Acts 28:1-10 The natives of Malta were both generous and superstitious. Paul’s actions fulfill Christ’s words about his believers handling deadly serpents without harm and their ability to heal the sick in his name. (CCC 2110-2111, 2138)
Ch 28:11-16 Arriving in Rome AD 61, Paul and his companions found many disciples. They were likely converts through Lydia, who converted at Philippi, and through Peter, who had relocated to the city many years earlier.
Ch 28:17-28 Paul operated under house arrest, guarded by a Roman soldier, but enjoyed many freedoms. It was during this imprisonment that he wrote his Epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon, all of which are included among the inspired texts of Scripture. The existence of a Jewish community suggests that the edict of AD 49 expelling the Jews from Rome was either ineffective or no longer in force. The Jews of Rome seemed open-minded enough to hear what Paul had to say. Some believed, but others did not; the Gospel always remains a sign of contradiction.
Ch 28:20 Hope of Israel: The hope of redemption, resurrection, and restoration. (CCC 453)
Ch 28:26-27 Paul quoted the prophet Isaiah, suggesting that only a remnant of the people of Israel had remained truly faithful to God (cf. Is 6:9-10)
Ch 28:28 Paul never stopped reaching out to the Jews, but the resistance he faced from them turns his focus more to the Gentiles, who received the Gospel more readily.
Ch 28:28 Other ancient authorities add verse 29: “And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, holding much dispute among themselves.”
Ch 28:30-31 This book ends somewhat abruptly, and only tradition fills in the gaps. Paul was probably released from prison after two years and went about preaching again, but he is believed to have been beheaded under the Emperor Nero about AD 67. Around that same time, Peter, according to tradition, was crucified upside-down. While serving in prison both in Caesarea and Rome, Paul wrote some of his Epistles to the Christian communities he had founded. The sense of this closing to the Acts of the Apostles is that the mandate of Christ to preach to all nations was being fulfilled by Paul and the Christian community. (CCC 767, 981, 2638)
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
The Letter of Paul to the Philippians
Philippians is one of St. Paul’s “captivity Epistles.”
Although the salutation is from both St. Paul and his co-worker, St. Timothy, the Epistle was written in the first person and in the tone and style of St. Paul.
Some scholars suggest that the Epistle, as we have received it, is a collation of as many as three separate letters, but the Apostle undoubtedly wrote each of the three parts.
Philippians was written most likely during St. Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome about AD 61-62.
An alternate theory has him writing it during an imprisonment in Ephesus around AD 54-57.
References to the “praetorium” and to “Caesar’s household” could indicate Rome, or they could refer to the palace and officials of a provincial governor outside of Rome, such as in Ephesus.
Philippi, located in Macedonia in northern Greece, was a predominantly Gentile city when St. Paul established a church there during his second missionary journey around AD 50-the first Christian community to be established on the European mainland.
He would visit on at least two more occasions, and it is evident from this Epistle that he held a close bond with the Christian community there.
The Epistle is remarkably upbeat, personal, and warm, reflecting his relationship with the people of Philippi.
The Epistle to the Philippians is one of thanksgiving and encouragement to a thriving Christian community.
St. Paul did not address any particular concern over doctrine or practice; his purpose was primarily to praise the people for their generosity to him during his imprisonment and to pass along some personal news.
He did briefly mediate in a dispute between two women of the church (cf. 4:2-3) and warned the community to watch out for Judaizers, who were Jewish Christians traveling through St. Paul’s communities preaching the need for Gentile converts to be circumcised and to follow the rituals of the Old Law (cf. 3:2-3).
Of the practical content of the Epistle, St. Paul urged the Philippians to model themselves first after Christ, whose humility, service, and self-giving love was evident in the ways he “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (2:8).
St. Paul then recommended himself as a model of patient endurance in suffering and serenity in accepting whatever came as he sought to fulfill his mission in Christ, who gave him strength (cf. 4:10-13).
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
Philippians 1:1-2 Saints: Throughout the New Testament, the faithful of the Church are often referred to as saints. The faithful on earth, along with the Holy Souls in Purgatory and the blessed in Heaven, comprise the Communion of Saints.
Bishops and deacons: In the Apostolic era of the Church, the ministerial offices of bishop, priest, and deacon were not as defined as they would be by the end of the first century. Their use here does indicate, however, that a certain hierarchical structure was present in the Church from the very beginning. The titles “bishop” and “deacon” come from the Greek episkopos (“overseer”) and diakonos (“servant”), respectively. The titles “bishop” and “presbyter” (priest) were sometimes used interchangeably. (CCC 939, 1538, 1554-1561, 1569-1571)
Ch 1:3-11 In contrast to most of Paul’s earlier letters, his letter to the Philippians expresses joy exclusively. Paul wrote them from prison, but imprisonment did not dampen his spirits. (CCC 1832, 2636)
Ch 1:6 We must cooperate with the grace of God by responding to his gift. We are saved through God’s free gift of faith and grace and not by our works; however, we must cooperate with grace by carrying out good works and living the Commandments and the teachings of Christ, especially those in the Sermon on the Mount. (CCC 1996, 2008-2010)
Ch 1:9 Our growth in love, which expands with prayer and the practice of charity, increases both our knowledge of God and our desire to know him more intimately. (CCC 611, 1822-1826, 2632)
Ch 1:12-19 Paul used the occasion of his prison sentence to advance the Gospel. He was able to witness to the Roman guards and others with whom he would not likely have been in contact otherwise. From prison, he wrote letters encouraging the members of the early Church to be faithful to their Christian vocation. His mention of the guards here suggests that he might have had some success in converting them and their households to the Christian Faith. Evangelization is both a right and a duty of all the baptized. (CCC 848)
Ch 1:15-18 Rival preachers had been at work, some of whom had done so out of envy of Paul. Nevertheless, he was joyful that the Gospel was being preached; evidently he did not take issue with the doctrinal content of what these rivals were teaching. Envy is a form of covetousness proscribed by the Ninth and Tenth Commandments. Humility, good will, and trust in divine providence are the instruments of combating envy. (CCC 391, 413, 2254, 2259, 2538, 2541)
Ch 1:19 Your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ: One of the many names Paul used to refer to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is both the Spirit of God the Father and the Spirit of Christ because, as we state in the Creed, he “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Holy Spirit prays along with the believer, directing our praises, expressions of gratitude, blessings, intercessions, and petitions-united with the human will of Christ-to the Father through the Son. (CCC 244-246, 2564, 2644)
Ch 1:20-26 Paul was grateful for the intercessory prayers of the Philippians and was confident of his deliverance, which he saw as either freedom from prison or execution. To be freed meant that he might keep working for Christ, building up the communities he had already established, or to die by martyrdom and be with Christ in Heaven. He actually preferred the latter but believed that his work with the nascent churches was still very much needed. In Baptism, a person dies with Christ so as to rise with him in new life. (CCC 1005, 1011, 1021, 1025)
Ch 1:21 To live is Christ: Paul entrusted his fate to God, knowing that, whatever happened to him, Christ would be glorified. For Paul, his time remaining served as an opportunity to grow in union with Christ. From this perspective, death was the gateway to a much closer relationship with Christ. (CCC 1010, 1698)
Ch 1:27-30 The words of encouragement Paul offered here could be summarized, “Be good Christian citizens.” The people of Philippi were Roman citizens and enjoyed superior protection under civil law despite the pagan government. Paul told them they must perform their civic duty as the Gospel recommends. Implicitly, as he would spell out later in the letter, Paul was stating that the full citizenship of a Christian is in Heaven. (CCC 738, 1692, 1897-1927)
Ch 1:29 Suffer for his sake: Discipleship in Christ inevitably involves suffering, even persecution. These and all sufferings can be redemptive if we bear them in union with the Cross of Christ and offer our pains for our sins and the sins of the world. In doing so, we can be co-redeemers with Christ. (CCC 618, 1502, 1521)
Ch 2:1-11 Citing the example of Christ, the “perfect man,” Paul encouraged the Philippians to remain united and to show their love for each other through humility and service. Christ, who is divine, became man in order to suffer and die for our salvation. No act of humility on our part can ever rival the humiliation of Christ’s Suffering and Death.
Jesus Christ is Lord: This statement affirms Christ’s divinity. Other terminology in this passage asserts that he was both fully God and fully man. This passage partly inspired the popular confession, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” (CCC 713, 908-912, 2667)
Ch 2:4 Self-interest must always give way to the well-being of others and to the common good. Intercessory prayer is a way of keeping mindful of the needs of others and petitioning God to fill their needs as well as their own. (CCC 191301916, 2635)
Ch 2:5-8 Christ willingly took on the role of a servant and allowed himself to be crucified for our sake even though he was innocent of any sin. The faithful are called to serve others in humility according to Christ’s example. (CCC 461, 520, 1694, 2842)
Ch 2:6 To be grasped: There are several possible meanings of the Greek term harpagmos; perhaps the best is “to be exploited for selfish gain.” (CCC 446-450)
Ch 2:7 Emptied himself: This is not to say that Christ gave up his divinity but that he accepted our humanity to give himself completely to every person. Christ became man so that we might share in his divinity. (CCC 472, 705, 713, 876, 1224)
Ch 2:8 Crucifixion was a brutal and humiliating form of execution reserved for the worst of criminals. The crucified would eventually die of blood loss, expressed in a heart attack, or asphyxiation as the weight of the sagging body would eventually cut off respiration. Christ accepted this suffering knowingly and willingly because it was the will of his Father and out of love for us. It was through his obedience that our redemption was achieved. (CCC 411, 564, 612 623, 908)
Ch 2:9-11 Exalted him: A reference to Christ’s Resurrection, Ascension, and the incorporation of his humanity into his divine glory in Heaven.
In heaven…under the earth: The common thinking at the time divided the universe into Heaven, earth, and “under the earth.” The last of these refers to the realm of the dead and of evil spirits. Traditionally, much devotion has been paid to the Most Holy Name of Jesus in honor of the Second Commandment and as a reminder that it is through him we receive all blessings. The Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus is celebrated on January 3. (CCC 187-197, 201, 434-435, 635, 2812)
Ch 2:12-18 Our salvation depends on living the Faith taught by Christ, which was gratuitously bestowed upon us in Baptism. While grace is a free gift, God wants us to freely practice our faith. This practice of the Faith involves incorporating every word and action of Christ into our lives. As we grow in our union with Christ, our lives become lights in the darkness and leaven in the mass of dough to others. Fidelity to the Gospel allows Christ to act through us.
Fear and trembling: A sense of reverence and awe at the majesty of God and a healthy revulsion to the notion of sinning against him. (CCC 308, 1949)
Ch 2:14-17 Shine as lights in the world: In the Sacrament of Baptism, the newly baptized is given a lighted candle to signify that he or she has put on Christ, the “light of the world.”
The day of Christ: When Christ returns at the end of time to judge the living and the dead; This is also referred to as the Final Judgment.
Libation: Oils and wine were poured out by Temple priests as an offering to God along with animal sacrifices. Paul saw his possible martyrdom as a form of worship and sacrifice. (CCC 1070-1072, 1243)
Ch 2:19-30 Timothy accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys and is the addressee of two Epistles of Paul that appear in the New Testament. Epaphroditus was sent by the Philippians to deliver support to Paul while he was in prison. (CCC 120)
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
Conquering for the Kingdom
Augustus claimed to usher in a new era, a golden age.
Several decades later, the emperor Nero claimed to embody this age and built the largest palace known to Rome, calling it his golden palace.
Desiring to outdo Augustus in glory, Nero wrote his own tragic epic poem entitled “Burning of Troy.”
Unfortunately, Nero releases this poem on the fateful day of July 19th, A.D. 64, the day a horrible fire breaks out in Rome, burning ten of the fourteen regions of the city.
Nero, who it seems was behind the fire, sought to burn down what he considered a shabby and ill-designed city so that he could rebuild and rename it Neropolis, the city of Nero.
Word of this gets out, however, and social unrest quickly grows.
Nero, who needed a scapegoat, finds one in the young and little understood Christian movement.
Nero blames the burning of Rome on the Christians, who claim a different gospel and Lord, and begins a horrific persecution.
While Acts of the Apostles ends without detailing Peter’s and Paul’s deaths, Christian tradition has passed on how Peter and Paul were caught up in Nero’s persecution and executed on the same day.
According to Christian tradition, Peter asked to be crucified upside down, not being worthy to die just as his Lord had.
Because Paul’s Roman citizenship did not permit his crucifixion, he was beheaded.
In a prophetic inspiration, several years before they suffered Nero’s cruel persecution, Paul wrote to the church in Rome, proclaiming, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rom 8:35-37)
The Greek word for “conquer” or “victory” is nike.
If you take the tour beneath St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, down in the first-century catacombs where Peter’s tomb was discovered, you can see Christian graffiti written close to where Peter’s body was buried, and among the graffiti is a word written in Greek, nike.
The Christians recognized that Peter, Paul, the martyrs, and all who lived in fidelity to Christ are the ones who conquered.
By their deeds and their blood, they conquered the paganism and hatred of the empire and became the seed for a new Rome that would swear allegiance to the true Lord of all, Jesus Christ.
Augustus was correct; a new age had begun, a golden age founded on the rock of Peter with Jesus Christ as its cornerstone and built up by God’s grace throughout the world in a global reach the Caesars could never have imagined.
While this final period of the story of Scripture recounted in the Acts of the Apostles draws to a close, God’s story does not.
It looks forward, as is clear in the book of Revelation, to the time when the New Jerusalem will come down out of heaven and all that began anew in Christ Jesus will be fully realized.
As history works towards that glorious moment, God calls each of us, just as he called Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, Mary, Peter, and Paul, to say “yes” to his invitation to enter into his covenant and take up our role in his story as witnesses to Jesus Christ.
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through The Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)