Living According to the Spirit of Christ
July 3, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Zechariah 9:9-10) Reading II (Romans 8:9, 11-13)
Gospel (St. Matthew 11:25-30)
In the second reading this morning, Saint Paul tells us that we belong to Christ if we have the Spirit of Christ. The implications are pretty obvious. If we do not have the Spirit of Christ, we do not belong to Christ. So we need to ask ourselves, “Then what exactly does it mean to have the Spirit of Christ?” Well, on the most basic level, it means simply to be in the state of grace, because if we are in the state of grace then the Holy Spirit, along with the Father and the Son, dwells within us. Consequently, then, we have that Spirit of Christ within us. And if we are in the state of grace, of course that also means that we are free from mortal sin and everything that implies.
But if we are going to look even further and ask ourselves, “Practically speaking, what does it mean to have the Spirit of Christ,” we look at the first reading, as well as the Gospel reading, and we hear in the first reading what the prophets tells us about the coming Messiah, that he will be meek, and we hear from Our Lord’s own mouth that He is meek and He is humble of heart. Meekness if the opposite of anger; it is the spirit of gentleness. So we can look around and ask ourselves, “Are we gentle, meek people?” If you just drive down the freeway these days, you will find that meekness is certainly not a virtue that many Americans are practicing. Are we giving into the ways of the world? Or are we living according to the Spirit of Christ? Jesus tells us that He is humble of heart. Our society says that the only thing that matters is “me.” And so the arrogance, which is exactly the opposite of humility of heart, the selfishness that pervades our society, how much do we give into that? If we are giving into the selfishness and the arrogance, we are not living according to the Spirit of Christ but we are living according to the spirit of the world.
We can go further than this because Saint Paul, in talking about living according to the Spirit of Christ, tells us that we must put to death the deeds of the flesh. Well, that is what our society is all about. All we need to do is look at what is going on. We are now telling young women that unless they look like they are anorexic they do not have any dignity or they are not beautiful. We are telling young women that they should run around with very little clothing covering them because then they are worth something, and then men are going to notice them. We have our young males running around with their pants halfway down to their knees. We live in a society where all you have to do is turn on the Internet and you have two and a half million pornographic websites that you can choose from. It is pandemic.
We live in a world now where there are five countries that have approved what they call “gay marriage.” There is no such thing. The word itself is an oxymoron. Right to our north, Canada is about to approve the same thing. We have several states in our own country that have attempted to legalize these unfortunate things. This sudden blossoming of homosexual activity can only be called diabolical. It is not natural – there is nothing natural about it. Throughout history people have been afflicted with this difficulty, but for it to be running rampant the way that it is and for even good people to be saying that it is okay should tell us that this is clearly a problem.
We can look further in our society. We see all the problems in fornicating, all of the self-abuse that goes on, the drugs. And if you notice this whole point about the works of the flesh, number one, they are all selfish and they are all about pleasure. It is all about “me.” That sums up our society in one word: Me.
If we go back to the thirteenth century, Saint Francis of Assisi had perhaps the best way of describing the body that I have ever heard. He called it “Brother Donkey,” and with good reason because Brother Donkey is very stubborn. Brother Donkey wants to do what he wants to do and it does not matter if you try to tell him to do something different. Brother Donkey needs to be brought into subjection, but our society has given Brother Donkey free rein to do whatever he wants to do.
Saint Paul tells us we must put to death the works of the flesh because they are all disordered. Now we can look at ourselves then and ask, “To what degree are we giving into the ways of the world?” because there is not one of us sitting here who is not affected by these things. How much are we giving in? And how much are we putting to death within us these things that are wrong? If we are going to live according to the Spirit of Christ, it is to live a life of virtue. All of those things that were just listed a bit ago are all mortal sins. Therefore, if we are living according to the Spirit of Christ, as we saw earlier, we must be in the state of grace. We need to get rid of mortal sin. We need to get rid of all sin, but at least for now we need to start with the big ones. We need to get it out of our lives.
Our society tells us that these things are going to make us happy. Our society tells us that pleasure and selfishness are synonymous terms with happiness. I have never met one single person who has been made happy by any of these things. There is the momentary sense of selfish pleasure that is there, and that goes away even faster than it came. But they are not happy. They are miserable, unhappy, bitter people who are on a lifelong quest to find more selfish pleasure that is going to be more intense because what they were accustomed to just does not have the same kick anymore and it does not bring about the same kind of unfortunate joy they were looking for.
On the other hand, those who live according to the Spirit of Christ have a deep, abiding peace and joy. One can ask why. It is because they are interested in the works of the Spirit, building up the soul not the body, putting to death the works of the flesh. These are people who are going to spend time in prayer. They are people who are going to spend time seeking the Lord and trying to do His Will. So they shut off the TV set, the radio, the Internet, and all kinds of other things that are pulling at us. They pray instead. They seek silence in their lives instead of all the noise that our society is constantly pushing at us (because Satan knows that wherever there is noise we cannot pray).
That is why Father Hardon told us that silence is of God and noise is of the devil. Where there is noise, you are going to find Satan. Look around our society. There is not much silence. And if there is a moment of silence, someone will intentionally break it because they cannot stand the silence any longer because the senses in Brother Donkey are crying out to have their desires met.
Now it is an interesting phenomenon, if we go back to the Gospel reading today, that Our Lord tells us, as He prays to His heavenly Father, that from the learned and the clever the most obvious things are hidden but the little ones recognize the truth of them. And so if we simply look at some of those areas of sin, little children know that they are wrong, simple people recognize that these things are evil and that they go against human nature and that they are violations of our own dignity, but those who want to be learned and clever in our society are trying to find ways to rationalize why these things are okay, that it all is supposed to be acceptable, that if we are good Christians we are supposed to be nice, which means that we accept everybody for whatever they want to do and we are not supposed to judge.
Well, let us make the right distinctions. We need, again, to judge actions. We cannot judge the people – we do not know what is in their heart – but we need to judge the actions. And we do not accept anything and everything just because somebody wants to do it. There was a man who once talked about the abortionists and how they are trying to convince everybody that we are not supposed to judge them. He had a term he used that I think is very apropos for us. He said that as Christian people we need to be careful that we are not “nicer than Jesus.” Jesus would not tolerate this nonsense for a minute, and yet we are supposed to tolerate all of this stuff. We give diversity training these days, so the only thing we are not supposed to tolerate is being Catholic, because being Catholic means you have to stand for something. The only virtue in our society these days is tolerance. If you look at any moral theology manual, you will not find tolerance listed under any virtue. God does not tolerate sin. God does not tolerate evil. Yet we have found very interesting ways to try to convince ourselves that it is okay to commit sin and to throw ourselves headlong into what Saint Peter calls “the swamp of profligacy.”
That is what our society is all about and we need to put it to death in ourselves. It is a very simple principle: If the world recognizes you as one of its own, then Jesus does not recognize you as one of His own; and if Jesus recognizes you as one of His own, then the world does not recognize you as one of its own. There are only the two options. If we want to live a worldly life, Saint Paul says that if we live according to the ways of the flesh we will die, and he means an eternal death. But if we put to death the works of the flesh and live according to the Spirit of Christ, then we will live forever. If the world does not accept you, rejoice because Our Lord told us that they hated Him before they hated us and that He has overcome the world. So if we are going to throw ourselves into the filth that this world has to offer, then we are cutting ourselves off from Christ. But if we choose to put to death the works of the flesh, then we live according to the Spirit of Christ, then we live according to the simplicity of the little ones who are in Christ – who will recognize good for what it is and who will recognize evil for what it is and call it accordingly. That is what we are to be about. We are to put to death the works of the flesh so that we will be recognized as members of Jesus Christ who live according to the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.