Thursday, February 18, 2016

“I” Doesn’t Want to be in Christ

“I” doesn’t want to be in Christ. You probably caught the improper grammar. It is not that I don’t want to be in Christ—because I do; however, I have a problem: I am not content with Christ; I want to fulfill the desires of the flesh. I can identify with Apostle Paul: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold into slavery to sin. What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I concur that the law is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Now if [I] do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. So, then, I discover the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand. For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Miserable one that I am!”[1] This brings me to the first two verses of Psalm 91.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” Every time I have read passages like 91, I really just ignored them because I did not see them as being true in my life. I knew God did not lie; hence, this must be true. However, I did not see it as applicable to my life. I considered myself as dwelling “in the shelter of [God], but I knew these things were not true for me. Therefore, passage such as this went in one proverbial ear and out the other.

The human being who has been baptized, because of concupiscence, is truly a fickle creature. He is “in Christ;” nevertheless, he does not desire to remain in Christ at all times; he is distracted. He is caught in a revolving door, in-and-out constantly. He wants to stand on the running board of a vehicle, holding onto Christ with one hand while grasping for the world with the other. I am reminded of movies/TV shows in which one character would tell another to stay put or stay out of danger; however, they would get scared or thought they knew better and dart out; and, very often, they would get injured or killed. This is how we are more times than not.

Saint Robert Bellarmine (4 October 1542 – 17 September 1621), in his commentary on Psalm 91, explains: “‘He,’ no matter who he may be, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, patrician or plebeian, young or old, for ‘God is no respecter of persons,’ but he is ‘rich to all that call upon him’—‘that dwelleth,’ to give us to understand that this liberal promise does not apply to those who put only a certain amount of trust in God, but that this trust must be continuous, constant, and firm (emphasis added) so that man may be said to dwell in God, through faith and confidence, and to carry it about with him, like a house, like a turtle, ‘in the aid,’ for God’s aid is not like one of the strongholds of this world, to which people fly for defense, but consists in an invisible and most secret tower that can be found, and entered by faith alone.

However, the expression in the Greek as well as the Latin conveys, that we must place the most entire confidence in God (emphasis added), but still we are not to neglect the ordinary means that man can avail himself of. The husbandman puts his trust in him who gives the rain from heaven, and makes his sun to rise, but in the meantime he will be sure to plough, to sow, and to reap, knowing that God helps those who help themselves…Those in power spend much money on their fortresses and body guards, and yet are often betrayed by them; but here it is not frail and deceitful man, but the Almighty and truthful God that says, ‘Trust in me, and I will protect you,’ and yet scarce can one be found to trust himself to God as he ought.”1

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High is he who “sits in the secret place of the Most High,” trusting God no matter the circumstances, no matter what is occurring around them. The individual understands that, in his life, because he is Baptized, in Christ, there are no coincidences, no “bad” things, for all things are either ordained by the Father or allowed by Him for our good, to mold us more into the likeness of the Beloved, His Son. Jesus lived in the shelter of the Father regardless of the circumstances; He abided in the shadow of the Almighty. Because of Baptism, we too should dwell in the shelter of the Most High; however, we do not—we do not totally, absolutely, trust Him. We know that we should, that He is dependable; nevertheless, we are afraid to be put in the position to trust Him completely. We are fearful of the circumstances we may be put into. In the military, you can prepare your mind for combat, have an idea of what to expect. To dwell in the shelter of the Most High, we go into it blind, not knowing what to expect. However, we must imitate Jesus. St. Augustine puts it in plain words: “He then who so imitates Christ as to endure all the troubles of this world, with his hopes set upon God, that he falls into no snare, is broken down by no panic fears (emphasis added), he it is ‘who dwelleth under the [defense] of the Most High, who shall abide under the protection of God’.” 2

In Old English, the word that is translated as “dwells” for us is translated “dwelleth,” which means a constant, a continuous dwelling. This is consistent with how St. Augustine translates the verse. We are no longer in that revolving door, rotating in and out; we are in the Body of Christ, our will consistent with His will, allowing the Body to carry us where He wills.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I believe most people will recognize these as words contained in the Declaration of Independence. I do not think Thomas Jefferson, in drafting up the Declaration, was thinking of God. All Catholics know that Life, Liberty, and Happiness are all found in Christ. Nevertheless, because of concupiscence, we often look for these things outside of God. We know better; we are “bent.” In order to constantly dwell in the shelter of the Most High, to be one of those who abides in the shadow of the Almighty, to be one of those who will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust,” we must give ourselves over to God, dwelling in His defense. Only then will we be able to say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” We have to stop looking for happiness outside of Christ. Christ gives us all He has, including His life. He suffered all that we may have all. Why do we desire to grasp at straws? Why do we desire to possess straw?

How do we arrive at the state where we able to know we dwell in the shelter of the Most High? We must pray for it, confessing our fear in asking for the petition, but knowing that that is what we need. Then we must brace ourselves for the trials and temptations that will necessarily beset us. This was one reason why Jesus was “driven” into the wilderness to be tempted. In order to enter the dwelling of that secret place, all hindrances must be removed. “Iron sharpens iron.” St. Paul recognized this: Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.1 We do not have the strength to enter on our own; we must ask. Ask (and keep asking), and you shall receive. The question that remains: Do we desire, do we want, to dwell in the shelter of the Most High?

--Tommy Turner


[1] New American Bible, Revised Edition., (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Ro 7:14–24.

1 Saint Robert Bellarmine (2015-05-11). A Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Illustrated) (p. 422). Aeterna Press. Kindle Edition.

2 Augustine of Hippo, Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms, 1888, 8, 446.

1 New American Bible, Revised Edition., (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Ro 7:24–25.