MicSem Publications

Good News at Christmas

Presentation at Public Health Conference, Guam.

by Francis X. Hezel, SJ

December 2016 Alcohol & Drugs

Flesh and Spirit: Part 1

Flesh and spirit–material and spiritual, worldly and otherworldly, upper region and lower region–are united in the child born for us.  Christmas is feast of the joining of the two.

  • disclaimer: not preaching sermon today (although that is my day job)
  • meaning of the coming feast, no matter what your faith
  • divine and human join forces: opposing concepts might fit together better than we thought

Spirit & Flesh

  • many different applications of the term, but here’s one
  • dual system in each of us–one higher and more noble than the other (biblical saying: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”)
  • Flesh: Take the easy way out, Don’t resist “natural impulses”; just do what comes naturally
    • But that could mean trouble: eg, beating the kids until they scream, stabbing your spouse, telling the plain truth to people about their cooking
  • Spirit: Remember who you are and what you’re called to be. Take the high road.
    • Sometimes that means slamming on the brakes, questioning our impulses, checking them.


  • Let me be a couch potato. I’m doing okay. Besides, it’s raining and I’m tired.
  • I must overcome my inertia and exercise. I’ll feel better afterward.
  • A new powdery drug? Let’s just try it and see what happens.
  • Do I know what the consequences might be?
  • One more drink! It feels so good.
  • It may make my wife mad at me, cause trouble at home.
    • Boy with his girlfriend: “It’s so good to be with you? Do you feel the same way I do?
  • Remembering a few important things (not just to bring a condom): song “Don’t you go breaking my heart” (and how easy it is to do this unintentionally)
  • “Help me make it through the night” vs “Do I love her?

Autobiographical reflections

1) Food

  • shift from 2 hamburgers to no lunch (experience at grad school in philosophy–confirmed when teaching at  Xavier–couldn’t stay awake)
  • food intake moderated according to work schedule throughout the day–little food during the day
  • realization: too much food meant too little output and too much sleep. What did I want to do? Sleep away my life?

2) Exercise

  • began Fitness at Xavier, reluctantly–but got swept into it, and it became a habit
  • exercise as good form of discipline–means of listening to the spirit
  • “addicted” to exercise because of the boost in energy and mood–I liked the effects of exercise on me. Continues even to the present.

3) Alcohol

  • enjoyed drinks, but beer was too filling (and sleep-inducing), straight whiskey was too strong in warm climate. So I found mixed drinks.
  • couldn’t drink too many, because it would make my sleepy
  • now and then I drank too much and got sick. Warning for the future!

4) Tobacco

  • In my youth, all older family members (aunts and uncles and grandfather) smoked: cigars, pipe, cigarettes. Normal at that time.
  • Remember thinking it was crazy to put junk into my lungs. No appeal to me.
  • Took it up, half-heartedly, when I came to Chuuk to teach in 1963. Anything that would help me stay awake! (Smoked half pack a day for some years)
  • Cut down drastically when godmother sent me to garage in cold weather to light up. Began to rethink it: influenced by shift in popular opinion in US. For 30 years held at two cigarettes a day.
  • Occasional smoker now, one every 2 or 3 days. Why not go cold turkey? (No more effective way of filling an empty page when planning a talk)

Take-away from all this:

  • Consuming food, alcohol, etc is not the main goal. Higher purpose is to live life more fully–eg, to think and write and teach and guide; to converse and make friends; to be an agent, not passive spectator.
  • Not all my choices were good–not recommending them for others.
  • Main point of this digression: the spirit can and should inform decisions on all these fleshly pursuits. Collaboration between spirit and flesh is not only possible, but necessary.

Flesh and Spirit: Part 2

Another meaning of Flesh & Spirit: body (literally flesh) and mind (consciousness, all that is within)

Opposition between flesh and spirit dealt with in different ways

  • Some have taught that we should focus on the mind/spirit and forget the body. Spirit is good, and flesh is evil.
  • (Eg. Albino flogging himself with whip in “DaVinci Code”; other excesses)
  • Some have gone the opposite direction: “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Gulping down another serving for the pleasure of eating. Why worry about effects–diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol. We all have to pass away.
  • Still others recommend finding a balance between the two. Neither is bad, but flesh has to be controlled to sustain the balance. Eg, fasting as a reminder of need for balance.

Good news of Christmas: flesh and spirit can coexist happily. Not easy, but it can be done.

  • Christ came to reconcile flesh and spirit. Flesh is not worthless–it is redeemed. Life in the flesh is not just a trial to be endured while we wait to be taken to heaven. The whole crazy world will somehow be saved and transformed.
  • Not a choose-up game between the two. Both have their value.
  • This is especially important for you health providers. Your work is valuable as we try to establish a balance between the two.

Remember what salvation meant for the prophet Isaiah and the Jews. “Blind will see, deaf will hear, the lame will walk (even leap).”

  • Bodily health counts for something–for one thing it is a sign of the New Age.
  • Those promoting health are not just healers, but they are prophets pointing to the Day of the Lord–the time when all are healed.

Back to Christmas and what it says on Spirit and Flesh

  • Flesh is redeemable. Why else would God become flesh?
  • Even broken bodies can be healed–not just diseased and physically handicapped, but those with broken hearts and spirits as well–eg, mentally ill, depressed, addicted.
  • Unity is a growing process throughout–from the integration of flesh and spirit, to unity of people (even natural enemies). Eg, Jungle Watch and Neos will be like the lion and lamb living together.
  • Meanwhile, our work is to advance the unity of flesh and spirit in our own way.