“A sculptor who wishes to carve a figure out of a block uses his chisel, first cutting away great chunks of marble, then smaller pieces, until he finally reaches a point where only a brush of hand is needed to reveal the figure. In the same way, the soul has to undergo tremendous mortifications at first, and then more refined detachments, until finally its Divine image is revealed. Because mortification is recognized as a practice of death, there is fittingly inscribed on the tomb of Duns Scotus, Bis Mortus; Semel Sepultus (twice died, but buried only once). When we die to something, something comes alive within us. If we die to self, charity comes alive; if we die to pride, service comes alive; if we die to lust, reverence for personality comes alive; if we die to anger, love comes alive.”
— Fulton J. Sheen, p. 219
AN EXCERPT FROM, PEACE OF SOUL
In a letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul, an individual transformed by an encounter with Jesus the crucified, writes these difficult words, “So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh –for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.” (Rom. 8:12-13 RSV) How are we to put to death the deeds, the practices, of our bodies?
The deeds, practices, are in fact the desires we have developed in living for ourselves. These desires are things we believe will bring us happiness or satisfaction in life. They are the goals we create for ourselves we believe will satisfy our own selfish nature. They are the products of our limited insights and understanding of the purpose for which we are created. They are the things we do and strive for rather than what God wills for us.
The greatest danger to our spiritual lives comes from within us. There is a saying, “The heart wants what the heart wants.” This is often used as an excuse for behavior that is selfish and blinded to what is moral, what is good, and to the pain and hurt that our wants, desires, or goals may cause. We are very good at self-deception. We are also very easily deceived when seduced by temptations focus at creating desires and thus deeds of the body.
To put to death these deeds, practices, goals of our selfish nature, we must receive a new heart, a new life from God. God spoke to a man named Ezekiel about a promise God makes. God said to Ezekiel, “I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezek. 11:19-20 NRS)
God gives us the ability to replace the deeds, practices, that are created by our self-deceptive desires with desires that lead to the true meaning of life. This is not an instantaneous process. It works over time and commitment. God does what God does out of love, a love for us. God’s gift of love, known as grace, gives us the ability to move from a love created out of self-motivation, to a love that is Spirit guided. However, because our selfish nature does not die easily, we must replace the deeds, practices, and goals of this nature with the deeds, practices, of a new God-given nature.
I often hear religious people quote Paul’s words to the Christians in Ephesus, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” However these people usually do not, for whatever reason, also add what Paul says next, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Eph. 2:8-10 NRS) These good works, deeds, practices replace the deeds, practices, and desires of our body (self-created desires) denying these desires and the goals they create for us life. Only when we understand this do we begin to grow in the life for which we were created.
It is my prayer that I am able to also die twice, but only be buried once. So I join with the Psalmist who cries out to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:10 NRS)