Our basic inner conflict:
The struggle between good and evil
St. Paul's letter to the Romans (Romans 7:18 "“ 25) spells out our basic human frustration: we do not do the good we want, but we do the evil we do not want.
This weakness is the result of original sin in us "“ the concupiscence we carry within us "“ the attraction we have to sin despite our desire not to sin. This is the reason we continue to be sinners despite our hunger for holiness. Our spirits constantly seek God's holiness, but our inordinate desires and passions lead us away from holiness. This dilemma is the cause of frustration and discouragement for us.
How do we overcome this concupiscence in us so that we can live holy lives? Certainly not by ourselves, using our own insights and our own strengths. Our failed resolutions are proof of our innate weakness.
JESUS WAS FREE OF CONCUPISCENCE
The 'Catechism of the Catholic Church" explains that Jesus was free of concupiscence because he was born without original sin. He did not have within himself the disorder we have inherited. He was able, then, to do the good that he wanted and to avoid the evil that he did not want. He was able to love everyone he met with a pure love, for their own good, and never as objects of disordered passion.
Jesus told us, his disciples, that he wants us to learn to live in the same way. And he empowers us to love as he loves despite our weaknesses "“ this is the good news of his salvation at work in us. By his death on the cross, Jesus has freed us from the consequences of our concupiscence and our sins if we let his love and strength make up what is missing in us. He does not force us to become healthy and holy people "“ he entices us to share in his holiness.
This process of learning to love as Jesus loves begins with the Sacrament of Baptism, when he shares his life and love with us for the first time. When we fail in our life of love, then in the Sacrament of Reconciliation he brings healing to us and strengthens us to continue our journeys of faith. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist he shares his love for us in an intimate way that deepens our relationship with him, and helps us love others as he loves us.
In the Sacrament of Matrimony, Jesus shares his love with a husband and wife so that they can learn to love each other and their children with the same love.
In the Sacrament of Confirmation, Jesus shares the gifts of the Holy Spirit with us so that we are empowered to live as his disciples despite our innate human weaknesses. The Holy Spirit teaches us to love ourselves and other people as Jesus loves us.
In the Sacrament of Orders, Jesus sacramentally identifies the ordained priest with himself personally and his continuing priestly ministry to his people. He teaches his priests to love other people as he loves them, as mothers and sisters, as fathers and brothers. This is the reason that celibacy is such an important gift to the Church "“ Jesus constantly encourages his priests to be in the world as he was in the world, loving his people with a pure love despite their concupiscence.
But as most of us know all too well, celibate chastity, just as married chastity, cannot be achieved by just wishing for it or trying to achieve it by oneself. The human condition, unaided by grace, remains always vulnerable to temptation and sin. Wide-spread sexual abuse in our society gives us ample evidence of this basic human weakness. Left to our own devices, we simply cannot do always the good that we want to do or avoid the evil that we do not want.
JESUS IS OUR STRENGTH
This is the reason the Father sent His Son into the world as our Savior. He knows our human condition caused by original sin. He knows that we cannot become the lovers we were meant to be by ourselves "“ we need divine help. Jesus has gone to incredible lengths to help us learn to love as he loves. We can do this only with his constant encouragement and help.
St. Paul summarizes this phenomenon in his letter to the Romans (7:21). I will apply his words about himself to our human condition:
Even though we take delight in the law of God in our inner-selves, we experience another principle in ourselves at war with the law of our minds, making us captives to the law of sin that dwells in us. Miserable then are we! Who will deliver us from our mortal bodies? We give thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
It is Jesus who helps us overcome our concupiscence and teaches us to love as he loves. Despite our weaknesses and our sins, he continues to lead us to share in his holiness. If he did not love us so much, we would never be able to become lovers according to his heart.
We are blessed indeed when we are able to live as his disciples. It is Jesus who makes us whole. Only Jesus.