In Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans we have the joy of reading his description the warfare that he perceives within his own personality. He describes it as the combat of the spirit against the flesh and the flesh against the spirit. This basic principle is fundamental to Christianity, since Our Divine Lord himself enunciated it and based much of his preaching upon it. You see, when God created our first parents, there was a beautiful harmony between the two elements of their human nature: the body and the soul; the flesh and the spirit. But they sinned, and destroyed that harmony. Concord turned to discord; peace turned to war; unity turned to disunity. And ever since then, the human race has had to struggle with the conflict between the two parts of its nature: the spiritual and the material—the angel and the animal.
Pope [Saint] John Paul II, devoted many of his allocutions to this topic and they have been gathered into a book called “The Theology of the Body.” It is not easy reading, but for those who want to explore this matter more deeply, it is certainly a milestone in our understanding of the relationship of body and soul in our own personalities. Life is a war of good against evil; spirit against flesh; the eternal against the temporal; the forces of God against the forces of this world and Satan which try to seduce us away from God. Many of the saints have spoken of this combat that we feel within our persons. Within the war there are major battles, and then there are minor skirmishes. We win some; we lose some. We ask Our Lady, “pray for us sinners,” even though we certainly hope that basically, we are saints—in union with God by what we call sanctifying grace.
When I was a novice, there was a really funny fellow in our novitiate class. He could turn just about everything into a delightful joke, and he kept us laughing much of the time. One day, one of the novices made some comment that another objected to quite strenuously, and the second one made some really unkind reply. Our funny friend spoke up at that moment, and said to the maker of the unkind reply, “Oh, boy! You really goofed that time. Go back three mansions!” He was referring to the fact that the Spanish mystics, Saints Teresa and John of the Cross, often speak of our making progress from one mansion to another in the kingdom of God. As we ascend the mountain of the Lord, the mansions become more beautiful and comfortable, the closer they come to the house of God Himself. So when our jokester said to the one brother, “Go back three mansions,” making it sound like a children’s game, we all laughed and recognized that we all go forward, and backward, in our daily lives by either winning or losing the skirmishes in the war of soul against body, spirit against flesh. This is why we do penance. This is why we accept the cross in our lives, since penance, mortification, and the cross are means by which we strengthen our souls against the demands of the body and we keep in good shape in the ongoing struggle against self-indulgence, sensuality, and sin. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This Message was composed some years ago.