Reconciliation Lectionary: Galatians 5:16-24

mary-the-penitent.jpgLists. Catholics bring them to confession. We’ve done so for centuries.

Saint Paul offers us two of them in this passage from the Rite of Penance. One of fifteen bad things. One of nine good things.

Let’s read all about them:

Brothers and sisters, live by the Spirit
and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh.
For the flesh has desires against the Spirit,
and the Spirit against the flesh;
these are opposed to each other,
so that you may not do what you want.
But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are obvious:
immorality,
impurity,
licentiousness,
idolatry,
sorcery,
hatreds,
rivalry,
jealousy,
outbursts of fury,
acts of selfishness,
dissensions,
factions,
occasions of envy,
drinking bouts,
orgies,
and the like.
I warn you, as I warned you before,
that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love,
joy,
peace,
patience,
kindness,
generosity,
faithfulness,
gentleness,
self-control.
Against such there is no law.
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh
with its passions and desires.

Scripture scholars detect the early tension in Christianity between those who were converted to Christ directly from pagan belief (like the Galatians, we think) and those who thought in order to be a good Christian, one had to be a good Jew first.

If lists are still in vogue today, they certainly were part of the “self-help” literature of the ancient world. Lists like these would have been familiar to pagan and Jew alike. They give the reader a checklist against which behavior can be measured. That part is easy.

Sacrificing our bad desires and passions–this is difficult in comparison. The penitent is challenged to move beyond lists and checking them off (good, good, not-so-good, good, bad! …). We are called to a life beyond instant gratification, of “doing what we want,” but rather a submission to Christ. The greater context of this is Saint Paul’s self-reference as a slave or servant of Christ for the sake of the Gospel. Penitents, and indeed all believers, are challenged to a similar mindset: to set aside what we want to do, and focus more on where Christ calls us and to what kind of life we are called.

And if a few lists can help us get there, so much the better.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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