Friday, November 18, 2011

Living and Dying: The Christian Paradox

Fr. Dale Matson

“Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33, NASB)
Carl Jung asked all of his new patients the same question. “Do you really want to live”? This is not only the basic question for those wanting to be well; it in no way contradicts the previous passage from Luke. Christians should neither overindulge nor neglect the needs of the body. St. Paul states, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Once again, there is a certain irony in both the humility of our bodies being clay pots and the glory of our bodies being temples that contain the Holy Spirit. It is the contents that matter most in either case.
In the Church, there is a considerable focus on the spiritual “activities of daily living” (ADL’s) that includes meditation, prayer, liturgy and service. How disciplined and intentional are we about these things on a daily basis? This is how the Christian participates in the daily drowning of the old Adam. It is a dying with Christ on His cross. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20). If you are a Nicodemus, this is written for your sake.
There is also a healthy seeking of life as stewards of the bodies God has given us. St. Paul refers to a sanctification of the body in addition to the soul and spirit. This does not mean neglect of bodily needs, or worse hedonism or self-abuse. While Christ fasted, he also ate when He was hungry, slept when He needed rest and drank when thirsty.  This is not what St. Paul means when he states, “for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13). This statement is in perfect harmony with the passage from Luke. This is mortification of the flesh but it is not a reference to bodily obsession, neglect or abuse. Mortification of the flesh is a putting to death of the fallen part of our nature inherited as original sin. It is our selfish, self-seeking egocentricity that is the life that must be mortified. It is a circumcision of the heart. “Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). It is a heart of stone being replace by a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Mortification of the flesh is performed on the inside.
Just as there are spiritual ADL’s, there are also Bodily ADL’s and the vast majority of physical problems presented to medical doctors involve a failure to honor these. Our bodies were created for and require physical work and exercise. Diet is another ADL that is as least as important as exercise. In fact, I have learned that no exercise program, no matter how extreme, can purge the careless consumption of calories. I have historically been more concerned about the kind of gasoline I put in my vehicle than the kind of food I consume. Proper diet can correct or alleviate problems with hypertension, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
As Christians we must understand the difference between dying to self for Christ and destruction of self through poor stewardship of our bodies. If you think that you need to be only involved in the Spiritual ADL’s, this is written for you.
Lord, help me to lead a disciplined life in body, soul and spirit. Amen   

1 comment:

Dale Matson said...

"Perfection does not consist in lacerating the body. Rather it consists in curbing our perverse self-will." St. Catherine of Siena