Spirit vs. Flesh
Dear Sisters & Brothers in Christ,
Today we hear St. Paul addressing the Christians in Galatia about the freedom that comes from living in accord with the Gospel. He warns his hearers about the “desires of the flesh.” What does St. Paul mean by “the flesh”?
Many of us might think Paul is speaking primarily about sexual desire or sensual pleasure (food, drink, comfort, etc.). But, biblical scholars tell us that the term “the flesh” has a broader meaning. Msgr. Charles Pope* says, “[the flesh] refers to the part of us that is alienated from God. It is the rebellious, unruly, obstinate part of our inner self that is always operative. It is the part of us that doesn’t want to be told what to do. It is stubborn, refuses correction, and doesn’t want to have a thing to do with God. It bristles at limits and rules. It recoils at anything that might cause us to be diminished or to be something less than the center of the universe. The flesh hates to be under authority or to have to yield to anything other than its own desires. The flesh often desires something simply because it is forbidden.”
Msgr. Pope goes on to say, “‘the spirit’ refers not to the Holy Spirit, but to the human spirit. The (human) spirit is the part of us that is open to God, desires Him, and is drawn to Him. It is the part of us that is attracted by goodness, beauty, and truth; the part that yearns for completion in God; the part that longs to see His face. Without the spirit, we would be totally turned in on ourselves and consumed by the flesh. Thankfully, our spirit, assisted by the Holy Spirit, draws us to desire what is best, upright, and helpful.”
Part of the reality for believers is that the flesh is in conflict with the spirit. The ongoing challenge is to strengthen our spirit so that it overcomes the desires of the flesh and gives us true freedom. We must nurture the spirit with God’s Grace through the Sacraments, especially Confession and Eucharist, and through prayer, Sacred Scripture and by living in accord to the teachings of the Church established by Jesus. That is the recipe for genuine freedom.
Sincerely yours in Christ Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life,
*Msgr. Charles Pope writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. To read more on this topic, go to: http://blog.adw.org/2016/10/st-paul-mean-flesh/