Nothing else matters but Christ
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the 5th Sunday of Lent, April 1, 2001
It's all rubbish. Your favorite pho- tos, your diploma, your coupons, your wed- ding ring, your blue jeans, your home, your garden, your car - all of it. It's all rubbish.
Paul says next Sunday (Philippians 3:8-14) that he is willing to lose all things if he can obtain the supreme good: knowing Jesus Christ the Lord. This personal revelation from Paul makes next Sunday's reading distinctive. Often we hear Paul answering questions for doubtful believers, going on a tirade against his opponents, or calmly and logically laying out the foundations of the Christian faith. Next weekend, though, from a letter to a community for whom Paul felt warm affection, we hear him open his heart and share what lies there. He tells the Philippians what it is that means more to him than anything else he possessed: knowing Christ.
Paul probably did not own a lot, so this was easier for him to say than for possession-happy Americans. But his commitment to Jesus lays a challenge upon us. If you've ever said, "I'd give anything to know God better," next Sunday's reading offers a solution. Lose the things that keep you from knowing Christ. Give your earnings to the poor. Give your time to prayer. Give your talent to your neighbor in need. Let nothing take precedence over the supreme good: knowing Christ.
To know Christ means more than to have intellectual knowledge. In the Bible, knowledge frequently means a complete understanding involving the heart as well as the head. Biblically, to know something is to become so familiar with it that you become like it. You lose yourself in the thing known. You have this experience with crossword puzzles, music, exercise, and love. You enter into a zone in which you become one with what you know. Knowing Christ that way is the supreme good.
Certainly Paul's vision of Jesus helped him make this commitment. Paul had a personal experience of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. It changed him from persecutor to penitent, from Saul to Paul. By seeing the risen Jesus, Paul became convinced of the reality of the Resurrection. Faith in Christ and in the Resurrection enabled him to regard everything else as rubbish.
Faith, of course, is one of Paul's big themes. In his Letters to the Galatians and to the Romans he writes about justification by faith, not by the law. For Paul, adherence to the former law could only get you so far in the spiritual life. To find fulfillment, you needed faith in Christ Jesus. In this brief passage from Philippians, he succinctly restates the same point. If we yearn to participate in the Resurrection of Jesus, our obedience will not get us there, but God's grace will. The law will not get us there, but faith will.
The Resurrection is central to belief. This is why this passage appears during Lent, the season that prepares for the feast of the Resurrection. Throughout Lent we accept penance. We deprive ourselves of things that could be good for us. But compared to knowing Christ, all other things are inferior. We do without some of them to know Christ better.
No one walks this journey of faith more publicly than the elect who will be baptized at Easter. Through the scrutiny rites of this season, we pray that God will remove whatever keeps them from Christ and strengthen whatever draws them toward Christ. We pray again and again for them this season so that when Easter comes they will respond in full-throated assent to these heart-centered questions of commitment: Do you renounce Satan? Do you believe in God?
Knowing Christ is the goal all Christians want. We can create an envi- ronment for that knowledge by doing away with things that get in the way. Sometimes even the good things we have and do can become obstacles to knowing Christ. Some possessions may bring us peace. Some activities may lead to charity. But if we have too much or do too much we may miss opportunities to know Christ in the simplicity of our hearts.
Knowing Christ ultimately comes down to an experience of prayer. In our prayer we experience the presence of Christ most intimately. To get there means clearing a time and clearing a space. It means clearing our minds from all other distractions. It means opening our hearts to the fullness of God's Spirit. It means counting all else as rubbish, so that in the center of our being we may know Christ.
Father Paul Turner is pastor of St. John Francis Regis Parish, Kansas City.