The Readings for the 1st Sunday of Advent
Induamini Dominum Jesum Christum, et carnis curam ne feceritis in desideriis.
Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.
In case you’ve missed it, I’ve been on a diet. After trying several different sorts of diets, including caloric restriction and exercise, I remembered that in the 1990s I was able to lose weight on the then-called Atkins diet. Nowadays we call this Keto. Sometime in mid-August, I weighed 300lbs and now I weigh 40 pounds less. The other diets did not work for me but ketosis does. Everyone has a different metabolism and so different diets work for different people. This seems to be mine. It’s also quite tasty. It makes me happy.
However, after I’d lost 35lbs or so the last 5 pounds stayed. I couldn’t get below 260. I tried and tried. And I finally reached the assumption that I’d have to begin actually exercising (beyond the 5 miles or so a day I walk). I mentioned my frustration to a friend of mine over lunch one day. We were eating smoked ham and onions. He said that when he had plateaued in the past he would take himself out eat carbohydrates. Once he remembers eating 10 Donuts. This always reset his ketosis and sent him into a new decrease in weight. Yes, he said, you gained weight when you started eating carbs but over the week your net loss would make up for it.
He was right. I had spumoni ice cream (a particular vice of mine at this season) and three biscuit sandwiches. And the next time I weighed myself I was finally at 259… dieting is very odd.
Paul says, “Put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” In a way, ketosis is all about the desires of the flesh. It’s basically meat and leaves, and all the dairy fat you can find. My morning coffee has coconut oil, cocoa, and butter… it’s so good. Anyway, it’s all the unctuous foods, all the umami, all the salt, and the weight literally melts away. Until you need a day off. Fry up some pancakes, make some tuna melts, have some french fries, and sweet tea! Then start over. Everything is tasty. The spiritual life, though, has no such provision.
Please don’t think I’m implying that a diet is opposed to our salvation. “The Kingdom of Heaven is not food and drink.” Rather, we don’t get a break from our spiritual diet. We can’t decide: Today, I shall take a break from virtue. We cannot reset our barometer of sin. Nor can we decide that while we’re on vacation we can take a break from our struggle for purity. I mention these things because I have done them in the past. I also know they’re quite common. People on vacation behave rather differently than they do at home.
More importantly, we cannot decide that one or another virtue is not important. To successfully entered ketosis you have to avoid almost all carbohydrates. They should make up about 5% of your daily caloric intake. You cannot say I will avoid rice, potatoes, and bread. But, as they are fried, I shall eat a dozen donuts for my daily breakfast. Likewise, we cannot pick one or two doctrines from the church and avoid them. Sexual sin is sexual sin. The entire Creed must be believed. All of the sacraments are miracles on a daily basis. The entire catechism is magisterial. We cannot just pick and choose.
A la carte Catholicism is a provision for the flesh. St Augustine rather famously found himself praying, “Lord make me chaste but not yet.” Jesus says, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” Make no provision for the flesh because in doing so, it might be too late.
In Romans, St Paul warns us against a whole list of fleshly provisions. The Douay translation uses the quaint word, “chambering” which is a verb describing things done in the bedchamber. The NABRE, however, had us say in Mass today, that we should avoid, “orgies and drunkenness, …promiscuity and lust, …rivalry and jealousy.” Note: Paul makes rivalry and jealousy equal to orgies and promiscuity; that is equally bad. While it would be fun to blog about sex (again) I think it’s important today to focus on the latter parts. We make a lot of provisions for the flesh in the area of rivalry and jealousy.
The Latin gets closer to the Greek, here. Non in contentione, et aemulatione… μὴ ἔριδι καὶ ζήλῳ me eridi kai zelo. Eridi means a contentious spirit, spoiling for a fight and zelo implies zealousness and jealousy, think of it as taking sides. So, basically, St Paul is telling us not to be trolls and not to get all hot under the collar in comment boxes. He’s destroying the internet here – and calling it a provision for the flesh.
But I’ll go further. Lumen Gentium, the Vatican 2 document on the Church, says “The laity should, as all Christians, promptly accept in Christian obedience decisions of their spiritual shepherds, since they are representatives of Christ as well as teachers and rulers in the Church. Let them follow the example of Christ, who by His obedience even unto death, opened to all men the blessed way of the liberty of the children of God.” Speaking of the Pope and the Bishops… we have a lot of rivalry and jealousy. I don’t think it’s spared by the Pope, though, nor the bishops.
Cardinals Sarah and Burke often get held up as default rivals to Pope Francis and, at times, even Pope Emeritus Benedict is held up as “the real Pope.” Each of these holy men swears obedience to Francis, however. The rivalry is imposed from the outside: The Marshal Vortex, as I’ve described it in the past, of Americans with political axes to grind who hold up rival flags and call the faithful to rally around them. They claim that the Pope cannot speak about certain topics and he should “stick to religion”, but Lumen Gentium says, “Even in secular business there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion.”
Against these provisions for the flesh the same document teaches the universal call to holiness:
[A]ll Christ’s faithful, whatever be the conditions, duties and circumstances of their lives—and indeed through all these, will daily increase in holiness, if they receive all things with faith from the hand of their heavenly Father and if they cooperate with the divine will. In this temporal service, they will manifest to all men the love with which God loved the world.Lumen Gentium 41
Mindful that nothing is secular except sin (Robert Hugh Benson) we are called as Catholics, following the teachings of the Church in all areas, to follow our shepherds and to manifest God’s love – which will change everything in the world.
The problem is, we’re bad at doing so, causing scandal and ill-repute to fall not only on ourselves but on the Gospel itself. Enough cheat days! It gets later and later, and the Thief is nearly at hand.
Are you awake? Are you ready?