"My brothers…I so long for you who are my joy and my crown…" Here we see the great St. Paul, God’s Chosen Vessel, the Mystic at home in the "Third Heaven" as a man of great sensibility who was a faithful, loyal, loving friend!
Earlier in his life, Paul was going from town to town in Asia Minor, the area we now know as Turkey and proclaiming the astonishing word God’s love for us human beings. He intended to continue working in that area, but the Holy Spirit sent him to Europe. So we find him at Philippi in Macedonia converting a Jewish business woman, and later rebuking an evil spirit. That got him flogged and imprisoned. An earthquake loosened his chains and converted his jailer.
The judges found out they had flogged a Roman citizen and were relieved to escort him on his way with honors. The Christian Community at Philippi was the only one that Paul allowed to provide financial aid for his missionary work. It is ten or so years later that Paul writes the letters we know as Philippians. Paul was in prison, probably in Ephesus, where the Philippians sent him aid along with the person of the slave Epaphraditus. Paul writes his thank them.
A second letter takes up a problem that plagued Paul all his career. Some Christians, former Essenes perhaps, claimed Paul was delivering only half the Gospel. They demanded that Gentile converts needed to be circumcised as well as baptized if they were to be Christian.
Paul had refuted that teaching in Jerusalem and Galatia. He mounts a fierce frontal attack in defending himself. His defense gives us his wonderful testimony: "My righteousness (comes) from God, depends on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection, the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead." (3/9-11)
Paul invites his followers, and that includes us, to share his grace and calling: "Join with others in being imitators of me, conduct (yourselves) according to the model you have in us." He concludes by reminding us: "…our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorious body by the power that enables him to bring all things into subjection to himself."
We all are meant to be "the joy and crown of the very Son of God!
Fr. Fred Sucher, C.P. is retired and lives in the Passionist community in Chicago. For many years he taught philosophy to Passionist seminarians.