by Fr Richard Heilman | September 6, 2016 12:36 AM
A few weeks ago, I had one of those “God-incidences” (coincident) or “God-winks.” All that week, I was drawn to Galatians 5. Twice, in counseling, I offered it to others to read. I spent time, off and on, all week reflecting on it. As I approached my homily prep time toward the end of the week, I said to myself, “I really hope I can work Galatians 5 into my homily this Sunday.” And so I began by reading the Gospel, and I wondered how Galatians 5 might fit. Knowing that the three readings usually carry a matching general theme, I went on to read the New Testament reading to see how Galatians 5 might fit. When I looked down to read it, my jaw, quite literally, dropped … I saw that this Sunday’s New Testament reading is Galatians 5. WOW!!
So, why Galatians 5?
My reflection starts with a term coined by one of our Presidents. In 2000, George W. Bush addressed the 91st annual convention of the NAACP. During the speech Bush condemned what he called “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” or the belief that certain groups or individuals cannot be held to the same standard as everyone else simply because of who they are.
This “soft bigotry of low expectations” has plagued our culture and the Church for decades now. Pervasive has been a false compassion or false mercy that constantly bombards us with reminders that we “can’t help it” … we are victims of our circumstances. We are told we are too young, too old, too busy, too overwhelmed, etc.. We are victims of our upbringing, victims of our inherited traits, victims of our race, victims of our culture, victims of our economic status, etc.. And so we are told, in essence, that a moral and virtuous and holy life … a life lived striving for truth and excellence “may not be in the cards for us,” so it is perfectly fine to remain in a life that seeks only more base and carnal forms of pleasure. Because … you know … you can’t help it.
St. Paul would say (in Galatians 5) to those liars …
“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.’ I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty … In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and castrate themselves!” (Galatians 5:7-10).
“As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and castrate themselves!” You can see how irate St. Paul is toward those who “keep people down” by stripping them of the desire to pursue a life in the spirit … this “soft bigotry of low expectations.” This is a life trapped or imprisoned in the flesh. Instead, St. Paul is imploring us to reach for the stars; to seek the “high life” in the power of the Holy Spirit.
St. Paul’s motivational technique of using an athletic competition analogy is, classically, found in his letter to the Corinthians …
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
Not a soft bigotry of low expectations by sitting on the sidelines as we watch others who are not as victimized as us, but a challenge to “get in the race.” And, not just that, but to “win the race!” In other words, never settle for a half-hearted, lukewarm attempt at sanctity. No, put your heart, mind, soul and strength into the pursuit of the only real source of joy in our life: “Striving for Sanctity!”
St. Paul calls this “Freedom” … “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free … So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:13,19).
St. Josemaria Escriva teaches, “there are only two possible ways of living on this earth: either we live a supernatural life, or we live an animal life. And you and I can only live the life of God, a supernatural life.”
While many forms of pleasure are not sinful, in and of themselves, some are, or can be. Some forms of pleasure are objectively evil … e.g., viewing pornography. An over-indulgence of something can be sinful … e.g., excessive alcohol consumption. The things that give them pleasure, which leads to over-consumption or even addiction, can control many. In other words, they find themselves in a place where they are not happy unless they continue their pursuit of the “things” that make them happy.
Spiritually speaking, this over-indulgence or the use of objectively evil things causes a spiritual death (mortal sin), According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him” (CCC 1855). Furthermore, being in a state of mortal sin further inclines us to do evil. It leaves us with very little defenses against the Devil and our own weaknesses.
This spiritual death also throws us into the malaise of spiritual sloth or “acedia.” Sloth is an evil disposition of the will and of the sensible appetites, by which one fears and refuses effort, wishes to avoid all trouble, and seeks a dolce far niente (“sweetness of doing nothing”). When idleness affects the accomplishment of the religious duties necessary to sanctification, it is called acedia. It is an evil sadness: opposed to spiritual joy, which is the fruit of generosity in the love of God. Acedia is a disgust for spiritual things, a disgust which leads one to perform them negligently, to shorten them, or to omit them under vain pretexts. It is the cause of tepidity (or “lukewarm”). G.K. Chesterton said, “The Mass is very long and tiresome unless one loves God.”
When we are diminished to this sloth or acedia, we lose our “drive to strive.” We take the easiest route. We are, quite literally, imprisoned or “stuck” in this lower, animalistic way of living. Having moved away from the Divine Life, we are now choosing the world over God’s love and protection. We are now “devil fodder” for every whim sparky sends our way.
St. Paul names the most typical “bad attitudes” of those “caught” in this worldliness …
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry (anything we put ahead of God) and witchcraft (crystals, ouija boards, horoscopes, etc.); hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies (pornography), and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
Those who simply surrender to God, and make the firm decision to please Him in every way – The Gift of Fear of the Lord, or Awe and Wonder – enter into the sweet and joy-filled freedom of spiritual life.
St. Paul goes on to highlight the fruit or the “evidence” of one who has entered this Divine Life …
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Galatians 5:22-26).
No matter what obstacles you may face, God wants you in the race! He needs you to bring His message of hope and joy and love to a world that has been programmed that this Divine Life; this striving for sanctity is just not for them.
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