Bestow upon us, O Lord, we beseech Thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right; that we who cannot exist without Thee, may be able to live according to Thy will.
– From the Collect for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
How much do we desire heaven? As Catholics we know we were made for heaven, and we want to be there one day. But do we boldly put all our efforts into doing what is necessary to make it to heaven? Sunday’s readings touch on both what prevents us from attaining heaven, and the focus we should put into obtaining our final goal.
In Sunday’s Epistle, St. Paul contrasts the “flesh” with the “Spirit.” The “flesh” is that pull of Original Sin we all have that causes us to put ourselves at the center of the universe. It includes the sins of the flesh such as adultery or fornication or pornography, but the “flesh” also is any pull within us away from God and towards self. St. Paul writes that “if you live according to the flesh, you shall die but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live” (Romans 8:13). Of course, St. Paul is not talking about physical life or death; he is speaking of spiritual life and death: heaven and hell. The primary way in which we lose our way on the path to heaven is by living according to the flesh.
Getting to heaven is also a theme of Sunday’s Gospel, in which Jesus tells an interesting and even a bit confusing parable. In it, the Lord appears to praise immorality, highlighting an unjust steward who uses questionable means for his own benefit. But Christ assumes his listeners understand that the steward’s actions are immoral; his purpose is to highlight the single-minded focus of the steward. When facing a drastic situation—being thrown out in the streets with no means of support—the steward gives away his master’s money in order to make friends who will support him after he is fired. Ingenious!
Our Lord contrasts such behavior with the “children of light,” i.e., believers. As St. Augustine noted, “Why did the Lord set this before us? It is not because that steward cheated but because he exercised foresight for the future…He was insuring himself for a life that was going to end. Would you not insure yourself for eternal life?” (Sermon 359A.10). Instead of having a single-minded devotion to escaping from our dire predicament—potential eternal damnation—too many professed followers of Christ become content and even apathetic in their faith.
Such a situation is particularly apt in today’s Church, in which we live with all the comforts of this world at our fingertips and allow those comforts to obstruct our path to heaven. Instead of mortifying the flesh, as St. Paul suggests, we complain if the homily is longer than seven minutes or the pews are not cushioned. We are fat and happy in our comfortable Catholicism. However, such complacency ultimately leads to slavery—slavery to sin and the flesh. Once we become content with the things of this world, we fall into bondage to them. Sunday’s readings are urging us to stop being content and instead wage a continual battle against the flesh, having one purpose—and only one purpose—in life: to be with our Lord in heaven for all eternity.
Eric Sammons is the Executive Director of Crisis Publications. He is the author of eight books, including Deadly Indifference: How the Church Lost Her Mission and How We Can Reclaim It.