Many people don’t try to deny their base appetites. They indulge in them, even to excess. They get drunk, use foul language, fornicate, hate others, are arrogant, scoff at religion and are materialistic. One can get a lot of pleasure from living that way. I know. I lived that way for decades before my conversion.
However, I now know that I have to “crucify the flesh” and “live for the spirit.” This is a very difficult process that I haven’t yet completed. It would be easier had I never indulged in fleshly excesses, because then I would be much less tempted.
This spiritual battle reminds me of the Exodus story. The Hebrews, before the coming of Christ, were God’s chosen people. They lived in bondage in Egypt and were influenced by the pagan manners of their oppressors. But God chose Moses to lead them out of Egypt and to the promised land. At first, the people enthusiastically followed Moses. However, after a while in the desert, they began to grumble. They missed the fleshpots of Egypt and they “hungered.” Moses heard their grumblings and appealed to God, who provided the people with manna to eat. This foreshadowed the Eucharist.
I feel that, in a spiritual sense, I’m in the desert. Before my conversion, I got a lot of pleasure from sin. God has called me out of that life and is leading me to the promised land (heaven). Of course, I’m not there yet and I often crave the sinful pleasures of my past. Like the Hebrew people of old, I “hunger” and I grumble, so God has given me the Eucharist (bread from heaven) to strengthen me.
When Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, He was greatly tempted by the devil. He longed for “fleshly” gratification, so the devil tempted Him to turn rocks into bread. But, instead of gratifying His flesh in this way, He chose to gratify His spirit, saying, “Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4). The devil’s ultimate temptation was to offer Jesus great power and wealth, if Jesus would abandon God and worship him. Jesus, of course, refused, and the devil departed.
We are all tempted just as Jesus was. We are tempted to live purely materialistic lives and to ignore God. We are tempted to try to acquire great earthly power and wealth to satisfy our egoism and our lust which war against our spirit. This is the “flesh” that we must overcome and “crucify” in order to save our souls. But this is not easy! In fact, it is impossible without God’s grace.
In order to be saved, we cannot be halfway Christians. We cannot overcome our sinful inclinations without daily prayer, weekly Mass, regular confession, and frequent spiritual study. Most importantly, we must frequently partake of the Eucharist, and we must do so worthily. This will help give us spiritual strength to overcome sin and ultimately enter “the promised land” where God Himself will satisfy all our longings.
Have a holy Lent!