To Renew My Inmost Being and Put on the New Man

Have you noticed how tough life is? It’s hard enough to make it on your own, but try living the Christian life fully and the delusion that doing so is easy should have already crashed down upon you like a Summer thunder storm. That is, if you are giving it your all.

I’m reminded of the sage words of a military genius again. Ever heard of Carl von Clauswitz? Here is something he shared in his classic book on military strategy, On War,

Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war.

Sure, you could kid yourself that this doesn’t apply to your life as a Christian. “I’m a civilian,” or so you pretend. But to me, Clauswitz’s thoughts illuminate the truth of the life not only of those “in the world,” but definitely the lives of those of us who struggle mightily to be “not of the world.”

So yesterday morning, for the first time in what seems like ages, I dug into my book bag, pulled out my copy of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, flipped to the Friday morning prayers and proceeded to regain my sanity. It wasn’t long before I came across this truth of the Christian life,

Your inmost being must be renewed, and you must put on the new man (Ephesians 4:23).

I always knew that it was work to be a Christian, in the back of my mind. Everything I had learned from studying the Bible while growing up warned that this was true. But somewhere between leaving home and entering the world on my own, I had forgotten this fact. Running away from the truth will do that to you.

St. Paul’s inspired words reminded me of this situation again. You see, in order to “put on the new man,” you have to take off the old man first. And Lord knows, early on I had as much interest in being changed as the next person, which if you are anything like me means practically not at all. I went along with the easy care of “the saved,” while never confronting any of the dark shadows of responsibility that followed me along that road.

In other words, I sought the easy path of the Christian who is a Christian in name only. I professed belief in Christ, had been baptized, and I was “good to go” in that department, or so I thought, and I could concentrate on other more important things like fighting World War III, or striking it rich, you know, all while ignoring the plight of the poor or less fortunate. Talking myself out of my sinfulness, and letting my pride get the best of me and run the show.

I came back to the well of my faith only when I needed help. Like when I was sweating probation when I was trying to make it through Marine Security Guard School in Quantico, or when I was getting ready to graduate from college and I would pray, “Lord, help me find a job.” Prayers such as these are not invalid. They are necessary prayers for the soul to cry out with, as long as they are backed up with the diligent search to find work, etc. But all in all, I was a fair weather Christian and my conscience would needle me on that point from time to time.

Distractions helped me keep from listening to these urgings for the longest time. Have you allowed that to happen? Especially when there is some important project that you know you should be working on, but you put it off and put it off some more in the vain hope that the task would go away on its own accord so you won’t have to face it. But it doesn’t go away, and then you burn the midnight oil cobbling something together that barely passes muster, and just in the nick of time. I didn’t want to live my life like that forever.

As they say, denial is not just a river in Egypt, but I drank deeply from her anyway. But increasingly I noticed that her drafts still left me parched. Despite dying from thirst, it took my almost being killed to put me finally on the path to the Catholic Church. The Lord knows that marrying a Catholic didn’t do this, but it didn’t hurt matters either. Nor did the accident provoke me into an instant, “on the spot” conversion either. It took another 6-7 years before I finally cracked open the door that, by this time, my conscience was banging on loudly and relentlessly. As I’ve written before, the injuries I sustained ended my Marine Corps career, providing me the opportunity to change my (and my family’s) life and lead us I knew not where.

I never thought this tortuous path would lead me to the Catholic Church, but every day I rejoice that it has. I can say that I have no idea what is going on in much of the rest of the Church. Perhaps my brush with the Desert Fathers has inured me to answering the siren call of keeping tabs on all that the Bishops do, or don’t do, for instance. For me, the call to conversion is deeper than playing “inside baseball” with what is going on with Rome and all her players. This particular player is in the game, and not sitting on the bench. I am too busy “work(ing) out my salvation with fear and trembling” to have much time to devote to anything that distracts me from helping me, my family, and you dear readers, from that goal.

I’ve heard it said by some to others (bloggers, etc.), “how could you not know about Father X?,” or “problem XYZ?” or some such line regarding another scandal du jour. You all know that I’ve heard about, and commented on, some events like these in the past. And I’m likely to do so again, in the future. But it will be only if it is something glaringly obvious worth talking about, and by that I mean something that is leading others astray, or that has affected me personally in some way.

The real reason that I don’t follow all the latest newsy stuff is that I am too busy doing the work of “renewing my inmost being” to pay attention to the noise that’s going on outside. This work of taking off the old person and putting on the new one is time consuming. Especially considering that I have other work, and family responsibilities, on top of blogging about the Faith here. But my friend Webster Bull said once that “being Catholic is like walking around with a blazing torch in your hand, one that illuminates everything you encounter” and for me that is the reality.

It is as if the scales have dropped from my own eyes, and I’ve discovered the “beauty ever ancient, beauty ever new” of the Church. It is the vision of a person who was blind once and can now see. Or like after the storm is gone and I see what Noah saw. Even so, I’ll freely admit that the sight I have regained is still one “as looking through a glass, and darkly.” But the Beacon calls me clearly.

And thankfully, as I continue to do the work of renewal, the Divine Optician constantly updates the prescription on my individual looking glass. And did I mention he also carries most of the load? He’s got the big stuff, so I can sweat the small stuff.

Photo Credit: Michael Belk

  • Fran

    This is a most thought provoking post Frank, very much so. I have spent more than a little time with it here today and I thank you. As someone who seems barely able to produce a blogpost a month these days, I admire your efforts overall and this one most specifically.So much to say and as is often the case, not sure where to begin. One of the real elements of the journey is the way that we pass through our stages of Christian life, as with life and go through (we hope!) a meaningful maturation process. I do have a couple of criticisms and as you (hopefully) know by know, I do offer them with respect and love. One is this – "the lives of those of us who struggle mightily to be "not of the world."' I may be entering into the dreaded hairsplitting place, but it is my understanding that as Catholic and catholic Christians we are absolutely called to be "of the world." It would seem that it is our very catholicity, in wholeness and integrity living and being very much of the world but with full connection to our Catholic and catholic identities that we are called to. As I said – maybe hairsplitting? Perhaps I misunderstand? Each one is possible and more!The other thing that I struggled with was this, and I am pretty certain that I am over-analyzing and/or misunderstanding: "I am too busy “work(ing) out my salvation with fear and trembling” to have much time to devote to anything that distracts me from helping me, my family, and you dear readers, from that goal." (emphasis mine of course)Mmmm – working out your own salvation? I look at that line, quoted as such, as a bit of tricky albeit not intentional, proof-texting. Working out our own salvation? Very Pauline theology but if one delves below the surface with Paul with a Catholic lens, it should be clear that the only one working out our salvation is our Savior, Jesus Christ. He did all the heavy lifting (pun not intended) and all we can do is respond and be Him in the world. And then, with all due respect, you only busy yourself (clearly I must be misinterpreting this) with helping yourself, your family and all of us? I know I must misread this, because if I did not know you as I do, I would be tempted to interpret some arrogance. Not to mention that we don't get to choose who we help for the most part, it is kind of an all or nothing proposition as I understand it.Now I will not simply be critical here, goodness no and I hope that it is understood that I am critical with both curiosity and love.I am writing and spending so much time here because I am such a great admirer of your work and because my own life is greatly enriched because of knowing and being in community out here with you.OK, back to not writing that blogpost of my own! Peace and good to you Frank and I look forward to hearing from you. Peace and good to all who read these pages.

  • Frank

    Fran, thanks for your comments, criticisms, hair-splitting, etc. Yes, as a layman,husband, father, worker, and as I've written before, I am definitely "in the world" and clearly aware of that. But paradoxically, we are called to be both in it, and not "of" it. This leads to tensions, choices, and ultimately, decisions on choosing how we respond to our situation. And though it is difficult to boil down Clauswitz's book (870 pages!)to two sentences, those sentences help to bring these tensions, or "friction" to light. It is a balancing act, and frankly I don't pretend I have a lot of control over it (or anything else for that matter) but I do try to keep on an even keel. We are yeast, salt, and light, and in the right measure this works to the good. Overdoing any of these ruins the dough, poisons the pizza, and blinds folks (while underdoing them makes hockey pucks of biscuits, makes the food tasteless, and leaves everyone fumbling in the dark).As for the "working out my own salvation" and being a witness to my family and others, I didn't mean to come across as arrogant. I'll defer to someone who knows more that I do about Pauline theology through the Catholic lens (because I'm just a self-taught rookie). :)

  • Frank

    And, of course, the Magisterium. As much of this discussion derives from Paul's letter to the Philippians, it is helpful to look at that passage through the Catholic lens, for sure. Like these words from Apostolicam actuositatem:33 The most holy council, then, earnestly entreats all the laity in the Lord to answer gladly, nobly, and promptly the more urgent invitation of Christ in this hour and the impulse of the Holy Spirit. Younger persons should feel that this call has been directed to them especially and they should respond to it eagerly and generously. Through this holy synod, the Lord renews His invitation to all the laity to come closer to Him every day, recognizing that what is His is also their own (Ph 2,5), to associate themselves with Him in His saving mission. Once again He sends them into every town and place where He will come (cf. Lc 10,1) so that they may show that they are co-workers in the various forms and modes of the one apostolate of the Church, which must be constantly adapted to the new needs of our times. Ever productive as they should be in the work of the Lord, they know that their labor in Him is not invain (cf. 1Co 15,58).LOL, there's that "W" word again.And St. Paul has words of advice on these matters in his letter to Timothy as well. Then there is the Catechism, which affirms Clauswitz (seriously, you have to be "in the world" to cite Clauswitz! LOL),409 This dramatic situation of "the whole world (which) is in the power of the evil one"(1Jn 5,19 1P 5,8) makes man's life a battle: The whole of man's history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn ofhistory until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God's grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity.(GS 37,3-2)Let's look at that last citation from Guadium et spes,Hence if anyone wants to know how this unhappy situation can be overcome, Christians will tell him that all human activity, constantly imperiled by man's pride and deranged self-love, must be purified and perfected by the power of Christ's cross and resurrection. For redeemed by Christ and made a new creature in the Holy Spirit, man is able to love the things themselves created by God, and ought to do so. He can receive them from God and respect and reverence them as flowing constantly from the hand of God. Grateful to his Benefactor for these creatures, using and enjoying them in detachment and liberty of spirit, man is led forward into a true possession of them, as having nothing, yet possessing all things.(9) "All are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's" (1Co 3,22-23).

  • Frank

    And back to the Catechism, because your statement "the only one working out our salvation is our Savior, Jesus Christ," though true on the day we were baptized, doesn't take into account that we fall constantly, and have to work our way back through the Sacrament of Reconciliation…978 "When we made our first profession of faith while receiving the holy Baptism that cleansed us, the forgiveness we received then was so full and complete that there remained in us absolutely nothing left to efface, neither original sin nor offenses committed by our own will, nor was there left any penalty to suffer in order to expiate them. . . . Yet the grace of Baptism delivers no one from all the weakness of nature. On the contrary, we must still combat the movements of concupiscence that never cease leading us into evil. "979 In this battle against our inclination towards evil, who could be brave and watchful enough to escape every wound of sin? "If the Church has the power to forgive sins, then Baptism cannot be her only means of using the keys of the Kingdom of heaven received from Jesus Christ. The Church must be able to forgive all penitents their offenses, even if they should sin until the last moment of their lives."980 It is through the sacrament of Penance that the baptized can be reconciled with God and with the Church:Penance has rightly been called by the holy Fathers "a laborious kind of baptism." This sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism, just as Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who have not yet been reborn.Golly. I hope I don't have to start adding footnotes to my posts. That sounds like a lot of work too. :)Oh, and I'm very content with letting Our Lord do the heavy lifting. *see the photo at the end? He's carrying all my luggage!*Joe Six-Pack, USMC

  • Anonymous

    (Don't know why but Google isn't letting me stay signed in to post this comment as myself. This is Carrie Sue from carrieinwriting . blogspot . com)It's important to remember that "work" doesn't always translate to "earn." St. Paul didn't say "work for" our salvation but rather "working out" our salvation. This is a significant difference. I think St. Paul would like us to remember that when reading his words. Prefigured by God's gift to us of the ability and opportunity to participate in the creation of new life, He gives us similar participation in the attainment of eternal life. Working out our salvation is, in my mind, a restatement of Christ's command to take up our cross if we are to follow Him. There is work involved, there is effort, striving, falling and recovering. Practically speaking, we work out our salvation on a daily basis whether we call it that or not. Do you pray? Do you study the Word? Do you confess your sins? Do you serve? Do you seek to understand? Do you speak the truth in contradiction to lies? Do you spread the Gospel by various means? Do you practice virtues? Do you avoid occasions of sin? Do you love as Christ loves (or try to)? To what end do you do these things? To work out your salvation. Fruitless if it weren't for God's grace, indubitably, and this is why we don't work "for" our salvation or earn it. We work it out, cooperating with His grace, assisted by His grace. Without the "work" though, the grace would have nothing to assist. Much like natural life, I find it amazing and beautiful that God gives us the great dignity and responsibility of "working out our salvation" with Him.

  • Frank

    Thanks for commenting Carrie. Indeed, words from the post prior to this one attributed to my patron say much the same,So is it with the spiritual world. There are two factors to be taken into consideration. The man must cultivate with a will the ground of his heart, and labor upon it—for God requires the mans' labor and toil and travail. But unless clouds of heaven make their appearance from above, and showers of grace, the farmer does not profit by his toil.As Pope Paul VI said,Being a Christian is a fine thing but not always an easy one.

  • Fran

    I never really got to come back and comment more. I love how you pour your heart and soul into all of this, even with pains in the neck like me.I love that line from Pope Paul VI.