Thursday, July 17, 2014

To Live is To Love

I have been hired to write a short biographical drama on the life of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

And although I believe she had a strong influence upon me (behind the scenes) at the Chesterton Conference in Emmitsburg, Maryland four years ago, it has taken her a while to grow upon me.  But the more I read of her, the more I like her.  She was, among other things, a woman who valued Friendship most highly among all earthly blessings.

And this insight of hers in particular strikes me.  She wrote it as a note to herself on the back flyleaf of a book she was reading, The Following of Christ.

To live according to the Spirit, is to love according to the Spirit.  To live according to the flesh, is to love according to the flesh.  Love is the life of the soul - as the soul is the life of the body ... To live according to the Spirit is to act, to speak, to think in the manner the Spirit of God requires of us ... To live then according to the Spirit is to do what faith, hope, and charity teach - either in spiritual or temporal things.

Let me unpack this a bit for you.

First, she is playing around with Flesh vs. Spirit, which is not body vs. spirit, but the ways of the selfish  soul vs. the ways of the enlightened soul.  She is using "flesh" here at St. Paul does (Greek: sarx), meaning all that mean, nasty self-centered lust for power that emanates from that narcissistic little petty tyrant that is inside of every fallen human being; while Spirit means Holy Spirit, the work of God within you.

And St. Elizabeth compares the unfolding of love lived according to either principle.  Compare what St. Paul tells us in Galatians (my emphasis and commentary) ...

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh ... The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
[Clearly, Paul is not using the word "flesh" to talk only about bodily urges, for "idolatry", "hatred", "jealousy", "ambition", etc. are spiritual things - but darkly spiritual things.  The acts of the flesh are the things we do when we are motivated by nothing beyond our basest desires - whether those desires are physical or spiritual.  However ...]
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. (Gal. 5:14-22)

And Mother Seton points out that one can live according to the selfish old man within or, or one can live according to the redeemed new man within; that is, according to the flesh or according to the Spirit.

 But to live is to love.  "Love is the life of the soul - as the soul is the life of the body".  What a great insight!


So what is the difference between loving according to the flesh - the sarx - and loving according to the Spirit?

I think we can see the difference in something as simple as Friendship.


My son Colin, who's a film buff, insisted that I watch the movie The Master the other night.  It's a Paul Thomas Anderson film that's kind of about a Scientology type cult, but is really about love and friendship.

The main character, Freddie Quell (played with amazing skill by Joaquin Phoenix) is a psychologically disturbed drifter whose life is Disconnected.  Without any real relationships in his life, he floats from job to job and from psychotic episode to psychotic episode, until he is befriended by the Cult Leader, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman - and theirs is indeed a friendship, despite the fact that they both make a habit of using other people.

"Use is the opposite of love," as St. John Paul used to say.  And, although Freddie Quell in The Master is willing to use, by means of sex, any woman who moves (or who doesn't move), he harbors one true love - a girl whose innocence he would never dream of offending.  And The Master himself, though he's making a career out of using others in a way that is typical of the Great American Scam Artist, is drawn to Freddie with a simple kind of loyalty.

The climactic scene of the movie (spoiler here) is when The Master describes his love by singing a romantic song to Freddie - but somehow it's far from a homosexual moment.  Freddie breaks down in tears, not so much because he has the sense that The Master is trying to seduce him as he seduces everyone else, but because the song somehow communicates a real love between the two that has nothing to do with romance, homosexual or otherwise.  Or at least that's how I saw it, though the scene (and the whole movie) is very hard to pin down.

At any rate, the opposite of love is not hatred.  The opposite of love is use.


Sometimes friendships die when one or the other party moves on to other interests, when the air goes out of the tire and nothing can be done to patch it and inflate it back up.

But quite often, it seems, friendships die when one party betrays the other, or when an undercurrent of use and even abuse rises to the surface.

When we are used by others to fulfill their selfish needs - which can include sex, attention, affection, money - when this happens and we wise up to it we feel incredibly, terribly, horribly abused, as well we should.

We feel victimized by someone who was loving according to the flesh, and not according to the Spirit.


St. Elizabeth Ann Seton gave her life to educating young women at a time in America when this was simply not being done - at least not being done for women outside of a wealthy social class.  But Mother Seton took in the poor, the destitute, the desperate; she founded an order that helped orphans, that ministered to the needs of the simple common people, of the poorest of the poor.

Hers was a life lived - and loved - according to the Spirit, and it therefore bore the fruits of the Spirit (as St. Paul describes above).

If all of us began to love in that way, our friendships would flourish, and we would find that instead of behaving with "knavish imbecility" (as our bishops do), the Church would revive and the world would begin to heal.  Suffering would certainly be our lot, as to love is to suffer - but this is, after all, our great and only call.


Drusilla Barron said...

Excellent. How often I forget, use is the opposite of love. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

That's right. The Flesh is not the same as body. The Flesh is all things that will die (because sin brought death). When we say we have bodies of flesh, it means bodies that are corrupted & will die & rot. Humans (unlike angels) are a union of Body & Soul. Through our Savior Christ Jesus, we will gain through His glorious Resurrection spiritual Bodies (meaning human bodies like we have now except glorified in such a way that they will NEVER die, hence the adjective "spiritual").

Anonymous said...

All that God the Creator has created is good because He is good. It is us humans that abused our free will & abused & corrupted His creation. We corrupted souls, bodies, land, even trees, etc. But fear not! Our Lord Christ Jesus has brought our salvation & has begun the process of reconciling us & all creation back to God. St. Elizabeth Seton, we love you, pray for us