A Life Hidden in Christ (Col. 3:1-11)

in hand

By Baptism, the Colossians have received an “upgrade”, they even now share the life of Christ who sits at the right hand of God. Traditional Catholic spiritual theology talks about this in terms of the “supernatural life”, where by baptism the Christian already even in this life share the Divine life through “grace”. This idea has prompted a popular preacher — the late Fulton J. Sheen whose case is now being processed for sainthood — to explain, that, the Christian is like the amphibious frog: he straddles both time and eternity, with one foot in earthly affairs and with the other in the realized expectation of heavenly ones.

More in A Life Hidden in Christ

Scripture

Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col. 3:2-3)

Observation

Paul draws the moral consequences of the present status of Christians before God. Since the Christian has been raised and joined to Christ by baptism, he/she even now has been elevated to the presence of God IN Christ. Raised to where Christ is, the Christian, therefore, should fix his eyes on what is “above”, not on what is “below”. What is “below” is called “earthly” by Paul (5-9); these should be “put to death.” In contrast, what is “above” is the “new self” that comes from Christ. This is always “being renewed”, prepared for that intimate experience of God which is imperfect now, but will reach perfection later. That “new self” is also what makes Christian communion possible. Whatever traits the members of the Colossian community may have had before that separated them from one another, no longer exists (11).

Application

All that the author mentions in vv. 5-9 as “earthly” are ways of living and vices that tear people apart and are unworthy of God’s holiness. In baptism, the Colossians have put on the dignity of the children of God, the “new self” which is that of Christ. They should therefore “put to death” — in traditional Catholic language, “mortify” — these “earthly” tendencies.

“Mortification” seems to have been relegated to the dustbins of the history of spirituality. Catholics don’t mention it quite often as they used to.

One of the methods which Christian asceticism employs in training the soul to virtuous and holy living. The term originated with St. Paul, who traces an instructive analogy between Christ dying to a mortal and rising to an immortal life, and His followers who renounce their past life of sin and rise through grace to a new life of holiness. “If you live after the flesh”, says the apostle, “you shall die, but if through the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live” (Romans 8:13; cf. also Colossians 3:5, and Galatians 5:24). From this original use of the term, we see that mortification, though under one aspect it is a law of death, under another and more fundamental aspect it is a law of life, and does not destroy but elevates nature. What it slays is the disease of the soul, and by slaying this it restores and invigorates the soul’s true life.

Of the diseases it sets itself to slay, sin, the one mortal disease of the soul, holds the first place. Sin committed it destroys, by impelling to true penitence and to the use of those means of forgiveness and restoration which our Lord has confided to His Church. Temptations to sin it overcomes by inducing the will to accept hardships, however grace, rather than yield to the temptations. To this extent, mortification is obligatory on all, but those who wish to be more thorough in the service of Christ, carry it further, and strive with its aid to subdue, so far as is possible in this life, that “rebellion” of the flesh against the spirit which is the internal incentive to sin. What is needed to achieve this victory is that the passions and sensual concupiscences, which when freely indulged exercise so pernicious an influence on human conduct, should be trained by judicious repression to subordinate and conform their desires to the rule of reason and in faith, as discerned by the mind. But for this training to be effectual it is not sufficient to restrain these desires of the flesh only when their demands are unlawful. They represent a twist in the nature, and must be treated as one treats a twisted wire when endeavouring to straighten it, namely, by twisting it the opposite way. Thus in the various departments of ascetic observance, earnest Catholics are constantly found denying themselves even in matters which in themselves are confessedly lawful.

More from the Catholic Encyclopedia: Mortification

The last line in this quote, especially, is seldom mentioned — if ever — even in the formation of priests and religious.

Prayer (From Psalm 91)

You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shade of the Almighty,
Say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”

He will rescue you from the fowler’s snare,
from the destroying plague,
He will shelter you with his pinions,
and under his wings you may take refuge;
his faithfulness is a protecting shield.

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