Scripture and the Life of the Church Scripture and the Liturgy

The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul: The Upward Call of God

Today is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. One of my favorite passages in Paul’s epistles is Philippians 3:12–14:

Not that I have already obtained this* or am already made perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But 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.

*See vv. 8–11 to find out what “this” is.

The Apostle here paints a picture of the life of discipleship as an adventure and an ascent—a beautiful complement, by the way, to 2 Timothy 4:6–8, from the second reading of today’s Mass. (For a similarly bracing passage from the Petrine literature, I’d recommend 2 Peter 1:3–11.) Paul presents “straining forward” (epekteinomenos), stretching out until you are spiritually taut with longing for Jesus, as the right posture for the Christian life. This image inspired both St Augustine (Confessions 9.10.23; 11.29.39; et al.) and St Gregory of Nyssa (Life of Moses 1.5).

But it’s one thing to find a passage like this exciting; it’s another thing to live it, to climb the mountain of God with fearless determination. How many Christians spend their lives slouching around in the foothills, maybe mostly avoiding mortal sin, but making no effort to climb? How many never even look up and notice there’s a mountain at all?

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?

Psalm 24:3

I have sometimes heard believers deplore an approach to Christian life that they refer to as “sin management.” I really like that as a description of a deficient view of our relationship with God. Sin by definition distances us from God. It is not to be managed. It is to be eradicated.

Don’t get me wrong. St Paul seems quite clear that serious sin after baptism can be addressed and healed (see, e.g., 2 Cor. 2:5–11). The Lord’s mercy is boundless. He does not tire of forgiving us—blessed be his name.

But St Paul also seems quite clear that serious sin should not be a normal part of Christian life. Just yesterday at Mass we heard the words of Romans 6. Sin is incompatible with our baptismal identity. I’m reminded of the quotation from one of Pope St Leo the Great’s Christmas sermons that kicks off Part Three of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature [2 Pet. 1:4], do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God [Col. 1:13; 1 Pet. 2:9].

Sermon 21.3, quoted at CCC 1691

Don’t settle for sin management. Recognize your dignity, and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” His grace was sufficient for Paul, and it will be sufficient for us, too.

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