This Saturday, we will celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. This feast calls us to live like St. Paul---in utter honesty and transparency with God, in untiring gift of self toward others, and with our eyes always on Jesus who has both emptied us and filled us. St. Paul calls us to live like Jesus! Here is a meditation by Sr. Emily Beata on St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians. St. Paul the Apostle, pray for us!
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
“Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,” St. Paul says. Like other religious sisters, as well as religious brothers, priests, and deacons, I pray this passage from Philippians every Saturday at Evening Prayer. The words have become very familiar and beloved to me. But, as can sometimes happen with these beloved passages, the words become so familiar that we stop thinking about them. Lectio Divina is an opportunity to allow ourselves to listen more deeply and in a new way to the Word of God that is ever unchanging and yet ever new.
When I listened more deeply to St. Paul’s words to the Philippians, I paused at the first line. “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.” The first thing that I thought was, what is the attitude of Christ Jesus? St. Paul goes on to describe it: it is the attitude of self-emptying. Jesus did not cling to being God, but emptied himself in order to be close to us.
Even beyond emptying himself to the point of being “found human in appearance,” he emptied himself to the point of “death, even death on a cross.” That is to say, Jesus did not empty himself only once, but lived a lifestyle of self-emptying love. This self-emptying love is the source of his glory.
But there is something else about this first line that made me pause. “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.” St. Paul not only says that this is the attitude of Christ Jesus, but also suggests that this attitude is already part of us “in Christ Jesus.” This really made me think! How is it possible that I could already have this attitude? Isn’t this something that I need to grow in, to develop, to ask God to develop in me?
It is true that Jesus’ attitude of self-emptying is a virtue to ask for and to grow in. Naturally speaking, it is difficult for us to empty ourselves and to forget ourselves in favor of others. But here is the exciting part—we do not live a merely natural life! Supernaturally, the seeds of self-emptying have been planted in us since our Baptism! In this sense, we are meant to live, we are wired to live, the lifestyle of self-emptying.
That is why St. Paul says that this attitude is ours “in Christ Jesus.” It is only in Christ Jesus that we are capable of emptying ourselves. It is only in him that we are capable of forgetting ourselves, of sacrificing ourselves, of preferring others. Sometimes we try to make heroic efforts all on our own. Even when we have the best of intentions, these efforts are nothing without Jesus, because holiness consists in depending on him.
Our self-emptying may not look like Jesus’ did in the Incarnation or in the crucifixion. In fact, it probably won’t. And it may not even look or feel very heroic. But depending on Jesus, surrendering to him our schedule, our meetings, our text messages, our relationships, our social media interactions—this is the attitude and the lifestyle of self-emptying. Our dependence and surrender happens in the small, concrete moments and situations of our day. There Jesus calls us to empty ourselves, and there he makes it possible.
One last question rose in me as I finished my meditation on this passage: why? Why should I worry about emptying myself? Jesus emptied himself to be close to us. Our self-emptying has the same goal. We do not pursue self-emptying as a goal in itself; rather, we empty ourselves to be filled with Christ Jesus. “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who…emptied himself.”
Jesus, fill me with yourself. With the words of this prayer, and with the actions of my life, I want to empty myself and be filled with you. I love you and surrender myself to your love for me. Amen.