We are caught in a bitter conflict between flesh and spirit. Jesus has delivered us from sin, but not from the weaknesses and desires of the flesh. We have to reproduce in our life the Cross of Christ so that, having died sacramentally to sin in baptism, we may also put to death sin in our flesh by restraining our evil desires and bad tendencies. This is the basis of monastic asceticism. (Or the Christian walk)
Not one among us who has not felt the tug of war caused by the conflict of flesh and spirit. This conflict of soul lives in everyone, and the battle rages with little relief. As we face this reality and own it, the conflict takes on a new aspect. The acknowledgement of our fleshly weaknesses allows us to turn to the spirit that is promised by Jesus. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.(John 14:26) Through this Spirit we can achieve small victories over our desires, but we have to work at it and be vigilant.
Merton points to a very important and the often neglected reality of sacramental grace. Through our baptism the community lifts us up so that we might die to sin. That grace is an important tool in our battle with the flesh, and one that should not be neglected. When the congregation (community) says, “we will so order our lives after the example of Christ, that this child, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith,” that pledge is the communion of saints in action. We must never abandon the strength that can be garnered from the sacramental community.
We must all desire to be a part of the sacramental community that has been provided for us. Regular church attendance and partaking of communion is an essential means of grace. Our very participation in times of worship allows us to receive the grace that so freely flows when the community is gathered together for word and sacrament. Seize every opportunity that you can to be a part of your sacramental community. Our strength is boosted by the community.
Lord help me this very day to resist the temptations that surround me. Give me the foresight to garner the grace that you so freely provide, for it is that grace that strengthens me in times of need and temptation. I ask you to protect and strengthen me for the journey that is mine.
In the eleventh century, King Henry III of Bavaria grew tired of court life and the pressures of being a monarch. He made application to Prior Richard at a local monastery, asking to be accepted as a contemplative and spend the rest of his life in the monastery. “Your Majesty,” said Prior Richard, “do you understand that the pledge here is one of obedience? That will be hard because you have been a king.”
“I understand,” said Henry. “The rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.”
“Then I will tell you what to do,” said Prior Richard. “Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.” When King Henry died, a statement was written: “The King learned to rule by being obedient.”
Henry didn’t want to be obedient, he wanted to run. Obedience is a heavy word. The “O” word brings with it a chill of negativity. To be obedient is to surrender our freedom. We have been trained that individual freedom is the most important right we will ever possess. The concept of leading by being obedient seems to be contradictory. We lead by telling others to obey us. This concept is so difficult; we just want to run. Indeed, to run as far away as we can.
How many times have you wanted to just run away or bury your head in the sand? Life throws some tough times at us all. There are so many challenges that lead us to believe running (dropping out) is the best option. When we tire of our roles and responsibilities, it helps to remember God has planted us in a certain place and told us to be a good accountant or teacher or mother or father. God expects us to be faithful and obedient to the task where He puts us.
I heard a story about a Russian Monastery that was dying and declining. The brothers were growing old, many had died. The villagers had stopped coming to visit the monastery. Young men were no longer interested in dedicated themselves to the Monastic order. This decline led to worry and the loss of hope led to bitterness. In desperation the abbot went to visit an old hermit we had heard about. He hoped that the old man might have some wisdom. The abbot arrived after a long journey and explained their problem to the hermit. The hermit prayed for the abbot but said nothing more. The two men sat in silence for a very long time and the abbot patiently waited to hear some word of hope – a blessing, a prophecy, just something simple to try. Finally the abbot could abide the silence no longer and he begged the hermit for an answer. The hermit replied, “I’m sorry, but there really isn’t anything I have to tell you. I don’t know what the future holds for the monastery. I am sorry – oh, but there is this – I believe that the Messiah is in your midst.” The Messiah?, thought the abbot. Among us at the monastery. He rushed back and reported the unexpected news and the brothers began to question, “Who is it?” “Who among us is the Messiah?” Surely not Bro. Nicolaus, he gripes too much. Surely not Bro. Stavros, he is so whiney. But what if …? And on it went.
And in time as the brothers began to suppose that any one of them could be the Messiah, they began to treat each other with respect and kindness and love. That spirit extended into the village and rumors of the Messiah’s presence continued so that everyone began to wonder if their neighbor might be the Messiah. And though no one was ever identified as the Messiah, the monastery was thriving and the village was blessed and young men devoted themselves to the faith.
Since Jesus is with us always, then discipleship is on-going and it is everyday. It is not something for a special day or a special evening or a special program. It is the pulse of every moment lived in the kingdom of God.
Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, but we also remember our own Baptism. In remembering our Baptism we affirm our commitment to our Lord. This day is a time of deep introspection and examination of our Christian journey.
At that time Jesus arrived from Galilee and came to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.
Father in heaven, at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan you proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Grant that all who are baptized into his name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, One God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
- Jesus’ public life begins with His baptism at the hands John the Baptist.
- Although sinless, Jesus chooses to identify Himself with the repentant sinners who flocked to baptism.
- Before embarking upon His ministry, Jesus withdraws to the desert for a 40-day period of fasting.
- The coming of God’s Kingdom means the destruction of the devil’s dominion over this world.
- Jesus now goes forth to preach the “good news” of the coming of the Kingdom.
- Jesus backed up His words with mighty miracles that inspired belief in Him.
- Jesus gathers people to Himself, and this is the begining of the Kingdom of God.
- Jesus emphasizes that everyone is called to enter the Kingdom. He reaches out to the poor, the marginalized and sinners.
- In a very special way, the Kingdom belongs to the poor, lowly, humble of heart, those who know that they need God.
- Jesus often illustrated His teaching by means of parables,and these stories call us to radical discipleship.
Live Your Faith
Rather than viewing the Gospels strictly as mini-biographies of Jesus, we should instead use our imagination to put ourselves into the stories.
Which people resonate the most with me? What would it be like to watch Jesus preach or perform a miracle?