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St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: a unique four-week span

September 22, 2017

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St. Paul's letter to the Philippians

A Four-Part Sampler. Four scripture passages from Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians are featured for the second reading from the Twenty-Fifth to Twenty-Eighth Sundays of Ordinary Time in Year A. It is the only time in the three-year Lectionary cycle that there is a sequential progression of readings taken from this letter following the principle of Lectio continua, a continuous series of passages from the same book over a number of Sundays in a row.

The City of Philippi. Philippi is a city in the district of Macedonia in northern Greece several miles inland from the Aegean Sea. It is the first place in Europe that St. Paul visited on his Second Missionary Journey. St. Paul stayed in Philippi a number of months in late 48 and early 49 AD. He made the trip to Philippi by ship. He set sail from Troas in northwest Turkey, went by way of Samothrace, an island in the Aegean Sea, and arrived at Neapolis, the port city on the northern coastline (Acts 16:11). During his brief stay St. Paul preached the gospel; made his first convert, Lydia, who was baptized at the river; drove an evil spirit out of a slave girl who was possessed by a demon; was attacked by a crowd and beaten with rods, then imprisoned and miraculously released; converted the jailer; and founded a Christian community (Acts 16:12-40).

The Letter to the Philippians. This letter is one of the authentic Pauline letters, one written by Paul himself, not one of his followers using his name. After Paul had been away from one of his new communities, he would write to them to encourage, instruct, or correct them, depending upon their unique situation and the reports that he was receiving. Paul states within this letter that he was writing from prison (Phil 1:7,13,14,17), but the location and date is not known with certainty. At one time it was thought that he wrote this letter from Rome late in his life (Acts 28:16; 61 to 63 AD). Other possibilities include his imprisonments, either in Caesarea (Acts 24:27, 58-60 AD) or Corinth, but most scholars today believe Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus during a confinement in 55 AD.

Week 25A, Life is Christ (Phil 1:20-24,27). St. Paul wonders aloud whether it is better to be alive on earth enjoying the benefits of physical existence or to be dead in heaven enjoying eternity with Christ. As long as a person is alive, a person should live in a manner consistent with the gospel.

Weeks 26A, The Christ Hymn (Phil 2:1-11). St. Paul begins with an urgent plea for unity within the community (2:1-5). Then Paul includes within his letter a hymn that was sung and recited by the first generation of Christians. It was in use as early as the 40s AD and it may be the oldest piece of New Testament literature. It served as a creed and provides a list of what the first Christians believed about Jesus.

Week 27A, Calm and Peace (Phil 4:6-9). St. Paul offers solid spiritual advice. First, there is no need to be anxious about anything. Prayer and a strong relationship with God is the sure pathway to calm and peace. Paul adds an encouragement to strive for Christian ideals of truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty, generosity, and excellence. These also lead to peace.

Week 28A, Christ is our strength (Phil 4:12-14,19-20). St. Paul describes how in every circumstance, good or bad, high or low, well-fed or hungry, easy or difficult, comfortable or suffering, God supplies the grace and strength that is needed to carry on.

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