus Christ restored to us through his death and resurrection and was given to us individually in our baptism. In us, original sin was nothing other than the condition of being born deprived of God’s grace – the life of the soul.

Still, we want to move beyond a mere repetition of words and try to get some grasp of what this ‘life of the soul’ looks like.

Let’s begin by considering what is distinctive of human life and how that distinctive character of human life leads us to speak of some people as really ‘having a life’. We will not yet be talking about the ‘life of the soul’ but we will be laying the foundation for a comparison that will help us to grasp the true ‘life of the soul’.

The unique character of our distinctive human life is found in the capacity that at least every mature human being has to shape and direct their life from within through their powers of knowledge and choice, and the unique kind of love that is rooted in those powers.

Next, speaking on the purely human level, we can think of the sort of person we know that really ‘has it together’: we see in their life a focus, dynamism, and order that harnesses their natural energy and directs their activity productively along a fairly unified path. In all the different walks of life what separates the successful from the failures is their focus and dynamism that enables them to harness their energy and direct it along a unified, productive path.

We can contrast that with the disorder, dissipation, and confusion in the life of the drug-addict or drunkard, or just the sheer lack of activity, energy, drive, or interest in the person who lacks motivation to do anything with their life, who does nothing more than sit around all day watching television, surfing the internet, or playing video-games.

We see, then, that while everyone lives in the sense that they breath air, their hearts beat, and they take nourishment, we might be tempted to say that only some really have ‘a life’ in contrast to which the others seem almost to be passing through a sort of living death.

Characteristic of those who have ‘a life’ is a strong underlying motivation or drive that gives a certain unity, meaning, and purpose to their life. Another way we could put it is that a person’s life is found in ‘what makes him tick’, as we say.  Those who lack that inner motivation seem also to be in some sense devoid of life.

Let exemplify this contrast between having ‘a life’ and the disorder of living death in my own life. Around about age 20 I got a new California ID; the face of the young man in the photo clearly revealed confusion, unhappiness, and anger. About six months later I got a California Driver’s License; there was a newly discovered clarity, light, and focus in the face of the young man in the photo. The contrast was so great it was hard to believe that the two men were the same. I will let you speculate on what took place in between.

Now our current social ideal generally tells us that it doesn’t so much matter what you do, every pursuit, every motivation is equal; what is important is that you just do something. That is the meaning of expressions like, “Follow your passion”;  “Live your dream”; “Believe in yourself”.

Really, though, a moment’s thought shows that this view of life really doesn’t hold water. For example, we know of the married man whose ‘passion’ is his career so following his passion is detrimental to his family. Further, there are people who are very successful at ‘following their passion’, real ‘winners’, but whose passion involves gaining power of others and glory for themselves. That has been the path of some successful CEOs and it has been the path of some famous kings and conquerors through the history of the world. The results have often been destructive. Nor is it enough to dedicate oneself to a ‘cause’ greater than oneself, because the dedicated pursuit of certain causes can also be destructive. The violent history of the 20th Just think of those who have dedicated themselves to the cause of ISIS. As for Adolf Hitler, he really believed in himself.

Now, if you have been paying close attention, you might have noticed that all my examples of really ‘having a life’ has revolved around doing things, rather than building up and cultivating relationships, first of all in the family. Indeed, when that drive to ‘do’ takes precedence over human beings, especially those close to us, it becomes destructive. That further reveals that not all motivations are equal and suggests that the real ‘life’ is found first of all in the cultivation and building up of relationships. Nevertheless, if we remain there on the purely human level, we will be left with a multitude of warring clans and tribes, whether those clans are built upon blood relations or shared ideas and values; whether those clans live together in physical space, or merely inhabit the same cyber-space bubble.

So where is all this going? When Jesus talks about the life of the soul, he is speaking of a higher life than anything I have so far mentioned. The life to which he refers involves the highest motivation and the purest cause: Himself. The life to which he refers establishes us in the most important and fundamental relation: the relation to God through Jesus Christ.

Indeed, we could say that Jesus himself is the life of the soul. St. Paul writes, I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me. (Gal 2:19-20)

This life of comes to us through the gift of grace, received in faith and animated by the impulse of the Holy Spirit.

We see this life above all in the saints: in them we see all the energies of human knowledge, love, and all the activity proceeding therefrom, gathered together, shaped, harmonized, and directed by the love of Christ. Many saints have accomplished great and marvelous deeds for all the world to see. Yet the holiness is not found in the outward works, but in the inner principle of life, the love of Christ that shapes and directs all their activity.

For that reason also, there have been quiet, hidden saints, whose holiness consists in the life of prayer and contemplation, where the whole life and energy of the soul is focused in a very direct and exclusive manner on Christ himself, leaving off the lower activities almost altogether. Such was St. Nicholas von Flue, the patron saint of Switzerland, who lived as a hermit, walled up in a small cell and living the last 19 years of his life in miraculous fashion, living purely on the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ.

Such is the life of grace, the life that we received in baptism, the work of the Holy Spirit in us, such is the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ, who by his death made up for the sin and transgression of Adam.  In most of us, however, the life of grace seems to lie dormant, as a seed in the waterless desert. We might well ‘have a life’ in the normal human sense of things; we might follow our passion; we might harness our human energies and direct them towards all sorts of good things; yet in the supernatural order, in the order of grace, in the order of divine life, we are like couch potatoes or video game addicts. We have received the gift, but we do not cultivate it; we do not make use of it.

Let us turn, then, to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, the one who is ‘full of grace’, the one who is most fully alive to God, most fully alive with the life of her Son, let us ask her to teach, guide, and instruct us so that we might understand and esteem the precious gift of grace, that we may learn to water it with prayer and cultivate it with meditation on the word of God, weeding out our disordered desires and imaginations, and nourishing ourselves upon the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

 

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.