Sunday Sermon for July 9, 2023, the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Zec 9:9-10; Rom 8:9, 11-13; Mt 11:25-30

In the second reading today, St. Paul says we are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.  Later in the reading he talks about putting to death the deeds of the body.  On the surface, it sounds like St. Paul is falling into the Gnostic heresy in the sense that the body is evil and the soul, which is good, is trapped in the body and wants to get out.  Is this what St. Paul is saying?

St. Paul is not stating that the body is evil or even bad.  What he is doing is making the distinction between putting our focus on the wants of the body as opposed to putting our focus on the direction given through the Holy Spirit.  If we follow the desires of the flesh, these will often lead us into seeking sinful pleasures.  In other words, choosing inordinate desires will cause us to act selfishly.  If we follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit, He will lead us to act in charity, or selflessness.

We must be clear in stating that the desires of the body are not sinful in and of themselves.  For instance, your body will let you know when you are hungry or thirsty.  To satisfy those desires in an appropriate manner is good and benefits not only the body, but the entire person.  However, if this is not tempered properly, the desires will become stronger and more frequent; giving in to them can even be sinful.

Because of our struggles with the desires of the flesh, it can seem that the body is not good or that we would be better off without the body.  As human persons we are composed of both body and soul.  Because of sin, original and our own, our bodies are weak, but we must see them as the means to holiness and virtue.  In case anyone thinks the body is not good, we need only recall that Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, God from all eternity, took a human nature (body, blood, and soul) to Himself.  Nowhere does He say the body is evil; but He does make clear the weakness that is there.

Due to the weakness of the flesh, it is necessary that we discipline the body.  This does not mean that we do anything abusive or anything that would violate our dignity.  Rather, it means bringing everything into proper order and balance.  In the Gospel our Lord invites us to take His yoke upon ourselves in order to find rest for our souls.  The yoke of our Lord is really the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit will help us to keep everything in proper balance.  If we are truly seeking to do the will of God and striving for union with Him in prayer, the grace the Lord will provide through the Holy Spirit will bring us to cut back on the areas where there is excess in our lives and to increase the areas where something is lacking.  The spiritual life is about conforming ourselves to Jesus and He is the most perfectly balanced Person ever to live. 

Obviously, we are not able to accomplish conformity to Christ by our own strength or ability.  There are areas in our lives that we do not even recognize as being out of balance.  In fact, some of these might be the areas we are most proud of in our lives.  On the natural level these things might be seen as being very good, but on the spiritual level they may be causing us a lot of difficulty without our even realizing it.

We see in the first reading that the Messiah was going to banish the chariots from Ephraim and the horses from Jerusalem.  These would seem good and helpful for the defense and protection of the people and of the country.  However, since the peace the people desired would come only from God, the horses and chariots were in the way.  By this I mean that the people could rely on the horses and chariots rather than relying on the Lord. 

This is often a problem we face in our spiritual lives.  We know we need to be dependent on the Lord, and we want to be, but instead we rely on ourselves and on our own strength and abilities.  If we are going to be conformed to Christ, God will pare back what we think we can do ourselves until we learn, in our weakness, to rely on Him.

Recall that our Lord told St. Paul that power reaches its perfection in weakness.  Only when we know our weakness, both bodily and spiritually, will we allow ourselves to be completely dependent on the Lord and allow Him to work in us and through us. 

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit