Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Gentleness

St. Paul towards the end of his letter to the Philippians urges two women to get along with each other. These two women had “struggled beside [him] in the work of the Gospel” along with St. Clement. How is it that two people who had worked with a saint, two saints, in preaching the Gospel, how is it that they could fall into such a contention that St. Paul a) would hear about it in prison and b) feel that a public rebuke was necessary to attempt to reconcile them? We who do not come into contact with saints very often seem to disagree all the time. I think we imagine that if we were surrounded by really holy people we would get along better. However, I don’t think that is the case. Even coworkers of St. Paul and St. Clement had to be exhorted—and publicly at that—to have the “same mind in the Lord.”
How do we have the same mind in the Lord?
I think St. Paul answers this questing as soon as he brings up the problem. In the next two paragraphs (Phil. 4: 4-9), he gives specific instructions which, if applied, will allow us to be of the same mind “in the Lord.”
The first command is to rejoice in the Lord always--twice! When our joy is in anything other than the Lord, we are sure both to be disappointed and to fight over getting, keeping and getting more of whatever makes us happy. Because we all have different gifts, needs and callings; we will all find ourselves emphasizing different aspects of our life in Christ. Each will find joy in his or her ministry. One will find peace in singing, another joy in serving (cooking, cleaning, sewing, repairing, building) another excitement in teaching and study, another glory in prayer, another satisfaction in creating beauty. If we are not careful, our service to Christ and the Church can become an end in itself. Rejoicing in the Lord (at all times) keeps our focus where it belongs. It keeps our focus on the Lord, not on what we are doing or on what we think is important. When we rejoice in the Lord—that is, make our relationship with God the source of our joy—then what we or others do or don’t do becomes much less important, much less something worth fighting over. When our joy is in the Lord, then we can be at peace even when things in the Church are not run the way we think they should be run, even when those who are supposed to know better don’t, and even when people who don’t like us are making the decisions.
But here’s the clincher, the point that really surprises me. “Let your gentleness be known to all.” St. Paul the great evangelist does not say “Let your Gospel be known to all” or “Let your holiness be known to all,” or even “Let your orthodoxy be know to all,” he says “Let your gentleness be known to all.”
I wonder how many disagreements in the Church would be avoided if we were more concerned about our gentleness being known to all than our righteousness or orthodoxy? We falsely imagine that the nearness of a saint would make us get along, would bring clarity and end all dispute by the presences of the great “rightness” of the holy one. But the advice of “God’s chosen vessel” is rather to let our gentleness be known by all--for the Lord is near. The nearness of the Lord may be a reference to His soon coming in glory, but it may also be (and I think it is) a reference to the presence of the Lord in every aspect of our lives, and particularly in our relationships with one another, and particularly with those who disagree with us.
“Salvation is of the Lord,” the Scripture repeatedly says. God is near. God can handle it. You just let your gentleness be known. This is the advice of St. Paul. And “don’t worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.” Don’t worry about anything? But in everything...? Does he really mean this? Perhaps the Saint doesn’t realize who I’m dealing with. Perhaps he doesn’t realize how badly they would mess things up if I didn’t fight. Surely St. Paul can’t be referring to me and my situation and the people I have to deal with.
Or maybe he does mean it.
Maybe if I stop fighting and pray, maybe if I let my gentleness be know, maybe then I will experience the peace of God that surpasses knowledge, maybe this peace will guard my heart and mind in Christ, maybe then I can be of one mind with the Lord. Maybe God can handle the situation after all.
And then, to keep the peace, I must watch what I think about. Even if I hear bad reports or slander or just plain rotten ideas being put forward--these are not the things I think about. Whatever things are true, that’s what I think about. Whatever things are noble, that’s what I think about. Whatever is pure, lovely, of a good report, if it has virtue, if it is praiseworthy, this is what I think about. And then the God of peace will be with us. And if the God of peace is with us, what do we have to fight about?

3 comments:

Christopher said...

I think this post is a bit one sided, in that it appears to point toward a passivity that I don't sense in St. Paul or the Gospel. Our Lord did not passively, "at peace" accept everything (just two examples that immediately come to mind are the money changers and the adulterous about to be stoned). One can not always sit ideally by and convince oneself that God will handle it, that I am to simply "be at peace". Not all disagreements are "fights", some have to be worked through with gentleness and peace (with the right mind) and with an understanding of their relative importance in this fallen world - but still worked through.

Perhaps I am reading an emphasis that you did not intend however.

I agree that I have seen many a “church fight” that was no longer really about substance but instead had become an ego riddled battle about who had offended whom. Still, one has to apply discernment as there are things that are worth reaching for the “armament of Faith” as it were. Yes, fallen men are very poor at discernment, but we still are called to reach for and apply this virtue.

What do you think?

Fr. Michael said...

Dear Christopher,
Where did you get the idea that peace is the same thing as doing nothing? I think St. Paul's point is whatever you do, "let your gentleness be know to all." Sure there may be exceptions, but they should be exceptions. And even driving out the money changers, Christ is at peace. However, if one is not generally known for his or her gentleness, then I don't think they qualify to claim an exception. Being of one mind in the Church is never a matter of my making others see the light that is so clear to me. (Didn't Jesus say something about logs and motes and eyes?) The one mind in the Church is the mind of Christ, which St. Paul says earlier (2:5-8) is attained by reckoning ourselves as having no reputation, humbling ourselves and being obedient--even unto death. This is the mind that is in Christ Jesus. When we must speak, rebuke, and correct, it must be done considering the other as better than ourselves (even if we also consider the other to be in error). It must be done with peace in our heart. It must be done with gentleness realizing that we too could fall (Gal. 6:1).

Christopher said...

Your right, I probably read your post with a slant. The confusion (at least for me) is how and when the word "peace" is used as it has multiple definitions. It can be abused in that it can mean "do nothing" - a euphemism for passivity. This use seems particularly popular in our culture in general. It certainly was used this way in the OCA during their (by bishops no less) recent troubles - and of course right along with it the abuse of "forgiveness" by the implication that it also requires and unvirtuous passivity. I know this as I was part of the OCA then and heard it with my own ears from my Bishop. I confess that my gentleness and peace fell short of the occasion. In that sense, I am convicted by your explication.

In any case, a sincere thanks - I am enjoying your blog.