13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Preached June 30, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon

Just as Jesus determined resolutely to journey to Jerusalem, where he knew that he
was to be crucified, knowing also that he would rise again from the dead, so the
Christian is called to follow Jesus on his pilgrimage from this world to eternal life,
the heavenly Jerusalem. We are not promised happiness in this life; we are promised
eternal life, if only we will be resolute and faithful, like Jesus.

The pilgrimage is not an easy one; we will meet with ‘armed’ opposition.
Today we heard St. Paul speak to us about the warfare of the Christian life: Live by
the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh has
desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each
other.

St. Paul’s use of the word ‘flesh’ refers to one of the three classic biblical ‘enemies’ of
the Christian life. We can expand the picture a bit by making mention of the other
two: ‘the World’ and the devil. The devil, then, works through the World and the
flesh in order to oppose the Christian’s pilgrimage to eternal life in the heavenly city.
If those are the enemies, then who are the allies?

Grace, the Church, and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guides the Christian on his
pilgrimage by means of the Church and divine grace.

The devil does not have direct access to our spiritual powers of mind and will, but
with God’s permission he can influence our memory, imagination, and emotions.
These lower powers of the soul are, in themselves good, created by God, and even
rightly ordered in their deepest instincts. Nevertheless, as a result of original sin,
they are wounded in their lack of subordination to the mind, which leads to internal
conflict among the lower powers themselves. This conflict is further exacerbated
through the disorders of our upbringing and the bad choices we have made,
whereby we end up subordinating our mind to the lower powers. All of this
produces the internal turmoil we experience in ourselves that St. Paul refers to as
‘the flesh’. This turmoil of the flesh leads us to sin. So St. Paul writes elsewhere: The
concern of the flesh is hostility towards God; it does not submit to the law of God, nor
can it; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rm 8:7-8) The flesh readily
becomes the devil’s playground in our own soul.

In our own time, the devil has been able to wreak havoc in the imagination through
screens: TV screens, computers screens, and cell-phone or tablet screens; these
screens tend to produce a disproportion in the relation of imagination and reality;
many people now are living more an more in a ‘virtual’ world.

Note well, it is not the lower powers of memory, imagination, and emotion that
constitute the flesh, but their disorder. The Holy Spirit, by opposing the flesh,
opposes this disorder. The Holy Spirit would set our house in order, sanctifying us
by his grace and helping us live from grace by means of his seven gifts and the three
theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. If the flesh becomes the devil’s
playground, grace makes us to become living temples of the Holy Spirit. Grace
makes us to become living temples of God, but we need to cooperate.

Grace has two basic forms: sanctifying grace, which is an interior sanctification of
the soul that elevates the soul to share the very life of God, that makes us truly to
become children of God; and actual grace, which are the concrete helps through
which God gives light to the mind and strength to the will either to lead us to
sanctifying grace or to help us live from sanctifying grace.

If the devil can only act directly upon the flesh, thereby influencing our mind and
indirectly, the Holy Spirit acts first of all in deep interior of our mind and will. The
more we give the Holy Spirit permission, the more powerfully he is capable of acting
within us. The more we ourselves act from the impulse of his grace, the more
powerful grace becomes a force within our life.

We can open the door to the action of the Holy Spirit even more, if we give
permission to his spouse, the Immaculate Virgin Mary, full of grace, to act within us
opposing the influence of the devil on our memory, imagination, and emotions.
When we consecrate or entrust ourselves to the Virgin Mary, we give her
permission, and then by her maternal presence she brings calm and peace to our
lower powers and helps us cooperate with the deeper interior action of the Holy
Spirit himself.

So on the interior level we have the devil attacking us through the flesh and the Holy
Spirit working in us through divine grace, just as he worked freely and fully in the
Immaculate Virgin Mary.

Note well, that since the Holy Spirit is God himself, the 3rd person of the Holy Trinity,
the devil is not really his opposite (the opposite of God is pure non-existence, pure
nothingness) but his creature. The more direct enemy of the devil is actually the
Virgin Mary! (cf. Gen 3:15, Rev 12:1-6) The devil’s pride is crushed more by the
Virgin Mary than by God; the devil cannot stand the Virgin Mary and is utterly
humiliated by being defeated by a mere creature that he regards as less than
himself.

So far, I have just been talking about the warfare that goes on within our souls.
Nevertheless, we are not just individuals; we are always part of a community,
whether of the family or larger society, which has more influence upon us than we
imagine. So while on the individual level we have the opposition between the flesh
and grace; in the realm of external influence there is the opposition between the
World and the Church.

But just what is meant by ‘the World’? Just as the biblical expression ‘the flesh’ does
not refer simply to the flesh of God’s creation, the biblical expression ‘the World’
does not refer simply to the world of God’s creation. Rather, ‘the World’ refers to
human society organized without God and even against God. Since pure evil does
not exist ‘the World’ is not devoid of good; ‘the World’ has its philanthropy,
charitable organizations, noble ideals and endeavors, but in the end, without God, it
goes awry and does harm. That is because where God is excluded, the devil steps in.
That is why the devil is called the prince of the world. (Jn 14:30)

Generally speaking, the Church, in opposition to the World, is human society
organized by God and under God. Concretely, that means the Roman Catholic
Church, endowed by her founder, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, with the doctrine of
the true faith, the seven sacraments that communicate the grace of the Holy Spirit,
and visible government of the apostolic hierarchy under the Pope. The Church is
holy in her head and founder, Jesus Christ, in her faith, her sacraments, and her
structure, as also in the members who submit themselves to the sanctifying action of
the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, just as within our souls the influence of the flesh and grace is mixed
together, in the external realm, the World and the Church are not altogether
separate. The Church exists in the midst of the World, while the influence of the
World is present in the midst of the Church as, according to our Lord’s parable, the
weeds are mixed in with the wheat.

The weeds have been planted by the enemy, the devil. (Cf. Mt 13:31) When were
these weeds planted? When men were sleeping. (Mt 13:25)
The disorder of the devil enters the life of the Church especially when the
shepherds, the Bishops, are lacking in vigilance, when they ‘sleep’. We can also think
of the Apostles sleeping in the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus told them, Watch
and pray that you not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
(Mt 26:41)

We need the holy influence of the Church, but when our vigilance is lacking, we
instead receive the bad influence of the bad example and the bad teaching of the bad
shepherds.

Last Sunday I spoke about the importance of the true doctrine of the faith that is
handed on in the sacred Tradition of the Church, which develops, while maintaining
always “the same doctrine, the same meaning and the same import.” (St. Vincent of
Lerins, 1st Instruction, 23)

The importance of this can be found in the teaching of St. Paul that we have heard
today: The whole law is fulfilled in one statement: You shall love your neighbor as
yourself.

Before Jesus Christ came, this teaching was not central to any religion, culture, or
way of life. While it comes from the Old Testament, Jesus Christ is the one who put it
at the center, combining it with and making it dependent upon, You shall love the
Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Mt
22:37)

To understand the actual world in which we live in today, we need to realize that the
influence of the Church has been replaced by the influence of the biblical ‘World’. In
other words, we have moved from a civilization in which the Church, however
imperfectly, was actually dominant cultural influence, to a society that has now been
nearly identified with the biblical ‘World’, a society organized without and even
against God. Nevertheless, this new ‘World’ has often retained the language of the
Christian faith, but with a different meaning. Christians are often deceived by this
sameness of language. This opens them to the influence of the World and leading
them on the path of a new slavery to the flesh and the devil.

So now, just like the Church, the World also speaks about love: “Love is love”; it
justifies everything. Both Church and World speak about love, but the meaning is
very different.

Here I want to return to a pair of contrasting images that I used two weeks ago on
Trinity Sunday.

The true Christian view of love of neighbor sees things like this. We are meant to be
companions, brothers and sisters even, on a pilgrimage following a common path to
a common goal that is given to us from above, the heavenly Jerusalem. Guided by the
Holy Spirit, we follow the way of Jesus Christ, to the house of the Father. Seen this
way, love of neighbor means, above all, helping each other along the way, or helping
others to find the way or return to the way.

The World’s view of love of neighbor goes like this. We are all strangers on a subway
train, each one waiting to get off at a different stop, a stop of our own choosing – but
those stops are really dead ends. We don’t really have anything in common, but so
long as we are on the train things will work better if we learn to accept each other as
we are and just get along, because all we have finally is the subway train. That is
what the World means by love.

This worldview of the World, submits the mind to the flesh, making us to become
the most abject of slaves, manifested today in all the various widespread, degrading,
addictions that people suffer.

The true Christian way of love submits the mind to the law of the Holy Spirit; the
flesh is thereby subdued and transformed, ceasing to be mere ‘flesh’, but becomes
another servant on the path to the kingdom of God, in which the body too will be
redeemed through the resurrection.

True freedom is the power to follow the pilgrim path to eternal life; this is the
freedom for which Christ gave his life on the Cross to set us free; do not submit again
to the yoke of slavery. Instead, let us give honor to Cross of Christ and his most
precious blood by pursuing together the pilgrim path to the heavenly Jerusalem.

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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.

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