I’ve spent some time in Paul’s letter to the Philippians recently, and Paul’s prayer at 1:9-11 has especially impressed me. That is, it has pressed itself upon me. Next week I’ll offer a fuller reflection, but here I want to touch faintly on Paul’s duty of and selflessness in prayer. With “longing” (1:8) Paul writes from prison to console the Philippians who grieve his absence. He prays that their love would super-abound according to the wisdom of “full insight”, which means that they would love with discernment, attending to what matters and neglecting what does not. He does not consider his own plight, but looks to the Philippians’s, seeking ultimately the “harvest of righteousness” that extols God. This is what matters to Paul, and in it Paul finds joy (1:4 and passim).
Prayer is fundamental for Paul (1 Thess 5:16-18), and I’m ever brought back to the duty of prayer. Ours is an age of freedom—negative freedom, especially—where we individually seek to slough off any and all obligations and attachments that we consider impediments to full identity. But the duty of prayer is the promise of true freedom and true joy. If this is so, and the duty of prayer is connected to selflessness, then our freedom and joy at least partially consist in selfless prayer—prayer that expresses love and aims at the (discerning) expression of love to the “glory and praise of God”.
Let us pray, in our absence from one another, in our own “captivity”, and consider how to love for God’s glory through the means available to us. This is no small or easy task. Prayer itself, much less selfless prayer, is no simple duty. I invite you to join with me in repeating a friend’s prayer, that we may prepare ourselves:
Teach us to see that without prayer our souls are withered, and our lives lose stability and strength… Lead us into your holy presence. Teach us to converse with you in the gravity of truth and in the intimacy of love… Enlighten us that we may understand the obedience required by prayer and strengthen us to perform our duty faithfully.
(R. Guardini, Theologische Gebete [Theological Prayers], 55-6)