SCRIPTURE READINGS: [1 Tim 3:14-16; Ps 111:1-6; Lk 7:31-35 ]
St Paul wrote, “I wanted you to know how people ought to behave in God’s family.” In every family and in every society, there are norms of conduct that are expected from every one so that there will be harmonious living, peace and unity. This is true of Church members. There are certain rules governing how Christians must behave and conduct themselves within the Church and outside the Church. But Christianity must not be reduced to a set of rules and laws by which members are to follow. It is not the observance of the laws themselves that are primary, but living a life of holiness. The laws are meant to be an expression of how holiness of life is to be lived.
So what does it mean to live a life of holiness? There is no one way to live a life of holiness. Whilst the call to holiness of life is for all, the way we express and live out this life of holiness is different. Different people, because of culture, status, profession, age and health, are called to holiness in different ways. Living a life of holiness is to live a holistic life in accordance with the Spirit of the gospel, a life of wisdom, truth and love. The way each one of us concretizes the Spirit of the gospel would differ.
Hence, some spiritualties are suitable for a period of time, within the historical context, the cultural situation and the personalities involved. Indeed, the Church over the 2000 years of history have encompassed a whole range of spirituality, from hermit to community living, from contemplative to active apostolate, from extreme asceticism to a life of moderation. It is not a question of who is right or wrong, or which one is better. Spirituality is simply the way in which one seeks to live out the life of the Spirit. In the final analysis, we need to ask ourselves whether we are living a life of moderation, of truth, love, compassion and charity.
In the gospel, we have an apparent contrast between the spirituality of Jesus and that of John the Baptist. The latter, since he came before Jesus, was steeped in Jewish spirituality, which is that of observance of the laws and the impending judgement of God on humanity if they did not repent. So John the Baptist fled from the temptations of the world by living a life of asceticism in the desert, eating only wild honey. Because of his extreme ascetical practices, he was perceived either as a holy man or, by his critics, as being possessed by a demon. This was what Jesus said, “For John the Baptist comes, not eating bread, not drinking wine, and you say, ‘He is possessed.’” In contrast, when “the Son of Man comes, eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” They saw Jesus as anything but a rabbi or a prophet. He did not appear to be like the prophets of His time because He was enjoying a good meal and having fellowship with the most hated and ostracized people.
The spirituality of Jesus was that of the incarnation. This is what St Paul meant when he cited the hymn that was sung in the early Church in praise of the humanity and divinity of Jesus. “Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is very deep indeed: He was made visible in the flesh, attested by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed to the pagans, believed in by the world, taken up in glory.” In this short hymn, the humanity and divinity of Jesus is recognized and worshipped. Jesus the eternal Son of God was truly incarnated in the flesh. He was truly a man and assumed our humanity in all its dimensions. But at the same time, He was raised up from death to fullness of life in the resurrection. He was given back His former glory of His divinity. Jesus therefore shows us how to live by living the life of a human being infused by the Spirit of God. He lived His life on earth in the power of the Spirit. Although He was God, He did not exercise His divine powers but allowed the Spirit to work in and through Him.
Accordingly, when St Paul speaks of “the Church of the living God, which upholds the truth and keeps it safe”, he was referring to the centrality of the doctrine of the Church, namely, the incarnation of Christ, His passion, death and resurrection. The heart of the Church’s spirituality is rooted in the incarnation of our Lord. In Christ, there is one person with two natures, human and divine. The humanity and divinity of our Lord is distinct but not separated. Neither is it mixed or assumed into one nature.
From this fundamental Christological doctrine arises a balanced spirituality. What does an incarnational spirituality look like? The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. As such, the body remains the window of the human spirit as well. The body is matter and the soul is the form. Spirit has no matter and uses matter to form it. Body therefore is an expression of how the soul in us feels. Whether we are happy or sad, worried or carefree, are expressed through our body. So the body mediates the thoughts and feelings of the spirit. It is but a vehicle of expression. Conversely, the spirit needs the body to mediate love, compassion, kindness and joy.
Conversely, the body also influences the spirit as well. If the body is well and healthy, it will give the spirit joy and a sense of well-being. If the body is well fed, it will give satisfaction and contentment to the spirit. So food and pleasure are good both for the body and the spirit. When the body is well looked after, then the spirit will be at peace. For this reason God, whilst is concerned with our spirit, knows that we are not pure spirit. Our body needs sustenance and pleasure as well. “Thus, He gives food to those who fear him; keeps his covenant ever in mind. He has shown his might to his people by giving them the lands of the nations.”
However, this unity and balance between the body and the spirit must be maintained at all times. One cannot do without the other. If the body is sick and neglected, or had too much indulgence, the spirit also becomes sick and weary. Conversely, if the spirit is neglected, the body would suffer because pleasure is not everything in life. Too much physical enjoyment will cause the spirit to be lethargic and listless. Thus, holiness is to strike a balance between the care of our body and the spirit. Either extreme will make our life miserable. But to live a life of holiness is to take everything we have in moderation, whether it comes to food, enjoyment, sleep, sex and spiritual life. We are called to live a life like Jesus who did not disdain the human pleasures given to us as gifts from God. But He was not addicted to any form of bodily cravings. He was free to be full or to be hungry. This, precisely, was the spirituality of St Paul as well when he wrote, “Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:11-13)
We must not make the same mistake of the Pharisees and the scribes. They were finding fault with the spirituality of John the Baptist and our Lord. It was not because they disagreed, but because they were reprimanded by their way of life. They were not sincere in living a life of truth and love. They were finding reasons to justify their actions and their rejection of them. They were hypocritical by pretending to observe the laws, but out of pride and self-righteousness; not because of love and compassion. They were not leaders with moral and spiritual integrity. Their lives were divided and lacked integration between their spiritual life and how they lived out their lives in charity.
Indeed, holiness is to live in such a way that our body is a reflection of the interior Spirit of Christ living in us. We are called to glorify God with our body and in our body. Through the body, we are called to mediate God’s compassion and love; His joy and peace to others. Through the Holy Spirit, we are directed in the way we live a life of charity. Living in the power of the Spirit as Jesus did when He was on earth is how we are to live our lives meaningfully. The psalmist says, “Majestic and glorious his work, his justice stands firm for ever. He makes us remember his wonders. The Lord is compassion and love.” This is how the friends of Jesus would live their lives. “Yet wisdom has been proved right by all her children.” We who are the children of God must live accordingly like Jesus, glorifying God in and through our bodies.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone.