Thursday, January 05, 2006

I Press On

“Whatever gain I had, I count as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:7-8). I think I would be both eager and afraid to meet St Paul in person. The man is so intense, so focused on Christ, so ready to trash everything if only he could be with his Lord—and therefore so uncompromising when it comes to slackers, “Sunday Catholics”, or stubborn pagans.

But he also has a salutary lack of self-confidence, not resting on his laurels (nor being self-righteous) but putting all his hope in the Lord. “Not that I have already obtained this [i.e., the power of the resurrection] or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (3:12; I prefer a translation from some older Bibles: “I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of me”). He continues, driving home the point: “One thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (vv. 13-14).

We can see in almost all of Paul’s writings that he is pressing on to attain the goal of his life, of every human life: eternal happiness with God in heaven. Many of us need to heed his exhortation to forget what lies behind and to strain forward to what lies ahead. “What lies behind” is often a history of failures, regrettable or humiliating experiences, and sins. Once we bring all this to the Lord in sincere repentance, and receive absolution through his Church, we should forget it—or remember it in general only for the sake of humility and a reminder of our utter need for God. Morbid dwelling on past sins does not move us toward the Lord. But once having received forgiveness, we cannot slacken the pace toward the finish line. We “strain forward” with all that is within us, to obtain “what lies ahead,” that for which Christ has forgiven our sins, that for which He has “laid hold of us.”

I think we need to hear this word as an encouragement when we get bogged down in all the burdens and troubles of daily life, and perhaps may be tempted to give up, quit, throw in the towel, or just lapse into a tired mediocrity. We may not always feel the joy, the exuberance, the liveliness of faith and hope (which ought to accompany the astounding revelation of what God has prepared for those who love Him), but we can press on, we can persevere, we can fix our eyes on Jesus and the goal, the “outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1Peter 1:9).

So let us press on and strain forward to what lies ahead. There are no runners-up in the race of life—only winners and losers. “Run so as to win the prize,” the Apostle exhorts (1Cor. 9:24). Again he says: “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for in due season we shall reap [eternal life], if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:8-9). Things sometimes get very difficult or discouraging, and sometimes the finish line seems very far away, but I press on…