....as long as in every way, whether in pretense or in truth,
Christ is being proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
The editors of today's first reading from Paul's Letter to the Philippians cropped his sentence in mid-thought and left a set of confusing words. We have to go back to the original text to understand it:
Of course, some preach Christ from envy and rivalry, others from good will. The latter act out of love, aware that I am here for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not from pure motives, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. What difference does it make, as long as in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed? And in that I rejoice.
Saint Paul was reflecting upon his incarceration and trying to come to turns with the astonishing irony that certain Christians had plotted against him and had him arrested.
That should be a bitter pill to swallow!
Reading the text two thousand years later we might expect that kind of conspiracy in the last five centuries, especially during the early days of the Protestant Reformation. But there it is in the first years of the Church; Christian against Christian scheming and sabotaging one another. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Saint Paul, in the respite of his confinement, came to terms with it: "Christ is being proclaimed, and in that I rejoice."
As the pastor of a parish in Louisiana I sometimes went to the church and prayed, "Lord, you've got some problems here! And you're going to have to work them out!" I felt helpless, like a man in jail.
The key to any responsibility in the church, whether apostle, priest, bishop or parent, is not to let one's ego get in the way.
A good idea is not my idea; a worthy project is never my project. Success or failure are silly words, unworthy of our attention.
Saint Francis recommended to the superiors of his community they should have the attitude of the corpse. You can take the stiff out of his casket, set him up on a throne with purple robes on his shoulders, a crown on his head and sceptre in his hand; and he is no happier than he was than when he lie in the coffin. Likewise, you can take the crown and robe off him, the sceptre from his hand and lay him back in the box -- and he'll be no more satisfied. It just doesn't matter.
Saint Paul must have wondered if he'd ever get out of jail as he wrote his letter to the Philippians. He might have supposed he'd eventually die of martyrdom. He did both, but the martyrdom came several years after he was released from that particular jail. He trusted in the Lord to guide him wherever he went; and if he happened to be cooling his heels in jail for a week, a month or a year, he was sure that the Holy Spirit had led him there. It was all good.
Lord, help me to have the same willing spirit.