St. Paul: You're not in the flesh, you're in the spirit! (Homily for July 9)

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

Did you catch these words from St. Paul?
What we heard in today’s second scripture where he wrote:
“Brothers and sisters,
you are not in the flesh;
on the contrary, you are in the spirit,
if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.”
What's St. Paul trying to say here?

For the benefit of those who might be visiting our parish today
and who don’t know me,
a short 20 months ago I was very much “in the flesh!”
In fact, in the flesh, I weighed in at 384 pounds.
After some pre-op dieting
and then bariatric surgery in January 2016
and careful healthful eating and exercise since
I now weigh in at 179 pounds, a loss of 205 pounds.
I’m still “in the flesh,” 179 pounds of flesh,
and even though I’ve lost more than half the weight I used to carry
that doesn’t automatically mean that now I’m “in the spirit.”
But there’s something about my experience these past 20 months
that I believe can help us understand what Paul is getting at.

It’s only after losing so much weight
that I’ve come to understand how much “in the flesh,” I was:
how much my weight influenced, physically shaped and managed -   
my whole life:
physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically, socially -
and spiritually…

To say that my excess poundage weighed on me
is more than a clever turn of phrase.
My weight dragged me down
and kept me from living my life to the full.
It restricted my activity and kept me from interaction with others.
It sequestered me in a world defined by my size
and by how I was able - or not able - to carry myself comfortably
for any distance or in particular circumstances.

I was, in some ways, so much “in the flesh” that in significant ways
I’d lost sight of being “in the spirit,”
of living a life of enthusiasm, zeal, joy and blessed self- acceptance -
all in the presence of God and you, God’s people.
That’s my experience.
My personal example being in the flesh of my obesity
is rather obvious.
But there are many ways a person can be trapped, living in the flesh,
and distanced from living in the spirit.

• I might be trapped in drinking or drugging,
living in the flesh of addiction.

• I might live in the flesh of loneliness,
convincing myself that I’ll never find love,
that no one will ever love me.

• I might be live in the flesh of work-aholism,
unable to let go my job, my work, my busy-ness.

• I might be burdened by the flesh of a relationship
that manages my life in destructive ways.

• I might live in the flesh of pornography,
caught in web of fantasy, robbing me of reality.

• I might live in the flesh of anger,
feeding on bitterness that sours my soul.

• I might live in the flesh of some bad habit,
imprisoned by my own inability to break through its walls.

• I might live in the flesh of jealousy,
bound by envy of what others have that I don’t.

• I might live in the flesh of wealth,
convinced that all I have is never quite enough.

• Perhaps I live in the flesh of self-pity,
feeling sorry for myself, blinding myself
to the value and worth of my life.

If any of these examples rings even a little bell
in your mind, your heart, your soul, your spirit,
it’s very possible you don’t yet have a clear idea
of how much that matter influences, shapes and manages
your whole life.
And you probably won’t come to understand how much it does
until, by the grace of God,
you begin to be  free of the flesh of your problem
and you begin to live in the freedom of the spirit.

The experience of my weight loss tells me three things
about the change from living in the flesh to living in the spirit.

• First you must have a real desire to change,
to leave behind the apparent comfort and consolation
of living in the flesh
and desiring, hungering and thirsting
for the freedom of living in the spirit -
whether you understand in the beginning all that entails
- or even if you don’t.

• Second, acceptance of the simple reality that
 if nothing changes - nothing changes.”
In other words, there’s a cost to this:
the price of letting go some things
to find and have other something altogether different and better.

And third: trusting in the grace of God and the help of others
to lead you from life in the flesh to life in the spirit.
Most of us already know that under our own steam,
we seldom get very far.
We might take a few steps forward but then often and quickly
take ten steps back.
But with the grace of God and the help of others
- truly trusting in Jesus - all things are possible:
even and especially what seems impossible.
For decades I never dreamed I could reach the weight I’m now at.
It seemed impossible - but now I know that it is possible
and that there comes with living in the spirit
a joy, a peace, a serenity and contentment
greater than I had ever known before in my 70 years.

“Brothers and sisters,” wrote St. Paul,
 you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit,
if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.”

Come to the table, then, where Jesus takes flesh
in the food of the Eucharist to feed in us our hunger
for all that's good, all that's true, all that's holy, all that brings peace,
all that is of the Spirit.

Come and receive the Lord who receives you -
and the Spirit of God will dwell in you,
and you in the freedom of the Spirit of God.


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