Morning Musings on the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Epistle of Saint Paul to the Galatians 5,16-24
I say then: Walk in the spirit: and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh: For these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would.But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law.
Abide in Christ
What does Saint Paul mean when he enjoins us to “walk in the spirit”? He means, I think, that we are to abide in Our Lord Jesus Christ. Does not the same Apostle say elsewhere, “But he who is joined to the Lord, is one spirit with Him”? (1 Corinthians 6:17) And does not Our Lord Himself say, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. ” (John 15:4-5)
Now the works of the flesh are manifest: which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God.
There are some souls whose fear of falling into the “works of the flesh” is greater than their desire to live in union with Christ. Desire Christ, putting nothing before His love, preferring Him to all else, and the works of the flesh will dry up and fall away by themselves.
Gaze Upon Christ
I have known souls whose concentration on sin is more intense than their concentration on the Face of Christ and on the merciful love of His Heart. These souls are never at peace. They are forever examining themselves, and searching for evidence of sin and imperfection where they should be searching for evidence of the grace of Christ and His readiness to raise up the fallen, heal the broken-hearted, and bind up their wounds.
It is more effective, and more fruitful, to love virtue than to live, at every moment, in the fear of vice. By this I do not mean that one should not fear vice and hate sin; I mean, rather, that to focus on such things is unhealthy for the soul and breeds a spirituality of pessimism and gloom.
Take, for example, Saint Benedict’s approach to the virtue of chastity. In the entire Rule of Saint Benedict there are but two words relative to this virtue: castitatem amare. Whereas other monastic rules treat of chastity at great length, Saint Benedict says simply and succinctly: castitatem amare, to love chastity. These two words say all that needs to be said on the subject. There is nothing negative here; no stifling prohibitions and no minute regulations. Saint Benedict’s approach is entirely positive. He presents chastity as beautiful; it is this that makes it worthy of love. All virtue is a participation in the beauty, the truth, and the goodness of God. Saint Benedict understands that one who loves the beauty of chastity will rise to a higher love: the love of the beauty that shines on the Face of Christ.
But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified their flesh, with the vices and concupiscences.
The Fruits of the Holy Ghost
Saint Paul gives us here the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost. The tree upon which these fruits grow has seven branches, these being the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost. And the root and trunk of the tree are none other than the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
When I was a young monk, the same Dom R.C. whom I have mentioned elsewhere, and who had such a beneficial influence on me, told me that he liked to ruminate the list of the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost. He was practising a spiritual hygiene of thought. He was, in effect, fulfilling what Saint Paul enjoins us to do:
For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things. The things which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, these do ye, and the God of peace shall be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
This spiritual hygiene of thought has another side to it: there are things that are not fitting, or helpful, or worthy of the thought and conversation of Christians: “fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness.” It is a pity when talented writers and speakers waste their gifts on calling attention to the sins and weaknesses — generally sins and weaknesses of the flesh — of fellow Christians and, notably, of the clergy, instead of employing their gifts to call attention to the beauty of God in his saints.
Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints: Or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose; but rather giving of thanks. (Ephesians 5:2-4)
The Lord is Wonderful in His Saints
Attention to virtue fosters virtue. Attention to vice foments bitterness, sadness, discouragement, unrest, and rash judgment. One needs, I think, to take a lesson from the liturgical calendar and rejoice, day after day, in the beauty of Christ who is, as the Invitatory Antiphon puts it, “wonderful in His saints.”