In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he explains how the Spirit of God can transform us. “You are not in the flesh,” he writes, “on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.”
In many of Paul’s other epistles, he discusses the difference between living by the Spirit and living by the flesh. For example, in his letter to the Colossians, he writes: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust ... greed ... anger ... slander, and filthy language from your lips.” (Uh, oh. I hope Paul didn’t hear me recently when the Red Sox blew a lead late in the game.)
Paul’s list of no-no’s seems downright impossible to avoid, especially nowadays, when our secular culture encourages that behavior. Many of us are convinced it’s so difficult to avoid sin, we really don’t try very hard.
But here’s something most people don’t realize: Living a life of sin requires much more effort than living a life of virtue. I once read about a young woman in New York City who was into the wild nightlife scene. Each evening she would find herself involved in drinking, drugs and casual sexual encounters. It was wearing her out, both physically and mentally.
Finally, she sought help from a therapist, who said to her, “You know, you don’t have to keep doing that stuff.” The young woman was stunned. “You mean I don’t have to do what I WANT to do?” she asked. It was a surprising revelation and a major relief for her. Just because she had the opportunity to live a wild life, she didn’t have to do it.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest ... For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” When Jesus calls us to follow him and live a life of virtue, he doesn’t call us to DO a lot of painful, difficult churchy-type things. He simply calls us to break free from our slavery to sin.
Throughout history, no one has ever equated being a slave with a life of luxury and leisure. Slaves are routinely worked to death at an early age. Well, it’s the same with being a slave to sin. The workload is enormous and the cost is high — both physically and mentally — and the result also is an early death.
In addition to the obvious, here-and-now price to be paid for being a slave to sin, there is a far costlier there-and-then spiritual price: eternal damnation. As a wise man once said, “No matter how many years you live, you’re gonna be dead a whole lot longer.”
If, as Jesus taught, our souls are eternal and live on forever after our bodies have died, then there is nothing more important than making sure our souls end up in heaven rather than hell. This is the primary function of the Church: to make saints and get as many souls as possible into heaven.
It’s important that our local parishes are in the business of making saints. We need to help and encourage each other to break free from the slavery of sin, and we need to spread the joyful news that God’s Spirit can dwell in us and transform our lives. Paul said this is what we must do, and Jesus said it’s easy and not a burden.
So, let’s fill our parishes with hope and joy, and let people know that it’s not a burden to become a saint. (As long as a certain someone stops swearing at the TV during Red Sox games.)