Do the Works of the Spirit, Not the Works of the Flesh
Wednesday October 13, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Galatians 5:18-25) Gospel (St. Luke 11:42-46)
In the Gospel reading, we hear the distinction that certainly has been made many times, that is, the distinction between simply following the law and the love for God. If we are just simply going to follow the external precepts of the law, the Lord says that we are condemned because we are not loving God. He says that we have to do what the law requires but we have to do it with love. That is the primary point.
Now, more importantly for us, as opposed to the people of the Old Testament times, is that we are in Christ, we have been given the Holy Spirit, and the Blessed Trinity dwells within us. Therefore, we look at what Saint Paul says, and he says to us that there are two ways of living. You can live according to the flesh or you can live according to the Spirit. According to the flesh, what is going to happen is that there are going to be external observances of things but internally things are not going to be right. And if things are not right internally, they are going to be expressed externally in ways that are not good.
Saint Paul says that these are the things that follow from the works of the flesh: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. Now we can look down that list and we would say, “Well, thankfully, I don’t fall into all of those.” Whether we do them all was not the point because he says, …and the like. In other words, these are some examples of things that happen when we live according to the flesh. It does not mean we are doing them all, but it means that if we see any of those things within ourselves there is something we are doing that is not right. I suspect that if we look down that list again, we are all going to find one or two things that we probably fall into. That tells us that we are not letting the Holy Spirit guide us, that we are trying to control things, that we are saying “yes” to God on one level and saying “no” to Him on another level. That is the part that needs to change. And so as Saint Paul is telling the Galatians, If you’re going to try to live according to the law, this is what’s going to happen to you; but if you live according to the Spirit of God, then your life has to be changed.
Again, we can ask ourselves, “Are we living according to the Spirit?” If we are, all of the following should be in place: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Does that sound like you? If not, then we are not living entirely according to the Spirit of God, and that means there is something standing between God and us that needs to go. We may be following external observances and doing things right on one level, but again, it is the heart that is the problem. That is what needs to change.
We need to be willing to go to God and say to Him, “Change me. Do whatever You have to do. Get rid of whatever is standing in the way. Change my heart and transform me according to the Spirit so I can live according to the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” These are the things that Our Lord was about, and if they are not the things that we are about then we are not living the life of Jesus Christ. And if we are not doing that, then we are not living according to our baptismal vows and we are not living according to what it means to be a Christian person. So these are the things we need to work on.
Now it is not going to be a simple thing because some of these things are very deeply rooted within us. The devil has got his grip in there and he does not want to let go. So you need to understand what you are saying when you ask God to get rid of all the stuff that does not belong there and to replace it fully with the grace and the fruit and the work of the Spirit. It means we are going to be purified. It means we have to be willing to change. It means we are going to get crushed. These are things that most people do not like, which is exactly why we do not do them. But there is only one way that we are going to be able to get to this point of living according to the Spirit. It requires being purified and it requires a life of prayer. There is no other way, and the two are going to go together. If you pray, you will be purified; if you do not pray, the purifications are just going to be rejected. You are going to fight against them and they are going to make you angry because you are not looking to God.
We need to make sure we are deeply rooted in prayer so that we can become more like Christ, with Whom we are seeking union. And when we are seeking union with Christ in prayer, then as the purifications take place, even though they are not easy or fun, we will be able to accept them, we will be able to cooperate with them. We will see our weaknesses blatantly – they will come right to the fore and it will be pretty humiliating at times – yet it is precisely that which brings about the virtue in us. So if we are going to follow the Spirit, we need to live according to the Spirit; and it is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, not the spirit of the world, that we have to be following. There are only those two options. We need to look again at those lists and ask ourselves, “Which one do I fall under? Am I giving lip service to Jesus but following the spirit of the world? Or am I shunning the ways of the world and following the Spirit of Jesus Christ?” One or the other is where we are going to find ourselves. And I suspect, if we are like most, that we are going to find ourselves more immersed in the world than in Jesus Christ. So we know we have a little bit of work to do, but praise God for the insight and now pray for the grace to be able to do the work of Jesus Christ, the work that needs to be done in your heart and in your soul to transform you so that you will be able to live the life of Jesus Christ even in this world.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.