St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is probably my favorite of his writings since it is, in my opinion, the letter that shows Paul at his happiest. This community responded to his preaching more enthusiastically than any other.
St. Paul probably wrote as many as three, maybe more, letters to the community of Philippi. What he have in the Christian Scriptures is almost certain a conflation of the three letters into one. Each of the letters not only congratulates the Philippian community on their acceptance and living of the Gospel, it also gives us a glimpse into the difficulties which they faced and overcame in their efforts to conform their lives to the Gospel.
Philippi was a Roman community named after the great battle of the same name. It was a favorite place of retired Roman soldiers who, after spending their allotted time in the Roman legions, were given a plot of land and a small amount of gold upon retirement. It was probably an agricultural community in which the retired soldiers supported themselves by using the land as a source of income.
When St. Paul came among them preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ with its emphasis on the communal life of the Christian way, these men and their households readily accepted the lifestyle of the Gospel. After spending years in the army, they knew well the lesson of depending upon one another to survive the rigors of battle; they were readily able to apply that lesson to community life as well. They became a generous community, taking care of St. Paul’s needs as well as contributing to the needs of their fellow Christians in other communities.
Today we read the opening verses of St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. The familiar greeting and thanksgiving which begin almost all of St. Paul’s letters take on special significance when we read them with this background. His joy, his love for them, and his wish that they will continue to grow in the life of the Gospel are all occasioned by their whole hearted response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even though he is, in his own words, languishing in prison, he finds solace that God has been able to use him to gather these believers into the faith community. Their example should impel us to live that way of life ever more consciously.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator