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Center for Action and Contemplation

The Apostle Paul: Weekly Summary

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Apostle Paul

Summary: Sunday, May 14-Friday, May 19, 2017

Theologian N. T. Wright concludes that we have largely missed Paul’s major theme, which is the new temple of God is the human person. (Sunday)

Paul brings a deep new sense of the inherent dignity of every human person. (Monday)

Paul is forever the critic of immature, self-serving religion, and the pioneer of mature and truly life-changing religion. (Tuesday)

The problem is not between body and spirit; it’s between part and whole.  Every time Paul uses the word flesh, just replace it with the word ego, and you will be much closer to his point. (Wednesday)

After conversion, God is not “out there”: you are in God and God is in you. (Thursday)

Believers exist as parts of the whole, the Body of Christ. Their very existence is the shared state that Paul calls “love” or living “in Christ.” (Friday)


Practice: Begin with Gratitude

Philippians is probably my favorite of Paul’s letters because it describes how we need to work with the rebellious, angry, and dualistic mind. Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians during one of his many imprisonments. He even mentioned being “in chains,” and yet ironically this is the most positive and joy-filled of all of his letters.

In a most succinct and perfect summary, Paul says that you should “Pray with gratitude, and the peace of God which is beyond all knowledge, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). First, you must begin with the positive, with gratitude (which might take your whole prayer time). Second, you need to pray as long it takes you to find “peace,” to get to a place beyond agitation (whether five minutes or five hours or five days). Third, note that he says this is a place beyond “knowledge,” beyond processing information or ideas. Fourth, you must learn how to stand guard, which is what many call “creating the inner witness” or the witnessing presence that calmly watches your flow of thoughts (mind) and feelings (heart). Finally, you must know what the goal is: your egoic thoughts can actually be replaced with living inside the very mind of Christ (en Christo). This is not self-generated knowing, but knowing by participation—consciousness itself (con-scire, to know with).

Paul then goes on to suggest that we fill our minds “with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good, everything that we love and honor, everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). Norman Vincent Peale called this “the power of positive thinking.” I call it “replacement therapy.” If we don’t choose love and compassion, the human mind naturally goes in the other direction, and we risk joining a vast majority of people who live their later years trapped in a sense of victimhood, entitlement, and bitterness.

We are not free until we are free from our own compulsiveness, our own resentments, our own complaining, and our own obsessive patterns of thinking. We have to catch these patterns early in their development and nip them in the bud. And where’s the bud? It’s in the mind. That’s the primary place where we sin, as Jesus himself says (Matthew 5:21-48). Any later behaviors are just a response to the way our minds work. We can’t walk around all day writing negative, hateful mental commentaries about other people, or we will become hate itself.

Gateway to Silence:
I am God’s dwelling place.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, In the Footsteps of St. Paul (Franciscan Media: 2015), CD.

For Further Study:
Richard Rohr, Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation (Franciscan Media: 2012), CD
Richard Rohr, In the Footsteps of St. Paul (Franciscan Media: 2015), CD
Richard Rohr, St. Paul: The Misunderstood Mystic (CAC: 2014), CD, MP3 download

Image credit: St. Paul in Prison (detail), 1627, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany.
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