St Paul’s letter to the Phillippians is one of the most disconcerting of all his letters. Talking to a community obviously at odds with one another and pleading from the heart for them to overcome their differences so that they might live more authentically the Christian life.
I love this reading because it is a great reminder that the chances are that their probably never was a community which totally lived the Christian life. This is true both then and now and that we are always in the process of becoming rather than in a state of having arrived. It also acts as a reminder, not to spend time dwelling on the faults and failings of any particular parish community but at the same time to avoid the danger of presenting any given community as the ideal.
At one time I spent a great amount of time visiting schools. I loved the fact that on a regular basis many of the teachers would voice their reflections on the difficulties they experienced yet when we met together as a staff suddenly the school was without fault. The danger of being without fault is, of course, that there is no place to go and nothing to learn.
This danger can also be found in an RCIA Group which can run the risk of acute disappointment when feet of clay are discovered in the community into which the enquirers have been received. St Paul acts as a fantastic reminder that we are always part of a community struggling to become a community. The second reading for the 26th week of Ordinary Time is worth taking time over:
- Reading quietly,
- Hearing it read by different voices,
- Listening to the words or phrases which struck each person in the group,
- Hearing it again,
- Asking what it says to us now, what’s it inviting us to do.
A whole session could easily be spent letting these words speak:- Words which have come down to us from the first century of the Christian Church and are alive today as when they were written.
Recently I came across a reflection on the power of memory. It pointed out that there are two kinds of memory. Nostalgic Memory which usually confirms where we are and acts like a pat on the back and Dangerous Memory which acts as a critique of where we are and invites change and growth. St Paul’s letter is dangerous memory, particularly when he invites us to take on the mind of Christ Jesus. What kind of a mind is that? Well its one that has the capacity of letting go, of not clinging to power, to hurt, to revenge, to getting one’s own back, to have the capacity to identify with those on the bottom rung of the ladder. The image given is that of the cross.
I know that had I been on the receiving end of torture which led to the cross, I’d be with the two thieves shouting abuse at all in sundry and wanting those who had hurt me to at the very least suffer the same pains as I had suffered, especially being innocent. But that was not the way of Jesus the Christ instead of vengeance, forgiveness, compassion and mercy. “Father forgive them”. Blaming nobody holding all until all are changed.
No wonder we are in the business of helping enquirers and ourselves to continue to grow into the mind of Christ rather than thinking that we have arrived.