On the Day known as New Years Day in the secular world, there is a veritable feast of identities for this day on the Church’s calendar. It is the octave of Christmas, the Feast of Mary Mother God, the Feast that commemorates the Holy Name of Jesus and also of the Circumcision. Quite a lot to ponder actually!
In previous years I have commented on all these liturgical aspects, and even on the mystery of time.
But this year it strikes me to preach out of a text of St. Paul from the 3rd chapter of the Letter to the Philippians. The text recommends itself to a New Year’s theme, because Paul speaks and meditates on “what is behind, and what is before” him. And in his meditation he sets forth a kind of plan for a Christian to follow, a Christian who prayerfully reflects on the year that is passed, and the year that is about to unfold. Here then is the text from St. Paul, and a kind of four-point plan that follows.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, …I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things….Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Phil 3:7-16)
I. Consider your Profit–in the text St. Paul says, But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him. …I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
At the end of one year the beginning of another, we do well to consider what it is that we truly value. Now we need to be careful when we make this consideration. For it often happens that we make answer the question, “What do I most value” in a way that speaks more to how we should answer the question, than what is really true. Most of us who are believers, know that we should value God, the Lord Jesus, above all things. But honestly, that is not always so.
So we ought to reflect, at the end of the year, what, or who, do we really value most. What, or who, is our greatest prize? Perhaps it is the Lord, but often other things compete for this title. Many idolize money, creature comforts, political outcomes, sports victories, career advancement, and many other things more than God, and the things of God.
Why is this consideration so important? Because, frankly, where our treasure is, our heart will also be (cf Luke 12:34). Thus, we do well at the beginning of the new year to ask the Lord to give us hearts that are more sure, more undivided, more single-hearted in our love for him.
But in order for us to receive this gift, we must also ask for new minds that become powerfully aware of just how great it is to know and love the Lord, and how comparatively passing the gifts and trinkets of this world are. Somehow, it has to get through our thick skulls that the things of this world don’t amount to much. They are but passing pleasures, mere trinkets upon which rust, decay and boredom soon descend. They are as St. Paul says, nothing but “rubbish,” compared to the glory of knowing God, and the glories he has waiting for us. Thus St. Paul says that he “wants to know Christ.”
One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight. Well I have news for you, we’re all going to lose weight, a lot more than we think. These bodies of ours, when death has had its way, along with decay, will weigh little less than 5 pounds of dust and ashes. All our good looks, our big hair and youthful ruddiness will pass. We get worked up about secondary things. Perhaps losing weight is good, but knowing the Lord and valuing him is far more important. WHy not resolve to pray for a greater love and desire for God instead of just praying for less desire for food?
So, step one in the four-point plan is to get this through our thick skulls: the glories of this world are passing away, they last but a moment. Our only true and lasting treasure is the Lord and the things he helps the store up in heaven. Step one, in our four-point plan is to consider our profit, to consider what is truly valuable, truly lasting in our life.
II. Chase your prize–St. Paul goes on to say, Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect,but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.
Having considered our true treasure, and asking and experiencing that our heart be supernaturally directed to what we most value, it becomes easier by God’s grace to walk a clear path in the new year ahead. There may be things in our past that we regret, mistakes that have caused us setbacks. But with hearts renewed in what is truly valuable we are enabled increasingly, to forget what is behind and to press forward to what is ahead, the great glory of heaven, union with God, and all the saints.
The Greek word here is διώκω (dioko) which means to aggressively chase, like a hunter pursuing a catch,or a runner seeking a prize. Do you get the picture? The Christian life is not to be a tepid and boring, reluctant slouching towards God and heaven. It is to be a joyful, focused, earnest pursuit of God, and his kingdom. It is to be an eager pursuit of his will, his Word, and his Sacraments, like a starving man who sees food in the distance and runs with joy and zeal to devour with zesty delight every morsel he can claim!
It is clear, that we will only vigorously pursue things which we value highly. That is why step one in the four-point plan is so critical. Consider the kinds of sacrifices that people make for careers, for things like the “American dream.” People spend many years, and vast amounts of money pursuing the dream that lasts less than 80 years, maximum. But they make this pursuit, with zeal, even with joy, because they value the large home, the creature comforts, and the prestige of having “made it.”
To the degree, that we value Jesus and his kingdom this way we too will pursue it with joy, and be willing to make any number of sacrifices. Thus, having considered what truly profits us, would truly is our treasure, we will naturally chase our prize with joy and zeal.
III. Confirm your Priority– the St. Paul says: But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Note the expression, “this one thing I do.” When something is truly our passion, and our focus it tends to order everything else in our life. Consider that a runner in a race does not stop to have idle discussions, or go to shopping malls and movie theaters when in the race. Rather, the runner in a race focuses on running, winning the race. Only those things that assist him in that task this year will he do. For example, a distance runner may reach out to receive a cup of cold water that is offered along the path, for that helps his goal.
If, to use another example, a person is driving from Washington DC, North to New York City, they will ignore signs that say South, Atlanta. If it is necessary to pull over and get gas, that makes sense, and they will do so. If directions or other provisions for the trip are necessary, they will do so. But the destination, New York City is the goal that determines everything else. ANd only those things that assist the goal make sense.
And so it must be for us. Our life must be increasingly about one thing, and one thing only: knowing, and loving Jesus Christ and earnestly running to his kingdom. Anything that distracts from that one goal is to be discarded. And things that help us are embraced.
Thus note this, for our life to be ordered, and not confused and chaotic, we must have our one goal, always consciously in mind. Our priority is Jesus Christ and whatever hastens us to his kingdom.
IV. Claim what is promised–St. Paul says, All of us who are mature should take such a view of things….Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Here St Paul, in speaking about is living up to what we have already attained, is essentially saying that we must live with Hope, that is, with confident expectation that what is promised is ours.
People only strive for what they can reasonably possess. And thus, the Theological Virtue of Hope, which defined is “the confident expectation of God’s help in attaining eternal life,” is an essential virtue for the Christian, both to have an cultivate.
When we know that what is promised is attainable by God’s grace we are all the more encouraged to strive eagerly for it, even if there are temporary setbacks and hardships involved. Thus, St. Paul says to us that we ought to live as those who have already attained, even though we are not yet at our goal.
In Christ our Head, we, the members of the Body, have already attained to the glory that is promised. And if we but run with him the race that is set before us, we will surely meet our goal. Thus as we enter this new year, we must renew our confidence in God’s providence, and in his grace.
The only ultimate obstacle, is our very self. We must neither surrender our confidence, nor conviction. Doubts and discouragement might cause us to veer from the path. Thus Paul counsels that we pray for vigorous Hope, a Hope that will strengthen our wills to endure, no matter the cost knowing that if we remain in Christ we will win.
Here then is a kind of four-point plan for the year ahead. We must consider what is truly our profit, what we value most. Chase our prize with a zeal that comes from that fact that it IS our prize, confirm our Priority by focusing like a laser on our Prize, Claim already what is our and live out of it.