This past Sunday, during the Liturgy of the Word, we heard a reading from the second letter of St. Paul to Timothy. In that reading, we heard the following:
This struck me profoundly, especially in light of my developing idea of Catholic Vitalism. What is Catholic Vitalism but a recognition of this very reality, that God has given us a spirit of POWER and of LOVE and of SELF-DISCIPLINE. This spirit challenges both the timid and resentful Christianity that Nietzsche criticizes as well as the hedonistic culture around us which knows no bounds and seeks total freedom without restraint.
Indeed, this is just one verse among many which speak to the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Take another verse, Ephesians 3:16-17: “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” Here again we have the same theme, that of POWER through the Spirit. But even further, Christ himself echoes this theme of power In Acts 1:8, saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
What we have here is a clear indication that the Christian, baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, will receive power from the Spirit and be elevated to a higher state. The question, then, is how this affects our day-to-day lives. What does it mean for us as beings? To understand this, we need to first understand how the Spirit changes our body itself.
I assume nearly every Christian is aware of the body as “temple of the Holy Spirit” concept. This comes from St. Paul, who says in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” Again in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, he says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” Yet, St. Paul also says, “For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want” (Galatians 5:17). Now, this last verse must be understood in fuller context (I will touch on that momentarily), but we also know of other verses throughout the Bible which warn against the flesh. The flesh is weak, the flesh is sinful, the flesh is ultimately something to overcome. This can be read multiple ways.
Some Christian thinkers have made “flesh” synonymous with “body” and thus the physical body has been made into an object of shame and guilt. Perhaps you yourself have had this thought about your own body. It is this which Nietzsche took great issue with. I would have to concur with him. But we need not interpret the scriptures in this way. Plato may assist us in this respect. Plato wrote in the Republic of the three parts of the soul, those being the rational part (which connects with the mind), the appetitive (which connects with the stomach), and the spirited (which connects with the “heart” or the “chest”). I suggest that when the “flesh” is written about in the Bible, we should think not of our physical body, but rather of the “appetite” or our desires. Moreover, we need not even denounce every desire. The desire for sex, for example, is not in and of itself an evil; God commanded us to multiply after all. Nor is “anger” a sin in and of itself. Righteous anger is completely real. Rather, when St. Paul speaks of the “works of the flesh” which he says are “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21) he means excess and twisted desire. All these things are undoubtedly examples of either a failure to love God or to love neighbor, but they are also inordinate desires and failures in self-control. Even those like Nietzsche recognize the value in self-control and self-discipline. Once we gain an understanding of the “flesh” not being synonymous with “body” we come to a view that compliments the idea of our body being a Temple, for it is impossible to call our body evil since it has been created in the image and likeness of God and houses His very Spirit. It is only capable of housing His Spirit because it is holy. It is more holy than any church. We were, body and soul, created in the image of God, and our bodies will be everlasting (though they will die, they will be resurrected and glorified).
With this out of the way, we come back to the Spirit which dwells within us. Since we can now look at our body not with resentment or guilt or shame, but with a sense of glory, we can refocus on the spiritual aspect.
In the first verse I quoted, 2 Timothy 1:7, as well as others above, we hear of the spirit and its connection with power. The power of what or to do what? First and foremost, to love more perfectly. To be more self-disciplined. We also know there are 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit and 12 fruits. The gifts we gain in baptism and are brought to fullness in confirmation. They are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. The fruits are charity (or love), joy, peace, patience, benignity (or kindness), goodness, longanimity (or long-suffering), mildness (or gentleness), faith, modesty, continency (or self-control), and chastity. We can gain even more specific and mystical gifts through the Spirit, like prophesy or teaching. You might be wondering how exactly this relates to power. Well, consider what all of this together brings us: more perfect union with God and a greater ability to live a life of fullness. If the Spirit dwells within us, then we are united with God both in action and in very being. We are transformed in our mind, body, and soul. We become partakers in the Divine Power. We are also empowered by Christian freedom. “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.” (Galatians 5:18). We also know that once we die to sin, we are made ALIVE in Christ. And what is Catholic Vitalism but an acknowledgement of this new life, this everlasting life, which begins with our baptism and never ends? This life on Earth, this body, it is for the glory of God, it is not to be looked at with disdain. We are Christians, we have the Spirit of POWER and of LOVE and of SELF-DISCIPLINE. The Spirit empowers us to live more fully. Why don’t we act like it?
Some within the Church today, and no doubt throughout history, have had spirits of cowardice. They did not receive this from God. They bow before the spirit of the age, and they lack the backbone to act. They wish to make the faith more easy, more comfortable, more “tolerant.”
And what is the Left, but a destructive force bent on denying life, a spirit of cowardice? It kills children in the womb, it encourages Euthanasia, it denies objective reality, it denies any inherent value in this life, and it even goes so far as to mutilate people’s bodies, and with that their souls. It is an ideology born of out hatred for all that is good. It is one that resents both the self and all others. It resents power and seeks to bring everyone down to an “equal” but pitiful existence. It resents true love and replaces it with desire that is below that of even the animals, for it is perverse. It resents self-discipline and instead seeks total freedom, even to the point of destruction. Unfortunately, these sentiments have even crept into the Christian sphere, both in the Protestant and Catholic churches.
Keeping this in mind, we must once again affirm, as St. Paul did, the Spirit and all that it brings us. We must live a life of love, of self-discipline, and power in Christ through faith. We must not waver, and we must not fall into the trap of resentment. We must love our bodies, for they are Temples and like Christ’s own body. We must not live in guilt and shame, but in joy that we have been saved and confidence that we will share in eternal life with the Father. We must not live a detached life, casting the world away, but we must embrace God’s creation and the world He created for us to dwell in. It is beautiful, after all. We must not cower or cave in when confronted by the Left. We must stand firm with courage and resolve, again, in the Spirit. This is the heart of Catholic Vitalism.
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