Today, in the early days of Lent, let's together look at the second reading for today liturgy, Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verses 3-13, which deal with God's Spirit in one who believes. As Karis in the New Collegeville Commentary, p460, notes, the 8th chapter of this letter focuses on a single question: "If the law is unable to give life, then whence come life?" To answer this question, St. Paul shares with us the experience of the Spirit in the hearts and minds of the Gentile believers. To strengthen our experience of the Spirit in our lives, what are we to take from Paul's teaching?
Paul, former Jewish zealot, in Romans 8:10 tells the Gentiles this: "But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness." What he is telling them is that it is the Spirit rather than the law that truly is the "instrument" that helps sinners overcome the sins of the "flesh." Note this: sins of the flesh encompass much more than sexual sins. Did you ever get beyond thinking these sins were only sexual mistakes? For Paul, in his letter to the Galatians 5:19-21, we have to consider "idolatry, sorcery, ... envy, acts of selfishness." So, for Paul the "flesh" encompasses much more of what and who we are. And for the writer, this notion of "flesh" represents all that we are, our goodness as well as our sinfulness, that has acted so as to place ourselves apart from God. As in all sinfulness, we prefer ourselves rather than God.
Our challenge during Lent is to reflect often on our lives, on all that we are: all that we should be and all that has pulled from God. We should strengthen our resolve by listen again to Paul and his understanding of the opposite of "flesh," that is the Spirit. For him "Spirit" is an expression of how God the love of God embraces all the world. In our preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation, I am certain we learned how the love of God for each of us in the world is expressed concretely in the various "gifts" of the Holy Spirit. Consider Paul's words to the Galatians again, chapter 5, verses 22-23:
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Perhaps understanding St. Paul's teaching in the Letter to the Romans, each of us can find for ourselves what can help us seek forgiveness of our sins at the outset of the Lenten season. With that burden removed from our lives, we can progress through Lent discovering the wonder of God's mercy and his love for each of us.