Having made my way through Romans, Galatians and Ephesians during my morning prayer this summer, I’m now praying with the Letter to the Philippians.
Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians while he was in prison. In the passage I prayed with this morning, Paul tells the Philippians that his imprisonment “has actually helped to spread the gospel, that that is has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that [his] imprisonment is for Christ” and that many people have “been made confident in the Lord” by his imprisonment, so much so that they “dare to speak the word with great boldness and without fear.
As I sat with the passage, what came to mind (doubtless because I’m in the early stage of directing three people doing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in the form of the 19th annotation) was Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation. Specifically the part that reads:
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
Before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
And are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
Wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
A deeper response to our life in God.
Although it is difficult to embrace the idea that freedom is not to be preferred to imprisonment, what Paul realized is the truth that “everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.” Paul can thus rejoice at his imprisonment. Whatever situation we are in can be a source of deepening our own relationship to God and that of those around us.
We should not miss Paul’s obvious delight in this mild triumph regarding his arrest, the same kind we find at the end of the letter when he sends greetings from “all the saints, . . . especially those who belong to Caesar’s household” (4:22). While this might be interpreted as a kind of one-upmanship, Paul’s concern was to encourage the Philippians in their own current suffering, resulting in part from their lack of loyalty to the emperor. To the world–and especially to the citizens of a Roman colony–Caesar may be “lord”; but to Paul and to the believers in Philippi, only Jesus is Lord (2:11), and his lordship over Caesar is already making itself felt through the penetration of the gospel into the heart of Roman political life.