“Be imitators of me as your model” (Phillippians 3:17). Most of us would feel uncomfortable voicing such words, much less putting them into print. Yet St Paul will echo these sentiments again and again, in 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 1 Corinthians 4:16, and in 1 Corinthians 11:1, where he says “Imitate me as I imitate Christ”, in other words, “only imitate me, insofar as you see me imitating Christ.” Paul wasn’t being proud. On the contrary, he considered himself among the greatest of sinners (cf 1 Timothy 1:15).
I am reminded of an interviewer who put the following question to St Mother Theresa: “People are saying you are a living saint. What do you think of that?” Her response: “Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to be?” No false humility kept either St Paul or St Mother Theresa from accepting their God-given call. In fact, Paul’s response to us, if we were to say to him “I can’t be a model of holiness to others” would have been :”Why not?” We are all to be living saints. We are all to be examples for others to imitate, always mindful that we are first called to imitate Christ. How else could Paul expect others to get their priorities in order and stand firm?
Later on in our second reading this Sunday, Paul will say: “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Conquered by the Romans in 167 B.C., the Macedonian city of Philippi was designated a Roman colony giving her residents rights as citizens of the Roman Empire. Paul himself was a Roman citizen, being from the city of Tarsus, a city in Asia Minor which, like Philippi, was designated as a Roman colony. Consult Acts 22 to see how Paul took advantage of his rights as a Roman citizen, a mere shadow of the blessings offered to those who live as citizens of God’s kingdom. How are you and I showing by our behavior in Lent that we are citizens of different kingdom?