Tuesday, March 13, 2007

St. Paul on the agon, Part II

In yesterday's post, which took its direction from 1 Corinthians 9,24-27, we see that holiness is not merely some abstract spiritual pursuit, but is a bodily endeavor. Sometimes we chop ourselves up into so many parts (i.e., body, mind, spirit, soul, heart, etc.) that we lose sight of ourselves as unified, whole, persons. This manifests itself in such things as "I am spiritual, but not religious." In this context at least, that is a bit like saying I am really into to fitness, as I lay on the couch eating chips and watching ESPN (add to that drinking a beer or two and you have- what is for me- a "get behind me Satan" moment- especially with spring Training underway and my beloved A's yet to undertake another summer, this one without Barry Zito, who moved across the Bay). Holiness, as Paul seeks to explain over and again in his teaching, which comprises most of the New Testament, requires discipline, the training of our bodies.

As we all know, our bodies are recalcitrant and often resist being trained. It doesn't matter if it is overeating, eating poorly, drinking too much, not attending Mass, even when we resolve anew each week to do so, physically exercising, getting enough rest, praying regularly, taking time to serve others, or disciplining our sexual appetites. The need to do the latter even extends to married couples. St. Paul addresses this in the seventh chapter of this letter both as to abstaining from relations and the dangers of abstaining too long (I take this opportunity to point out a new link to Intermountain Fertility Care, courtesy of the Director of our diocesan Office of Family Life, which is a resource on teaching the Creighton Model of NFP- another post to appear in the near-term). A good way to learn about salvation as a physical pursuit is by studying Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body. In turn, a nice entry way into this beautiful and profound teaching of our late Holy Father, is Bishop Robert Baker's pastoral letter, The Redemption of our Bodies: The Theology of the Body and Its Consequences for Ministry in the Diocese of Charleston. He is the bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina and his letter is for his own people, but is well worth consideration of anybody who is sincere about how, as human beings comprised of spirit and body, we fulfill the end for which we are created. During this holy season, may we "not fight as if [we are] shadowboxing." Let us also not lose sight of the fact that discipline is a means, not an end. The end is closer union with God, becoming Christ-like through love of God and neighbor. Our efforts are but a way of cooperating with God's grace, not forcing God's hand, or trying to make ourselves better than others. To the contrary, true discipline, as we come to realize our dependence on God and our need for community, only humbles us.

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