Friday, October 29, 2010

Paul's Salutation to the Philippians: The Power of Partnership

The opening salutation from Paul to the Church at Philippi (today's first reading from Mass) reveals Paul at his "tender-hearted" best. At the time that Paul wrote this letter, he was imprisoned in Rome, waiting to be put on trial for his testimony to the Gospel. No doubt this period of relative isolation gave him plenty of time to ponder his ministry, it's value, and it's lasting impact. Paul's affection for the members of the Church at Philippi is overflowing when he states, "I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you." If one were to compare Paul's salutation and introduction to the Church at Philippi to the opening of some of his other letters (such as to the divisive Corinthians community) one might think they were written by two different authors! With the Corinthians he is critical and edgy; with the Philippians he is overflowing in praise and warm regards and is affirming and gentle.

What accounts for the difference? I believe it amounts to the "power of partnership." In two places Paul mentions his "partnership" with the Philippians and how he holds them in his heart. It is their presence in his heart and memory that are likely keeping Paul grounded in hope, even amidst chains, believing that his life has been well spent in service of the Gospel.

Much of Western society has been formed in the last several centuries by a focus on the individual and his or her "inalienable rights." While this is a bona fide advance in our understanding of the glory of what it means to be human, this emphasis has also been distorted to the point of individualism. Individualism very often undermines mutual relationship and partnership because in excessively asserting the rights of one person, it comes to regard the other as a potential "threat" who may undermine those rights. Perhaps the most lamentable effect of individualism is that it results in people being isolated, alienated, and cut-off from the potential friendships and partnerships that alone can bring wholeness. Paul's letter to the Philippians is therefore a timely reminder that the power of God's healing and transforming love manifests most powerfully in our lives when we risk ourselves in relationship and partnership with like-minded others who we can trust will, "hold us in their heart." Pat, TOR