«In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night prior to the Lord’s passion, Peter fell asleep. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”, was how Jesus memorably chose to describe the lapse. Even so, Peter’s very presence in the garden testifies to his great instinct towards faith – one that would falter and even stumble into outright betrayal, but would endure.
The nature of our faith as it interacts with our minds, spirit, and flesh is worth pondering. Jesus implies a distinction; failures of “the flesh” are not always entirely volitional in quite the same way as other kinds of deliberate actions, which require assent of the mind and spirit, though of course they can persist and devolve into willful rejection of truth. Excessive indulgence of the flesh accounts for a great deal of human suffering today, both personal and social. Nonetheless, there is also something about our universal physical human weakness that elicits a certain measure of sympathy. The fact is that we are weak and don’t always behave as we’d like to.
Graham Greene, the great twentieth-century novelist and convert to the Catholic faith, was intimately familiar with the powerful inclinations of the flesh. He led a deeply conflicted life replete with extramarital romantic liaisons. The soul in turmoil, at once given over to passion and afflicted with remorse, is the theme that dominates his greatest works.
Greene recognized that his persistent involvement in a series of affairs severed him from the Church. He knew he could not have it both ways; that would be to arrogate to himself the content of the faith handed down from the beginning.
In the end, he opted for the affairs. In a 1990 letter to Newsweek’s Kenneth Woodward, Greene tells of his experience travelling to Padre Pio’s village in Italy with girlfriend Catherine Walston. He was moved by the Mass they attended early one morning, but also reveals: “I was invited to go see him that night in the monastery, but I made excuses not to go as neither of us wanted our lives changed!”
In spite of his failings, he displayed a certain integrity by choosing not to present himself for Holy Communion – an issue of striking contemporary relevance. “I've broken the rules”, he writes. “They are rules I respect, so I haven't been to communion for nearly thirty years. . . .In my private life, my situation is not regular. If I went to communion, I would have to confess and make promises. I prefer to excommunicate myself." If this is not exactly an act of faith, but it is an acknowledgment of the Catholic faith’s coherence. (...)»
No The Catholic Thing leio um lúcido texto sobre a necessidade de fazer opções, nomeadamente a necessidade de optar entre levar a vida como nos apetece, como o Mundo a leva, ou como a Igreja ensina. Graham Greene, segundo o autor do dito artigo, sabia que não podia servir simultaneamente a dois senhores, ao Mundo e a Deus e que reclamar para si essa possibilidade corresponderia a assumir como sua a função de definir o que é a Fé. Quantos não o fazem hoje, entre nós?