Psyche and the Pneuma

2 September 2008 Tuesday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time
1 Cor 2, 10-16 Psyche and the Pneuma

There many things about our real self which only our very depths keep and know. Our secrets, the real reason about the things we do, and our most intimate desires belong to these inmost realm. These are things we keep to ourselves, or share to the closest and most trusted of friends. Even then, there are certain things we know other people cannot fully grasp and understand --- no matter how we explain it, or how long they have been our companions.

St. Paul said that it is the same thing with God. The one who knows the very depths of God is God’s spirit. And therefore, a person led by the Spirit is one who can understand spiritual things. For St. Paul, this is the person who is a pneumatikoi, a person who has the pneuma or the Spirit. These are the people who are very sensitive to the workings of the Spirit in our lives, to the stirrings in their hearts.

On the other hand, there are people who are not sensitive to the Spirit. Rather, they are too aware of their earthly desires. In Greek, the psyche is called, the “soul” (not the way we understand it now). The “soul” to them is that which gives life: thus every creature with life, like a plant, a dog, a bird, a human being has in its depths a “soul” -- the principle of life.

This is seen in the Greek mythology of Psyche, who fell in love with Eros. She was the most beautiful daughter of a king, and her beauty was Venus’ object of jealousy. Ordering her son, Eros to make her fall in love with the ugliest of creatures, Eros instead fell in love with her and accompanied her during the night, only to leave at the beginning of day. Curious about who her companion was, Psyche lit a lamp and fell in love with the most beautiful god. But the hot oil that dropped on Eros shoulder made him flee from her.

Thus, a person who lives only with the psyche will only understand the matters of earthly desires. To these persons, spiritual activities are mere foolishness. They will not understand the reason why we have to pray or to go on a recollection. If their main concern is their sex lives, chastity is foolishness. If their main belief is that happiness is in amassing great wealth, then simplicity is difficult to understand. If their core personal dignity lies in popularity, then humility is rubbish. There are times when we are torn between our earthly wants and loftier ideals.

The myth tells us that in her search for Eros, Psyche reached the temple of Venus who made her a slave. Eventually, with Eros’ assistance she became immortal. The soul then, when purified by suffering, attains happiness.

Likewise, when we are faced by the most challenging and trying of times, when all that we have amassed and all our achievements cannot save us from a terminal illness, death, or the bar exams, our souls are purified. We begin to see the limits of physical life, and end realizing what is beyond our earthly treasures.

But the pneuma or the Spirit teaches as Jesus taught with authority. It tells us to give up all that we have for another, inspire us to empty ourselves and die --- to let go of our earthly possession --- in order to have new life. This cannot be taught by any other than one who knows God’s inmost secret. We know that it is true. Those who have given their lives totally are those who are remembered and spoken of --- even on earth.

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