22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
I urge you, brothers and sisters, Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
What does St. Paul mean when he tells us not to conform ourselves to this age? Certainly this has to do with transforming our daily lives, but Paul speaks specifically about the renewal of our minds, so that we may “discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” in order to transform our daily lives. Jesus gives us a concrete example of what this means in his rebuke to Peter, who suggests to Jesus that God would never allow his Messiah to suffer: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” But Jesus immediately rebukes Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Peter assumes that his way of thinking must be God’s, and that is what Paul means by being conformed to this age. We all are like Peter at times. We think God must see things in our way, because our way seems to be common sense, that is, the way people in our day commonly think. We all have a tendency to conform our way of thinking about religious matters, especially moral matters, to the common sense of our age, from our culture and intellectual surroundings, which we can easily assume to be the way God sees things and the way God judges things. Peter was simply being of a man of his age and religious culture, and Paul knows that this will be a temptation for all Christians, that is, just to be a man in conformity with the thinking of the current religious or social culture, which thinking is very often not the way God thinks and God judges things.
St. Paul gives us a great example of the way in which are Christians thinking, judging, and acting are in direct conflict with the world. How contrary to the secular culture of any age is Saint Paul’s understanding of the body, how we are to live in the body, and what the final purpose and dignity of the body really is. In this passage from Romans, St. Paul tells us what the ultimate purpose of the body really is, that the body, like the soul, is really intended to be a living spiritual sacrifice to God the body that is not something that is: present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. The body, then, is not only something that is good, but it is intended by God to be something truly holy, a true living sacrifice and sacred gift that we make to God as our spiritual worship.
In other letters, Paul speaks of the body not only as a living sacrifice but also as a sacred temple, a place of divine worship, the special place in which we give glory to God. That is why the body must be kept free from the desecration of sin lest God’s temple be desecrated. Moreover, St. Paul teaches that the very purpose of the resurrection is tied to this understanding of the body as a sacred temple and a living sacrifice offered to God not just in this life but for all eternity.
How different all this is from the thinking of the world around us regarding the body, that is, how the world evaluates the body and how the world views the purpose of this body. The secular culture today sees the body basically as a tool, as simply a means of contact with the world outside our minds and ultimately as little more than a play thing, a means for pleasure seeking. In the end, our culture views the body as being of little value, disposable, exchangeable, something merely utilitarian, with no lasting destiny or purpose, as something people are free to do with as they please, even change its fundamental structures, including its sexual identity, and finally to put it to death as we please, whenever we please.
None of this of course is totally new, except for the technological power to manipulate the body, and that’s why Saint Paul warns Christians not to be conformed to the age or the world we live in, and especially to the way the world evaluates the body. Rather, Christians have to put on the mind of Christ and be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Only if by faith we truly submit our minds and our wills to Christ will we ever truly come to know what is good and acceptable and perfect from God’s point of view, that is, what way of life leads us to perfection and happiness in God. Moreover, this command of Paul means that Christians must undergo constant conversion, because they, like the men of old, are constantly tempted to think like the world, and not like God.
This conversion or transformation of mind and heart, which is absolutely necessary so that we can live as God desires and become good and pleasing and perfect in our beings, does not occur without constant struggle, and that means without suffering, without the cross. The transformation of our mind is a painful process at times, as Peter learned in today’s gospel, and it requires constant vigilance and constant self denial. What was is at stake, is the very redemption of our bodies and our souls. And this means that the transformation of the Christian’s mind cannot be accomplished without the cross. This is what Jesus teaches when he says in today’s Gospel:
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? “
Yes ,whoever tries to save his life in this world, that is, by conforming himself to the world’s way of thinking and value judgments will end up spiritually dead, losing his true life, God’s life, forever. For when the Son of Man returns to judge the living and the dead, the Christian who has conformed his mind and will to the false wisdom of the age will not be recognized as belonging to Christ and his kingdom. One simply cannot belong to the kingdom of God while thinking and living like the secular world around us.
On the other hand, the person who loses his life in this world, that is, who gives up a life in conformity with the values of this world, will seem dead to the world, whereas in truth such a person has passed from spiritual death to eternal life. The world will always consider such a Christian to be a dead man, will considers that Christians life not worth living, while the truth is quite the opposite. This person is truly alive while the worldly individual is truly dead.
Again, we must not be naïve. How difficult it is for us sinners to escape from thinking like the world around us, from living like the world around us which appeals so strongly to our own sinfulness. Because at times we tend to think like the world, at times we are tempted to think of the Christian Life as more like death than life, as unappealing, as something we ought to put off for as long as possible, so that we can enjoy for as long as possible what the world calls life. This is precisely what St. Paul is warning us against in his letter to the Romans.
So we all have to choose. We must choose either to embrace the Cross of Jesus and be transformed in mind and heart, or choose the easy and alluring way of the world and end up alienated from Christ. That’s why we must constantly return to God’s altar in order to learn the truth, to discern what life is really all about, to be converted and transformed in our mind and will, to profess and celebrate the faith that has been given to us, and to be strengthened and nourished by Life Himself. That is our path to Life and to Glory, and there is no other, no matter what the world thinks or proposes to the contrary.