Caring for our spiritual life
If we can only give to our spiritual powers just a fraction of the attention we usually give to our physical faculties, I think we would be much better off. Our problem is that most of the time we ignore the needs of our spiritual soul while we pamper and spoil our body.
Just look at the time, effort and money spent on things of the flesh — wellness craze, looks, sports and fashion, body cult, etc. — and compare these with the ones spent for our spiritual needs — prayer, sacraments, interior struggle, etc. You´ll notice there can hardly be any worse inequality.
That´s why, in the long history of ascetical literature written and lived by saints through the centuries, there has been that consistent insistence to curb the tendencies of the flesh to give way to the more important aspirations of the spirit.
These two constituent elements of our human nature have become fierce competitors, not so much on the part of the spirit as it is on the part of the body. The trouble is that our body wants to dominate the spirit, reversing the order proper to our nature.
This tension was vividly expressed by Christ himself when he warned his sleepy disciples — Peter, James and John — to watch and pray, because ¨the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.¨
To remedy this predicament, Christ taught that we enter by the narrow gate — putting ourselves to some inconveniences and discomfort, etc. — because ¨wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leads to perdition.¨
In fact, in the end, he indicated that to follow him, we have to deny ourselves and carry the cross. And so the cross or the sense of penance, sacrifice and mortification has been made an integral part of Christian life and even of human life in general. We would go crazy without it.
Why is this so? Simply because the body needs to be properly animated by the spirit. For us to be truly human and fit according to our dignity as person and God´s child, our body has to be animated by the spirit that in turn should be animated by the Holy Spirit.
The body on its own is nothing without the soul. Christ said: “It is the Spirit who gives life. The flesh profits nothing.”
(Jn 6,63) The quality of our life does not depend solely on our material needs, but relies more on the nourishment we receive from the spirit.
On its own, the body has appetites that are purely material. Alone, it cannot enter the intellectual and spiritual world, not to mention the supernatural goal that our faith tells us is our original and ultimate end.
Our body has to submit to the order proper to us, that is, it has to be directed by our spiritual faculties. Thus, St. Augustine said in this regard: ¨Where the flesh commands and the spirit serves, the house is turned the wrong way...Man is rightly ordered where the spirit commands and the flesh serves.¨
We need to be more wary of our duty to take care of our spiritual powers. Sad to say, many people do not even know what these spiritual powers of ours are.
This to me is a real disaster, since many people are well-versed with the material and technical world—think of the skills people have in gadgets—while confessing to be ignoramuses and pygmies with respect to spiritual and supernatural realities.
Our spiritual powers are mainly our intelligence and will, our thinking, judging, reasoning and loving. These need to be managed and supervised well, seeing to it that they are engaged with their proper objects and not simply allowed to drift and flow wherever they are blown by our bodily and worldly conditionings.
St. Paul talks about the distinction between the carnal man and the spiritual man, and we should make the right choice and develop it to its maturity. St. Augustine warns us not to allow our soul, our spiritual powers, to become carnal by consenting to the affections of the flesh.
Unfortunately, this is what we are seeing aplenty these days —people are not only consenting but also are glorying in the affections of the flesh. We need to reverse this trend. It may be a painful process requiring nothing less than heroic effort and dedication of nothing less than a martyr, but it would be all worth it.
Caring for our spiritual powers means exerting realistic effort to always find reasons, motivations and ways to relate all our thinking and loving to God and all souls.*
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