Our first reading says, “Rejoice young man, and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart.”
That isn’t exactly what the church was saying to me when I was young. At seventeen I joined ten other boys in a year of intense spiritual training. Each day gave a half hour over to reading accounts of how ancient holy men practiced a variety of ways for mortifying the flesh. Encouraged to practice similar mortifications, some of my classmates took to wearing knotted cords around their waists, other kept pebbles in their shoes.
Forgive me for offering an over-simplification of the differences between that training given us and the words of Ecclesiastes.
From the start, Western Civilization had switched between following the two great Greek philosophers: Plato and Aristotle.
Plato believed that our souls were created before our bodies, and imprisoned in them, being held down by them. That basic understanding had them punishing their bodies, forcing them to free their souls to be with God.
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