The Earthly and the Heavenly Life
For if ye live after the flesh ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (Romans viii. 13.)
THE Apostle does three things in these words. Firstly, he commands us that we should mortify the pleasure of the flesh, through the Spirit do ye mortify the deeds of the body. Secondly, he places the necessity of mortifying it, if ye live after the flesh ye shall die. Thirdly, he places the profit of the mortification, ye shall live.
I. On the first head, it is to be noted, that in a threefold manner we ought to mortify the flesh.
(1) We are to mortify the flesh first by destroying its carnal desires and sin. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry, for which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience; in the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him. (Col. iii. 5-10)
Carnal desires emerge both from the body and the soul. These are not the sins of the spirit. So first St. Thomas exhorts us to heed the Apostle’s counsel in abandoning the sins of the body and soul. First, he calls us out of sexual sins or the sins of lust. Human sexuality is made for the procreation of children. So any expression of sexuality that does not use the body for this purpose is sinful. Thus the Apostle warns us not to separate the sexual desire from its intended end. Any sexual desire, passion, or appetite that is freed from God’s original intention for it is sinful. When a man divorces sexual desire from procreative intention his appetite grows and becomes gluttonous. The subject thus over-indulges and over-consumes the object of his passion, and so he dishonors and disrespects the image and likeness of God in the other. Therefore redeemable passion becomes animal appetite that treats another human being as the an object to be devoured rapaciously. Over-indulgence then makes the subject more and selfish as the object becomes a kind of commodity. The subject becomes covetous and greedy. Avarice then defines his relation to the world. He has forsaken the spiritual good and he is drawn more and more into the idolatry of the flesh and the world through the devil. Selfishness leads to sloth in spiritual matters. Spiritual sloth then generates blasphemy and despair of God. Out of blasphemy comes malice and ill will. Soon anger and wrath grow as the slothful man speaks evily of his neighbor and even harms him physically. Against these sins of the body united to the soul, the Apostle warns us. The Apostle then tells us not to lie to ourselves about ourselves or to others but to live under God’s truth. Christians are to become ‘a new man renewed in knowledge of the image of the Creator’. Thus we are to use our bodies and souls in the service of our end, which is the perfection of the image and likeness of God in ourselves and others.
(2) We are to mortify the flesh, second by macerating it by fasting and afflictions to the likeness of the passion of Jesus Christ, Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. (2 Cor. iv. 10)
If we hope to live chastely, we must fast and pray. When we fast and pray we love all others in God and God in them. Thus we do not use or abuse them lustfully, gluttonously, or greedily. Rather, when we fast and pray we die to ourselves and allow Christ’s passion, suffering, and death to come alive in us. We pray God to fill our bodies and souls with a desire for purity, through moderation and temperance, embracing also the virtues of generosity and kindness. We pray that Jesus might be seen, heard, and sensed in our bodily natures. We pray also that through our zeal and passion we might reveal and disclose that we intend to please Him with all our lives. So we treat others honorably and respectfully; we long to give to them rather than take from them; and we strive to love the image and likeness of God in them. With deepest passion then we long for their salvation and our own. We shall thus do them no harm with words or deeds, for what we love in them is Jesus Christ –waiting to be elicited from them or already emerging from their hearts and assisting us.
(3) Third, we are to mortify the flesh by afflicting it with spiritual meditations. Much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Eccles. xii. 12) Watching for riches, consumeth the flesh, (Ecclus. xxxi. 1) that is carnal pleasures. The thought of it takes away sleep, i.e., the weariness of sluggishness. The thinking beforehand taketh away the understanding (Ibid, 2), i.e., he who sees beforehand the rewards of gifts turns away sense, i.e., from all evil concupiscence; and heavy infirmity, i.e., of the body makes the mind free from sin.
Too many people today do not undertake or assume spiritual duties in order to tame the flesh and lift them into the spiritual purification and sanctification of the soul and spirit. And yet all Christians are called to take time each day to ‘wait for the riches of God’. Spiritual meditation upon one’s sins, one’s wretchedness, and one’s hopelessness without God is a tiring and exhausting endeavor. The soul and spirit that work hard in this self-emptying self-denial bring the body into line and order with God’s intention for the whole person. Carnal pleasures are consumed and burnt away as requisite and ongoing spiritual warfare is waged. And as the soul is subject increasingly to the spirit, the demands of sense in the body are dulled and enervated; concupiscence is no longer a bodily urge but a spiritual malady that is now seen by the soul and resisted by the spirit. The soul or mind becomes free from sin as the sorrowful penitent receives with joy the forgiveness of his sins and the amendment of his life through the infusion of God’s Grace.
II. On the second head, it is to be noted that it is necessary we should mortify the flesh, since if we live after the flesh we shall die; for it follows that there is a threefold death from the pleasure of the flesh.
(1)The first reason for mortifying the flesh is the death of sin.
Now we move from the way of mortification to the reason for it. We move from the body into the soul. In the soul we come to see that we must die to sin if we are to perfect the image and likeness of God within by His Grace alone. We die to sin because we desire to come alive to righteousness. We desire to come alive to righteousness and holiness because through these virtues God acclimates or habituates us to the operations of His Divine Wisdom and Goodness. We were made to see and know God. To see and know God we must die to sin and come alive to all those virtues that ensure our fear of Him alone, our unbreakable obedience to Him, and the fulfillment of His will in our lives. The last is His creative meaning and purpose for us. All other creatures follow His will by the laws imprinted upon their natures. We, with the angels, because we are rational, are to be subject to him not by necessity or force, but by the voluntary act and decision or the perfection of our wills. Thus we are encouraged to choose not sin and eternal death in alienation from God but righteousness and everlasting life in communion with Him forever.
(2) The second reason for mortifying the flesh is the death of nature. By surfeiting many have perished. (Ecclus. xxxvii. 34)
Overindulgence of the flesh through lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, and anger brings about eternal death. To make a god out of the body and soul and their appetites is a choice that man makes to his eternal peril. His body is made for the soul and the soul is made for the spirit. The spirit is made to know and love God. The willful divinization of animal appetite and psychic self-possession leads not closer and closer to but further and further away from God. Like the house of Saul man grows weaker and weaker. And yet, like the House of David, he is intended by God to grow stronger and stronger because he is created to return willfully to His first love and the Grace that alone can make him better and better. The fallen nature is meant to be brought to death that the redeemed nature might be brought to life as man willfully assents to partake of Christ’s Redemption.
(3) The third reason for the mortification of the body is the death of Gehena. He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption. (Gal. vi. 8) Evil shall slay the wickes. (Ps. xxxiv. 21)
He who does not mortify the sins of the flesh but rather worships, obeys, follows, and perfects them, will be rewarded with eternal death. Eternal death is life in the presence of God from a great distance. The wicked shall see, know, and endure God’s victory over sin, death, and Satan as the love which the Blessed enjoy and they have rejected. They will see, know, and experience the love and mercy that they willfully refused. Hell in Heaven is far worse that Hell in isolation from it.
III. On the third head, it is to be noted that a threefold life is acquired by the mortification of the flesh. The benefits rewarded to those who mortify the flesh are threefold.
(1) First, there is the benefit of the prolongation of natural life: He that is temperate shall prolong life. (Ecclus. xxxvii. 31)
St. Paul addresses those who have mortified the flesh and all lusts therein. ‘I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.’ (Phil. i. 3-6) Those who mortify the deeds of the flesh have begun a good work that is being perfected and carrying them closer and closer to the Kingdom of God. The new life of Jesus Christ, alive in the bodies, souls, and spirits of the faithful, does not come to any termination point. As the human being grows older and older he is made younger and younger as the Grace of God rebirths him from above with each new day.
(2) Second, there is the benefit of the life of grace. To be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Rom. viii. 6)
To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Those who have mortified the carnal deeds of the flesh have willfully subjected themselves to the Law of God’s Wisdom and Mercy, and thus are at peace with Him. They begin to share in the life of God. His Wisdom and His Love are being made flesh in them. They are being refashioned into the sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father. ‘The life that they live is by the faith of the Son of God who loved them gave himself for them.’ (Gal. ii. 20) They are peace with God through the reconciliation, peace, and atonement made flesh, Jesus Christ.
(3) Third, the benefit of mortifying the body is the prolongation of the life of glory. Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. (2 Cor. iv. 11)
Interestingly enough, St. Thomas tells us that our earthly lives will not have ended aright unless we are dying spiritually up until we breathe our last. Earthly life for the Christian pilgrim is an ongoing death to the world, the flesh, the devil, and the self. The dying of the Lord Jesus Christ that the Apostle says must be the form and pattern, the real spiritual living that we embrace willfully, is the only sure and certain recipe for salvation. While our Lord and Saviour lived in the flesh, He was always mortifying it. Our Lord and Saviour’s whole Incarnation was nothing other than dying to Himself and coming alive to the Father through the Holy Spirit for all of us. His whole life was therefore a living death and a dying life. He longs to die in all of us each day. By this we mean that He who alone has died to sin, death, Satan and Himself perfectly desires to share this power, this wisdom, and this love with us. His Grace is nothing other than the merciful presence that He lends to us in order that we too might die daily to all that separates us from loving obedience to our Heavenly Father. He longs that His Death should not be relegated to the dustbin of past history. He longs that His Death should be alive to us and in us. He longs to die in us and for us through His Holy Spirit. If we willfully receive the Gift of this His Grace, we shall be rewarded with eternal glory. So let us this day, my friends, let Jesus die in and through us that we might begin to live in unbreakable communion with our Heavenly Father, moving from glory into glory. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons