For many, as I have often told you
and now tell you even in tears,
conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Their end is destruction.
Their God is their stomach;
their glory is in their "shame."
Their minds are occupied with earthly things.
But our citizenship is in heaven,
and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will change our lowly body
to conform with his glorified body
by the power that enables him also
to bring all things into subjection to himself.
In today’s second reading from Philippians, St. Paul urges us not to be enemies of the cross of Christ. Who is an enemy of Christ? Is it someone who burns bibles and curses the name of God? Is it someone who actively tries to work against the Church or hinder her activities? Is it someone who puts Christians to the sword or forbids the practice of the faith?
Most likely we can all come through that examination without breaking a sweat.
But an enemy of the cross of Christ is also the one whose God is their stomach, the one who glories in their ‘shame’ and the one whose mind is occupied with earthly things. That hits a little closer to home, doesn’t it? When we read this verse we might think of people we know, but what if we looked at ourselves?
The practices of Lent help us in this examination. The Church requires us to fast on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays in Lent. It also encourages fasting and penance beyond these minimum requirements. If we don’t find the bare minimum challenging, maybe it means that our God isn’t our stomach…or maybe it means we should try a little more penance. If you do find it challenging, relax! It doesn’t mean that you don’t love God! But it is an invitation to evaluate which controls you more: your stomach or God?
Similarly, we are warned that the enemies of the cross of Christ have minds occupied with earthly things. This could be understood in two ways. On the one hand, while we have to think of earthly things from time to time (such as providing for a family, paying the bills, etc.), if our mind is occupied with earthly things it cannot at the same time be taken up with heavenly things. We can become too ‘bogged down’ in the daily life of this world that we leave no room for our mind to contemplate heavenly things. On the other hand, ‘earthly things’ could also mean ‘worldly things,’ the things which the world thinks are important: fame, fortune, fashion, etc. Instead the mind of the Christian should be occupied with heavenly things, the things Christ says are important.
Just as Lent is a time of fasting (as opposed to making a god of our stomach), Lent is also a time for prayer. This increased dedication to prayer during the holy season is a way to re-focus our thoughts on heavenly things rather than worldly things.
It is also important to remember that St. Paul is speaking here of the “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Have you heard of the prosperity gospel? It’s basic tenet is that Christ died and rose from the grave to give us material prosperity (financial blessing and physical well-being) here and now. Yet in Scripture Christ says that anyone who wants to follow Him must “take up their cross and follow me.” Christ did not die on the cross so that we could avoid it. If that were true what are we to make of the many Christians who were crucified for their faith? Christ died and rose from the dead to open a way for us back to God; and He is the way. If the cross of Christ has no place in our life than it is all too easy to make a god of our stomach and occupy our thoughts with earthly/worldly things.