Meditations and Reflections: October 2005 Archives

Some Notes on Philippians


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.

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I will hear what the Lord God has to say,
a voice that speaks of peace,
peace for his people and his friends
and those who turn to him in their hearts.
(psalm 85 from Morning Prayer for the Feast of St. Francis)

I will hear what the Lord God has to say. Haring means more than receiving the sound. Hearing goes deeper than a passive experience. When I hear in the way the psalmist is claiming for himself I hear with the heart. I am changed by what I hear. I make what I hear my own.

And what a great gift it would be if I would open my ears to hear "a voice that speaks of peace." Rather than trying to create my own peace, my own separate heaven--I would enter His peace. As I pray this psalm, and I read these words, I prepare the ground of my heart for the blossoming of this peace, of this kingdom within.

The blossoming of peace has fruits that extend far outside my own interior realm. When I am at peace, and only when I am at peace, I can bring peace to the world. And the peace I can bring in such a state is not my own, but that of the Lord whom I serve. He blesses me with peace and hears me, not to shower His gifts merely upon me, but so that I may shower his gifts on all of His people. "Peace for his people and his friends." Peace first to those who spend the time to think about Him and talk with Him in prayer. But then also, "and those who turn to Him in their hearts." Even those who do not presently know Him by name, those who may not have become acquainted with Him in their lives--if they incline their hearts toward Him, He will see and hear and grant them also Him peace.

God cannot do other than grant peace. It is in His nature. It is part of what He is. You cannot encounter God and not reach peace. It is impossible to embrace Him and not be at peace.

If each of us were to give peace a chance to reign in our hearts, we would transform the world one person at a time. As my ever supportive wife said the other night when she saw my dismally wimpy results on the "Which General Are You?" test, "Perhaps if more were like you we would have no need of generals." I am not the example, despite her encouragement. Our example, our Peace and our Love, is Jesus Christ the Lord. In Him there is no shadow of turning.

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." James 1:17

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Meditation on 1 John 4:8b


For God is love.
1 John 4:8b

8 He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.

I don't think we can repeat this to ourselves often enough. This is the central lesson of the New Testament and the key revelation of our Lord. We do well to internalize this, to live as though we really believe it is true. And if true, if we accept it as revelation AND we understand that God is simple we are led to a single overwhelming conclusion--God is nothing other than love.

Now we have another passage of revelation that allows us to reflect more deeply on that mystery.

And of course I speak of 1 Corinthians 13

3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful;
5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
9 For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect;
10 but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.
13 So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

I'll return to verse 3 later. For the moment let's consider the other verses.

4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful;

What does patience look like? How do we begin to fill in our portrait of God? You may find it difficult to believe, but in the entire Bible the word patient occurs only thirteen times (three times in the Old Testament and ten in the New.) The first occurrence is an incidental mention in the book of Job. However the second bears some mention for the insight it offers.

Psalm 14:17
17 A man of quick temper acts foolishly, but a man of discretion is patient.

We discover that patience is the opposite of quick-tempered and carries with it the further virtue of discretion. Discretion in this sense appears to mean moderate in emotions, even-tempered, perhaps easy-going. Ecclesiastes 7:8 reinforces this view of patience. To it is added that patience is a virtue opposed to pride and therefore allied with humility. (Ecclesiastes 7:8 Better is the end of a thing than its beginning; and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.)

From James (5:7-8) we learn that patience is the virtue ordered toward endurance and standing solidly against disorder and flightiness. He calls upon us all to

7 Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain.
8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

The one who is patient does not take the crop before its time. Even though the early rains have come and the fruit has set and appears ripe, it is only after the late rain that it comes into its fullness and is ready for harvest. It is worth noting that James sees patience as establishment, steadiness, perserverance in place--calm waiting for the fullness of time, for the ripening of the fruit and the coming of the Kingdom.

From the Book of Revelation we find 4 verses (Rev 1: 9, 2: 2, 2:19, 3:10)which always contain the formula "patient endurance." Patience is the directed to length of days of waiting through times of great trial.

When we look instead to patience, we find a few more verses and learn a great deal about the fruit of being patient.

There are 19 verses. One of these and only 1 is found in the Old Testament.

Psalms 25:15
15 With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.

With patience, persistence, perserverence, complete dedication to the task a ruler may be persuaded. Patience is, therefore a virtue of tremendous power. By itself it can change the course of events. A dripping spot in the ceiling of a cave may over time develop into a thick, solid column of "living rock. " So patience attains its goal--"a soft tongue will break a bone." Patience makes the miraculous possible.

Luke 8:15 And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.

You bring forth fruit with patience. Patience, waiting through time, is all that gives life to the fruit. Time fills it to ripeness. Patience is rewarded in ways that nothing else is.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Meditations and Reflections category from October 2005.

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