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‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain’

Last June 29, the Holy Father Benedict XVI inaugurated the Pauline Year or Year of St. Paul dedicated to the commemoration of the 2,000 anniversary of the birth of the great “Apostle to the Gentiles” — that is, to all who are not of Jewish descent.

That includes most of us, who thanks to the magnificent evangelization work of St. Paul, have come to know Christ as Lord.

In response to the pope’s invitation to study the life and the teachings of St. Paul in greater depth, and allow him to model for us what it means to be a Christian disciple and a Catholic evangelizer, we may wish to reflect on some important questions for our daily lives:

• Do I know Christ as Lord and Savior?
• Is Christ the center of my life?
• Can I say with St. Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20) and “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”? (Phil 1:21)

We can judge how well we are following the Lord by the answer we give to each of these questions. That is, if the answer to each is “yes” that’s a good sign that we have truly met the Lord Jesus and that we live as true disciples. But, of course, it is not enough to simply say so: we must live it out fully. As Jesus himself has said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me you who practice lawlessness.’ Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.” (Mt 7:21-25)

These are harsh words — which should make us reflect seriously on what it means to know Christ as Lord and Savior. To be a true disciple means that Christ is the center of my life and owns me completely. It means that Jesus is Lord of every area of my life: of my thoughts, decisions, judgments, emotions, actions, and relationships. It means letting him have his way in my family life, my work, my studies, my finances, my interpersonal relationships, my sexuality… In other words, the true disciple who has truly come to know the Lord, dies to self so that Christ may live within him or her.

Perhaps this is the most notable characteristic of the great Apostle St. Paul: he left everything, including his way of seeing life, to follow Christ wholeheartedly — so that Christ could live in him.

Christ wishes to be the goal, the purpose, the model and ultimate end of our lives. It was he who claimed to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (cf. Jn 14:1-6) The Christian life consists, therefore, in divesting ourselves of all that separates us and keeps us away from the Lord. Christian discipleship is a commitment to looking at Jesus daily and asking ourselves regularly: “What virtues and qualities does Christ have that I don’t have yet?” and “What shortcomings do I not see in Christ that I have yet to overcome?” In other words, “What is missing in me and what needs to go so that I might be more and more like Jesus?” This is crucial because we are called to nothing less than to the very heights of holiness, or as St. Paul would put it, to be transformed “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ … no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” (Eph 4:13-16) Only through this deep, interior transformation will we be able to produce the fruit that evidences that we are true followers of Christ: “you will know them by their fruits.” (Mt 7:20)

In this walk, we are not alone because the Lord comes to our aid with his sanctifying grace. If he wants us to be saints, he will help us become saints. So, let’s be saints!

I, for my part, am committed to achieving that goal. And having come close to death on the week of Thanksgiving Day, a few years ago, I know what it means to have your life back — and to make better use of our limited time on earth. If before my accident and near-death experience Christ was the center of my life, now more than ever do I say with St. Paul: “for me, to live is Christ”­ — though I can surely relate to his sentiment when he states that “to die is gain” and adds: “If I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” (Phil 1:22-24) I hope and pray this is the case, as I continue to perform my work as an evangelist and fulfill my ministry. (cf. 2 Tim 4:5)

I invite you to continue taking advantage of this Year of St. Paul to deepen your understanding of the truths of our faith found in the New Testament. Read St. Paul’s letters. Meditate on them. Set aside time for meaningful encounters with the Lord. Accept the challenge extended to us by Pope John Paul II years ago: “If you have met Christ, live Christ, live with Christ! Proclaim him in the first person, as real witnesses: ‘To me to live is Christ.’” (Phil 1:21) (Homily at the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, 1979)

Martha Fernández-Sardina is the director of the Office for Evangelization of the Archdiocese of San Antonio and an international bilingual speaker and trainer. She previously served as the director of the Office for Evangelization

 



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