“I’m hard-pressed: I long to die and be with Christ… but my remaining here in the flesh is better for you. Since I’m convinced of this, I will remain.” – Philippians 1:21-23
For the sake of the church at Philippi, Paul chose to remain. While there’s still ministry to do on earth, heaven can wait. Good decision, but wasn’t it a no-brainer? Why did he even have to think about it? Why was he so torn?
As a small Catholic child I believed that Jesus, hidden in the communion wafer, lived in the tabernacle on the altar of my parish church. He was determined to be close to us, so he became bread to feed us. And when he wasn’t feeding us, he was content to be confined in a little box so we could drop by and visit him. I did, almost every day.
Getting up to leave was always sad. I worried about him, knowing he was by himself in there for such long stretches—overnight, for example, when the church was locked up tight, and during long summer days when everyone was at the beach. He didn’t mind. He was glad whenever we visited, however long we stayed. But I minded. He was always there for us. Why weren’t we always there for him? How could we leave him alone, even for an hour?
I discarded Jesus in a box theology long ago, but not its desire and affection. When I recall how keenly I longed for my tabernacled Christ, I have no trouble understanding Paul. He was right to remain, but I get why it was hard.
Increase my love for you, O Christ. May my heart always be visiting you, everywhere you are, in heaven, and on earth in my every neighbor.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.