St. Paul speaks from prison


Reflections March 20
I would like to share with you some words from St. Paul
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.
I rejoice greatly in the Lord that now at last you revived your concern for me. You were, of course, concerned about me but lacked opportunity. Not that I say this because of need, for I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress (Philippians 4:4-14).
Consider: St. Paul wrote this in prison. As unpleasant as modern prisons are, then they were much worse. There was no air conditioning, nor screens. I’m not sure if the bathroom was a bucket, a trench, or a hole in the ground. It is a given there was no toilet paper (!). I don’t want to try to imagine the bugs and other vermin. Food would be iffy, especially if you didn’t have friends to bring you things. It is in the midst of this that St. Paul says to rejoice always.
His walk with Jesus was so strong that it was more important than all he was enduring. The fact that he was doing God’s work, the fact that this moment was an opportunity to encounter Christ overshadowed the weight of the circumstances. This is breath-taking. To be sure, St. Paul had his crabby days. The letter to the Galatians demonstrates that. Even then, his frustration is with the Galatians’ failure to stay with the truth of the Gospel, and not his own circumstances.
Notice also that rejoicing is immediately followed by how their kindness should be known to all. Rejoicing and being kind seem to be closely connected. It is certainly easier to be kind when we are rejoicing than when we are crabby. Just as “misery loves company,” surely it is true that joy wants to be shared.
This leads just as quickly to “the Lord is near.” His nearness gives us reason to rejoice, and a reminder that we shall be held accountable for how much kindness we share.
We are told not to be anxious about the future but give our requests to God by prayer and petition. Of course, He already knows what we want and what we need, even before we do, but we are encouraged to come to Him with petitions as a part of our relationship with Him. We remember that we are dependent on Him for everything. And we do it with thanksgiving, before we even know what the results will be. This requires a level of trust that says whatever happens, we believe He is at work for our good, and there will be cause to be grateful. The more we grow in that trust, the more we will have a peace that does not depend on what happens. We are encouraged to direct our minds toward many different kinds of good things. We often tend to dwell on bad things, so it can require deliberate intent to focus on good things. Think of the list of things to think about. True, honorable and just have a different feel than pure, lovely, and gracious. Perhaps one is left brain and one is right brain. He seems to be encouraging us to find good things to ponder for every aspect of ourselves. What would that be like for each of us?
Then St. Paul switches gears (sort of) and rejoices that the Philippians are helping him in his imprisonment. He emphasizes that he would be fine either way, once again that he is adaptable and can deal with good times and bad. He is glad because the Philippians are exercising the Gospel, and that is what matters to him, especially since he has taught them the faith. It is also a reminder that some people are dedicated to serving others and do not want to accept help from anyone. Sometimes God puts us in a position where we must, in humility be served, and rejoice in the goodness of others.
I suggest that reflecting on this text, bit by bit, for a while is a worthwhile exercise.
Fr. Jim

Now just for fun:

1 thought on “St. Paul speaks from prison

  1. Mark Clarke


    Thanks for your thoughtful reflections offers a great reflection tool.




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