Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fleshing It Out

It's simple, and we never hear it from the pulpit.

St. Paul talks about Flesh vs. Spirit.  By flesh he does not mean "the body".  We know this because the "works of the flesh" that he lists include spiritual as well as corporal sins.  By flesh (sarx
in Greek) he means the inborn tendency of the Old Adam to follow his own selfish will straight into sin, corruption and death.  The Flesh is thus that part of us that ignores God and sets ourselves up as god in his place; it is the unredeemed man, it is man steeped in original and actual sin.

This is contrasted with the Spirit, which is both the Holy Spirit (in a specific sense) and also (in a more general sense) the New Creation - the life of God in us.  Paul says he was "crucified with Christ" - "and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me."  The fruit of the Spirit is sanctification and everlasting life.  It is a new thing, new wine poured into new wineskins.  It is the re-creation of our whole selves, body and soul.

But to turn toward the new life of God, we must mortify or "put to death" the old life in us.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the works of the flesh, you will live. (Rom. 8:13

The "flesh" is that desire in us that seeks to fill that empty hole, that horrible little hole, that thing that is easily abused and threatened and that eventually will die - that thing that wants more and more and is never satisfied.  It's the Hungry I, the petty tyrant in each of us.

And Paul says that one of the works of the flesh is "divisions" or "factions".  Know, then, that when you see disunity, the root cause of it, on one side or the other, is always an agenda, a selfish program, a self-serving desire to get one's own way.  In theological disputes, one side is usually pushing just such an agenda, a reading of Scripture and Church teaching and the Catechism that allows for a specific work of the flesh, a particular sin that is "preciousss" to the sinner. 

Spot the agenda, see how the dissenter is "fleshing it out", and understand how the disunity takes root, sprouts and grows.

This is true when people turn somersaults to rationalize Lying, when they bend over backwards to make excuses for bad theologies about sex, and even when they argue about Sacred Music.

And how can you tell which side has a fleshy agenda and which side doesn't?  When the argument stops being about discovering truth and becomes irrational or personal, then a nerve has been touched. 

When people argue in Bad Faith, it's not an argument in the Spirit; it's an argument in the flesh.


Anonymous said...

Okay, I agree wholeheartedly, but to verify our agreement, I'll submit my own example of "fleshing it out".


I see the commonality of yours and my examples as the effort of someone to deny a simple Church teaching (e.g. "don't lie", "don't co-habitate", "don't pursue occasions of sin") in favor of a "more mature" or "more nuanced" or "higher" good than simple obedience to the magisterium.

We on the same page?


Kevin O'Brien said...

We are on the same page, BB, if the man in question was unable to refrain from sin while living with another man. If he could live with another man chastely as a close friend, there is nothing in Church teaching to prevent that.

Anonymous said...

I guess that my view is different. I'd say that since nothing is worth losing your soul over, an near occasion of sin is something objective, not something subjective.

In my case, I'd say that me living with a woman who is not my wife is a near occasion. If one asks me the question "Are you able to co-habitate with women without being tempted to sin?" then what I'd be particularly trying to do, is to predict the future.

Without being able to point at a CCC cite, I'd have to say it seems pretty obvious that we're not to hang our salvation on being able to predict the future.

It seems that the obvious Catholic option would be to avoid what is objectively a near occasion, and not pin it on some subjective feeling about whether or not it will be an occasion for me.

But, hey. I guess fleshing it out is a sliding scale.


Joey Higgins said...

Are you able to co-habitate with women without being tempted to sin?

Only if it's my mother (or other family).And even then, I'll probably sin, just not in that way. I would wager that most people are this way as well - they just won't or can't admit it.