What is the first love? To figure that out, you must start at the beginning. You must go back to the beginning of your faith and find out what it was that you loved at first. What was the object of your love that made you a Christian? Truly, it was Christ. Further, everything you admired in the Christian faith while you were still a heathen and an infidel pointed to him.
Today, we hear so often that we must go and be Christ to the world and so it is. We hear that Christ enters us in Communion, that he fills us so that we can live as him and so it is. These things illuminate in our minds the mystery of what sort of help we are to be to others. However, beloved, there is another thing to which these truths point to implicitly and it is this which I would like to elaborate for you.
My dear siblings, I don't propound to you anything new, only anew. Do not glory in your flesh, but glory in his flesh. I can not say it more excellently, so I will say it again: Do not glory in your flesh, but glory in his flesh. Do you understand, now? Live as Christ. Again, do not glory in your flesh, but in his flesh.
Just as you invite Christ to dwell in your body by partaking of the Eucharist, it is as though your soul has been invited to dwell in the body of Christ. Did you see that? Live in your body as you would in Christ's body. If you were in Christ's body, if you had control of Christ's body, as though it were a vehicle, what would you do with it and to it?
Now, I implore you to think about what you do with your own bodies, having this very idea in mind, that you must live in your body as you would in his body. Perhaps, you will find yourself to be not so reverent a person as you thought. Perhaps, now, you will see more clearly what sort of person you must become. What would you set before his eyes if you were stewarding his body? Would you place violent, immoderate, immoral spectacles before his eyes? Or would you place holy things before his eyes? What sort of sounds would you fill his ears with? Would you fill his ears with meaningless, evil and worthless music that ruins the soul, detracts from God, degrades the dignity? Would you fill his ears with lewd jokes, excessive laughter, impious comedy, wanton stories, abusive language, curses, lies, mockeries, politics and idle talking? Or would you fill his ears with hymns, prayers, uplifting speech, truth, pious conversation, the scripture, that is to say, holy things?
Would you fill his body with alcohol and make him drunk; would you put anything in his body unhealthy, of such a sort that cause addictions, shame and malady? Would you have his body suffer the consequences of gluttony; would you let his body fall into disrepair? Or would you not rather keep his body clean from all addictive substances, and keep him pure from all such things which create malady and shame? Wouldn't you rather use moderation in eating and in drinking, keeping his body strong and fit? Wouldn't you rather keep him free from the fetter of addiction?
What would you do with his members? How would you use his neck to turn his head? Would you use the neck to turn the head toward everything which is shameful, causing the head to lust? Or wouldn't you rather use the neck to turn the head toward everything which is holy and way from that which is debauched and unclean? Would you use his feet to run to evil or to flee from the mere occasion of sin? His hands, too; what would you use them for? Would you use them for what you presently use them for? What sort of speech would you use his mouth for?
How would you groom his body? Would you strive to conform him to the customs of the secular world which rejects God? Would you mark up his body with tattoos? Would you shave him and pierce his ears; and what would you do with his hair? What sort of clothes would you put on his body? Would you make him look like everyone else in the world? Also, if you had his mind what sort of thoughts would you allow and disallow?
Live as Christ, glorying in his flesh and not in yours. Stop watching spectacles which do nothing for your souls, but rather numb you against the revelation of God. Start praying. Stop paying to go fights where those made in the image of God beat each other for your amusement! Start giving alms to the poor; invest more in the Kingdom of God. One might even say that you, by your running to such wicked spectacles and your cheering, harden the knuckles of those men fighting for your amusement. They bleed on account of you and do you think, Christian, that their blood does not cry out against both of you, alike? Quit spending hours, crazed, watching men riding in circles hoping to see one die in flames. Do you still think you are better than the Romans? What will you say to God? "I did not do your works and I was idle so that I could watch men ride in circles." Stop setting aside time to watch men throw a ball back and forth between themselves and having feasts in their honor. Stop imitating them like children and teaching your children to imitate them so fanatically! Will you men be reduced to games?! Put away childish things and teach your sons to be men. Put aside time for holy things, have feasts in honor of the martyrs who won the crown of life with a bold death; imitate the saints! Who will you give your son as a hero? A stranger who catches a ball? Or those who won the crown of life in a single hour through fierce martyrdoms?
Live as Christ, glorying in his flesh and not in yours. Do this faithfully and you will not offend God. Liberty exists for you so that you will forfeit it and be conformed to him. Do not glory in your liberty, the liberty of your bodies and minds, but glory in your liberty to live as Christ. Do not glory in strength and beauty, glory in his holiness and piety. Do not glory in youthful vanity, but in his ancient wisdom. Do not glory in wit and intellect, glory in his mysteries and his humility. Again, do not glory in your liberty, the liberty of your bodies and minds, but glory in your liberty to live as Christ.
When you live this way, you will begin to see what a terrible will your flesh has. Crush it, therefore, through mortification. By dying we live with Christ. What else is mortification but making something dead and are you bewildered, Christian as to what you are making dead? Judge for yourself and see if I am deceiving you. If a Christian dies in a state of grace, does any Christian reckon that person to be dead, in fact? Or do they not rather say that he is only sleeping, referring to the certainty of his resurrection? They say this because while his body is dead, having paid its debt to sin, the soul yet lives with Christ and therefore, as men exist both as their souls and their bodies, if one item lives the other must live again also and so we are certain of the resurrection. If the soul lives the body will live, if the body is alive, the soul is yet alive.
Again, in baptism, you died to death and you well know that it was a spiritual death that you died. Perhaps, there are some of you who think that you only died symbolically. I ask you, then, did you cure with a symbol what was a malady in fact? No! Baptism is not a placebo cure for the death of the soul. It is the bath of regeneration in which our souls come to life in Christ. You were resurrected from the waters of baptism as from a tomb. Just as the body has a death to die, the soul has a death to die and this is baptism. You were raised from death to life in the waters of baptism, I say raised from one to the other. Such power is in that death and resurrection that it washes away all sins and exorcises all demons. What is the benefit of these deaths? Christ says that if we die with him we shall live with him. What is this like? It is like 10,000 devils held you fast like a pillar of salt, because you had become a pillar of salt just like Lot's wife by sinning and longing for your sins, and the waters of baptism dissolved you so that you could no longer be grasped at by devils.
So, then, what is mortification? It is the same species as baptism and resurrection. It is the death of the iniquitous will, piece by piece. It is gangrene in the body of sin. It is leprosy in the body of concupiscence. Whatever you mortify lives again as Christ, because life kills death, so that whatever is death in the body of sin is life in the body of righteousness. Is so much of your strength spent on sin? Mortify yourself and that strength will be free to uphold righteousness. Therefore, wherever you see the body of sin, crush it with mortification and wherever you see the body of Christ nourish it. Let the rock of Christ fall on that flesh and grind it to dust. I am speaking to you about yourselves.
You are called to mortify the body of sin, not the body of Christ. God forbid! You are called to have the mind of Christ and no more be deceiving yourselves with vain imaginations and excessive rationalism. Mortification is every good and natural pain. What pain is natural? That of hunger, cold, heat, discomfort, and thirst. I do not say destroy the God given gift of the body. I do not tell you to do evil to bring about good! But, perhaps, some of you eat too much, then, eat less and be hungry. Perhaps, some of you are vain, then, give away your fine clothes, grow a beard, or for those of you who are obsessed with your physique, fast more often. It may be that some of you are lazy; go and do penance, walking eight miles in prayer. Are you always eating delicacies? Make your meals simple and bland. Do you sleep too much? Stay up in prayer or in reading scriptures. Do you talk to much? Be quiet. In this manner subjugate yourselves to Christ. In this way die, so that you might live as Christ.
What about the mortification of the soul? Be assured that whatever you do in the body you do in the soul. That is to say, the mortification you impose on your fleshly members is also benefiting the soul. Indeed, it is the soul which is benefited, because the body is perishing and can not truly benefit, except by chance, and will be made new with Christ in the resurrection. However, since baptism, your souls have been raising to life in Christ. You exercise the soul over the flesh in mortification and make it stronger, ordering yourselves aright in the order which God intended. Do you suppose that God intended for that which is less real to have dominance over that which is more real? Or do you think that God desired it to be that, that which is perishable should have dominion over that which is imperishable? Certainly not! Know, then, that the soul must govern the body.
Still some of you are saying," There must be a mortification of the soul which may be implemented." There is such a thing and it is compassion. This is suffering with others through empathy and sympathy; also it is to suffer because of their wounds. Think about what that means, Christian. Is there someone in your life who clings to everyone, someone who always feels utterly alone? Admittedly, this person is annoying, but why are they this way? They are this way because they have no spiritual companionship. They are starved and their stomachs have shrunken so to speak. So, how much compassion would it talk to fill that person? Is there someone who clings to possessions? Speak with them about immaterial things and draw their souls away from that which is leading them into Gehenna. Compassion, co-pain, putting up with the weakness of others because of the love of what is weak and not the weakness itself. Does anyone look at a child's broken arm and love the break? Do they not rather love the arm because it belongs to the child whom they love? In the same manner, you are not called to love the wrong opinions of others or their misguided emotions, but you are required to love their ability to feel, because you love them on account that they are made in the image of God whom you are called to love, firstly. Understand those words.
Aside from all this, to the person doubting that their penance does good for others. It is by Christ's wounds that we have salvation. Do you not know already that you are the Body of Christ? Christ willingly suffered in the body for you in an efficacious manner. Will the Body of Christ suffer and it not be efficacious for you and for many? Again, you are the Body of Christ and your suffering is His suffering, therefore, your suffering can only be efficacious, when rightly ordered.
So, again, do not glory in yourself, but in Christ. Now, may our God, the Holy Trinity, protect you and enlighten you and make each of you gifts to the human race, in His name. Peace be with all of you.
"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." ~Aristotle~