Walk By The Spirit
At the heart of every person’s life is a fundamental struggle that never goes away until we take our last breath. The Catholic faith has always understood this and provides the grace and means by which we take up this never-ending struggle. This understanding of the Christian life comes from St. Paul in Galatians 5 verses 16-26. Here, Paul is taking about the Christian life in general and especially the life in the community of the Church. He shows that that the struggle is between the impulses of our fallen nature (which he calls the flesh or sarx) and the direction given by the Holy Spirit (which he calls the spirit or pneuma). They are two very different realities. But which will prevail in our lives? When we are led by our fallen nature it produces bad fruit. We end up in immoral behavior, sensuality, rivalry, outbursts of anger, disputes, drunkenness and the like (see Gal 5:19-21); in other words, all sorts of things that destroy God’s peace in our lives and the lives of those around us.
On our own, we have no chance to overcome these destructive tendencies. Our fallen nature is simply too strong. But the power to overcome them is found in the grace of Christ which we receive in baptism. There, that destructive nature is crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20). As we receive and ‘walk’ (i.e., obey) the Holy Spirit and allow Him to work on our natures, a different type of fruit begins to emerge, fruit that is in accord with Christ’s nature. Now our actions are controlled by God and love, joy, peace and patience begin to be manifest in our lives along with gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).
This seems to be a two-stage process. First, there is our encounter with Christ where, in baptism, our old nature dies with Him and we receive His nature, i.e. the Spirit (see Rom 6: 1-9). The second part of the process is where we work out concretely the Lordship of Christ in our lives. This means learning to stop paying attention and obeying the promptings of our old (now crucified) fallen nature and listening to and being led by the Holy Spirit (See Rom 8:14). The success of this depends on the law of sowing and reaping as Paul makes abundantly clear in Gal 6:8. If we ‘sow to the flesh,’ that is continue to be involved in and indulge our old fleshy ways of doing things (getting angry, being lustful, etc.) then the old fleshly fruit will reappear in our lives. But now something new is added to the equation. Now the power of Christ is actually living within us and so we can turn to Him in our times of temptations and learn to obey the Spirit.
We need to ‘sow to the Spirit’ which means that we incorporate into our lives those practices and habits which open us to the Holy Spirit such as reading God’s Word, availing ourselves of confession regularly, praying the rosary, etc. As Paul says, do not be deceived, we will reap what we sow. Therefore we need to do what we can objectively to open our lives to Christ. In this way our marriages, our families and our communities will be transformed.