A few days ago, a correspondent wrote to me and suggested that perhaps the introduction of the letter to the Philippians was not so evocative as I seemed to imply. In the main, I could not disagree. But honestly, I had never prayed trough the introduction and asked God what He might have in store for me there. I wrote back and said that I thought the correspondent might be correct and my enthusiasm perhaps a touch of the over-the-top side. But below is a record of some of the things I derived from praying through the introduction. I hope they are as useful to you as they were to me. If you note any overt errors, either of doctrine or of grammar, drop me a note so that I might correct my thinking or language depending on which one is faulty. So much is just now.
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
2 Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
The verses of greeting seem to offer little enough for prayer, and yet attention to every detail of scripture is rewarded.
Paul extends, as usual, a double blessing of grace and peace. These words are worthy of a moment or two reflection on their own. Grace--God's utterly unmerited gift to us, a gift so powerful and so much a part of Him that it flows from Him to permeate all of reality. Just as the sun cannot perform its fusion and do anything other than to give off light and heat, God, just in being God cannot but give forth grace. It is impossible for Him to withhold it because it is contradictory to His nature. This grace is focused through the Mother of Grace who gave birth to God's most comprehensive sign of His grace, His own incarnation. Mary is not the source of Grace but she is the vessel and distributor of grace. As we pray in the Hail Mary, she is full of grace. Or perhaps more dynamically, she is filled and overfilled with grace, which spills out through her upon the entire human race. The same lens that focused God into flesh and blood reality continues to focus the plentiful reality of God on all the people of today. She is mediatrix of all graces. She is the distributor, but she is so charged out of the love she has for her children and for good, so though she is tasked with the distribution of good, she is a pure and clean lens that in no way distorts, obscures, or denies to any seeker that grace which flows through her. Grace is the unmerited favor that bestowed a son upon a willing virgin. It is the source of all knowledge of good and righteousness; it is, thus, the perfect inheritance and privilege of the Christian and of all of God's children.
The peace with which Paul greets the children of Philippi is not merely the absence of strife or war, though these would be blessings in themselves. No indeed, it is much more than this. This peace is the shalom of integrity and unity. It is the peace of Jesus Christ, first bestowed by Him on the apostles and by the power of apostolic succession, given them to bestow upon the people of the world, which each one does with each prayer of Mass. This peace has as external signs the absence of strife and war between people, but it starts in a far richer, more complex internal reality. This shalom is the blessing of the integrated person--the peace granted is a healing of the breach caused in each of us by original sin. When we live this peace, we are walking the path of salvation laid out in the mysterious plan of our savior's birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and culminating in His second coming. This peace then is nothing less than the promise of God fully realized. It is the gift of salvation when lived to the fullest. It allows the old man to rest peacefully and cease warring upon the new man who attempts to live out Christ's commands. In these two words Paul offers to the people of Philippi and to those of us who are privileged to share in the message through our reading of the letter. Paul offers nothing less than the fullness of God's love and mercy. Everything that follows these words is simply an explanatory footnote--essential to our understanding and acceptance of the gifts offered in this simple benediction, but incidental to them. If we could, without them, realize and reify God’s gift, we would do so much better. This is what Jesus extolled in the approach of the little children to Him. If we could, in perfect joy and simplicity accept God's most precious gifts we would have little need of words piled on words. As it stands, that is not within the purview of most of us. So Paul goes on to tell us more--to gild the lily as it were with perfect joy.
Who realized that a greeting held so much? In the space of a few short words we are offered the most treasured gifts in the rich hoard of heaven's blessings, AND we a offered a shining example of what it means to be an apostle and a disciple.
And that leads us to the question of application. Are we not all called to be both disciples, or pupils, of the Lord and Apostles--those sent out, peculiarly charged with the duty of sharing the good news of salvation with those immediately around us why do not live it daily? If so, are we not responsible for carrying out the message so clearly spelled out for us in this letter and in others? In short, are we a sign of grace and peace to others? Is our prayer life outwardly projected onto the everyday? Or is our prayer life carefully sequestered and divided from our outward life? As saints, we are offered the gift. As disciples and apostles we are charged with making it manifest in our own lives and thus substantially sharing and transmitting this blessing with others. We are vehicles of grace and peace only when we begin to live the life that grace and peace bestow upon us.