Today’s reading from the Letter to the Philippians is one of the reasons that I count this letter as my favorite in the body of St. Paul’s writings.
Whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and [the] sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, . . . (Philippians 3:7-10).
St. Paul makes this statement after recalling for us the advantages he had because of his birth. He was not only a member of the powerful party known as the Pharisees, he was also a Roman citizen who had been given the benefit of a Greek education. He was aligned with the three most powerful and prestigious aspects of the Mediterranean world in the 1st Century – religious, political, and educational prominence. Yet he is able to say that all of this is so much rubbish in light of his having found faith in Jesus Christ.
At this time of year, Americans’ thoughts turn to the Thanksgiving Holiday. For the coming weeks, we will be challenged on many fronts to consider how much has been given to us and how much we have earned. Gratitude for our families, for our health, for our security, and for our freedoms will be the basis of much of the media advertising and the editorial writing that will fill our television screens and our newspaper columns. Can we say that we consider all these things “rubbish” by comparison to our faith in Jesus and in the power of his resurrection? When listing the “things” for which we are grateful, where do faith and salvation in Jesus rank on the list?
Recently I saw a clever column which asked how we could leap up from the Thanksgiving table to stand in line at the various retail establishments to get even more. Good question. Because the holiday shopping season follows so closely on the heels of Thanksgiving, there is no avoiding the clash between the two holidays. (Perhaps the Canadians have a good idea in placing Thanksgiving early in October to separate it a little from Christmas.)
While all of these questions are important, the one that concerns me the most, however, is my own sense of gratitude for my faith, my vocation, and for the love of God which has been showered upon me so graciously by God. Yes, I struggle with my various health concerns. Like St. Paul, however, I try to remember that these health concerns are also blessings since they have won for me the ability to join my sufferings to those of Jesus who gave everything for our salvation. Indeed, by comparison, everything else is destined for the dumpster!
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator