The Letter to the Philippians which, the Holy Father said, is in some way St. Paul’s “spiritual last will and testament”, was the theme of his catechesis during the general audience, which was held this morning in the Paul VI Hall.
The Apostle of the Gentiles dictated this Letter from jail, when he felt death approaching, yet nonetheless it closes with an invitation to be joyful. Joy, the Holy Father explained, “is a fundamental characteristic of being Christian. … But how can one be joyful in the face of an imminent death sentence? From where, or better from whom, does St. Paul draw his peace of mind and the strength and courage to face martyrdom?”
The answer is to be found in the middle of the Letter to the Philippians, in the so-called “carmen Christo” or “Christological hymn”, which “summarises the Son of God’s divine and human itinerary”. It opens with these words: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”. This, the Pope said, “means not only following Jesus’ example, … but also involving the whole of our lives in His way of thinking and acting”.
St. Paul continues by outlining the historical context of Jesus’ earthly life, up to the cross where He “experienced the greatest degree of humiliation, because crucifixion was the punishment reserved for slaves, and not for the free”. Yet it is “in the cross of Christ that man is redeemed and Adam’s experience is transformed “. If the first man sought to be like God, “then Jesus, though ‘in the form of God’, lowered Himself and immersed Himself in the human condition, … to redeem the Adam within us and to restore to man the dignity he had lost”.
“This hymn in the Letter to the Philippians contains two important indications for our own prayers. The first is the invocation of ‘Lord’ addressed to Jesus Christ Who, … amidst so many ‘dominators’ who seek to rule, remains the one Lord of our lives. … Therefore it is important to maintain a scale of values in which the first place belongs to God”.
“The second indication is prostration, … the ‘bending of every knee in heaven and on earth’, … the adoration that all creatures owe to God. Genuflection before the Blessed Sacrament or kneeling in prayer express the attitude of adoration before God. … When we kneel before the Lord we confess our faith in Him, we recognise that He is the one Lord of our lives”.
“At the beginning of this catechesis we asked ourselves how St. Paul could be joyful when faced with the risk of imminent martyrdom”, the Holy Father concluded. “This was possible only because the Apostle never removed his gaze from Christ”.