Today let me direct your attention to this sermon preached by Father Raniero Cantalamessa at Vatican City last week. You will be hard-pressed to find anything out there in evangelical Protestant-dom (or in any other branch of Christianity, for that matter) which articulates Jesus as the Person upon whom all of Christianity rests, as this sermon.
This sermon walks us through Philippians 3:7-12. It begins with Paul’s conversion, making the point that it was Paul falling in love with a PERSON, not a set of beliefs about a person. It then goes on to make the point that Christ was the main focus of Paul’s writings, not justification by faith or any other doctrine about Christ.
To return to his letters, in the first place the Letter to the Romans, for the purpose for which they were written was not, of course, that of furnishing future generations with a gymnasium in which to exercise their theological acumen, but that of edifying the faith of the community, formed in the main by simple and illiterate people. “For I long to see you,” he wrote to the Romans, “that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11-12).
Next, the focus turns to Protestant-Catholic relations. His point here is dead on: It is irrelevant for us to argue about the details of Romans when the outside world has little to no conception of sin and guilt in the first place.
The sermon closes by focusing on “forgetting the past” as Paul uses it in this passage. His point here is that Paul did not limit “forgetting the past” to his pharisaical, pre-Christian days, but instead applied it to every day of his life as a Christian and an apostle of the Church. It puts an entirely different slant on things if we think of it in this way, doesn’t it?
“Forgetting the past.” What past? That of Pharisee, of which he first spoke? No, the past of apostle in the Church! Now the gain of considering loss is another: It is proper to have already once considered all a loss for Christ. It was natural to think: “What courage, was that of Paul: to abandon the career of rabbi so well underway for an obscure sect of Galileans! And what letters he wrote! How many voyages he undertook, how many churches he founded!”
The Apostle saw in a confused manner the mortal danger of putting behind himself and Christ his “own justice” derived from works — this time the works done by Christ — and he reacted energetically. “I do not think,” he says, “that I have arrived at perfection.” Toward the end of his life, St. Francis of Assisi cut short every temptation of self-complacency, saying: “We begin, brothers, to serve the Lord, because up to now we have done little or nothing.”
This is the most necessary conversion for those who have already followed Christ and have lived at his service in the Church. An altogether special conversion, which does not consist in abandoning what is evil, but, in a certain sense, in abandoning what is good! Namely, in detaching oneself from everything that one has done, repeating to oneself, according to Christ’s suggestions: “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).