In today’s reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, the Apostle gives a stunningly clear piece of advice: “Avoid anything in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ.”
To know what to avoid, then, means first of all knowing the gospel of Christ. This is a theme I keep coming back to like a broken record: we need to take in hand the Gospel itself and set ourselves to reading it. Yes, we hear it at Mass, and that is very powerful and necessary. But it is not enough. In fact, unless we get to know the Gospel deeply, our hearing of it in Church will be deprived of that daily and painstaking preparation which will allow us to listen with greater relish and understanding. St. Jerome tells us that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” – that holds especially true for the Gospel.
Paul then speaks of what is “unworthy” or “not worthy” of the Gospel. The Greek word is “axios” which means also “deserving of” or “suitable.” Perhaps we could say consistent with, or compatible with. Actions, words, deeds, thoughts, habits which are “out of sync” or just “don’t’ fit” with the Gospel are to be avoided. This refers firstly to sin, of course, but it also refers to other things which, according to our times, might be lauded or promoted as “with it” or “modern” or “progressive.” Our point of reference to evaluate whether something in our lives is “axios”, worthy, is not what the TV says or what the latest fashion says. No, it is the Gospel!
St. Paul then tells us to avoid in daily life anything that is out of step with the Gospel. The word “avoid” will remind many of us of the old axiom to “avoid the occasions of sin.” But Paul goes further. Avoid anything which, even though not sinful, is still not what a baptised member of Christ should be doing, or have or want. He is exhorting us to go further than just “not sinning”, but to shape and conform our lives by going the extra mile daily, positively, to look like, sound like and act like someone whose daily life is lived with reference to the Gospel and even from within the Gospel.
Paul is challenging us to take a good look at ourselves every day and ask: what is there in my life that is not worthy of Christ? What do I have, say, do, think, which I would be ashamed to show to Christ? What can I do to conform my life more to the Gospel? What changes can I, should I, must I make? After the Gospel at Mass, I answer the priest, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” Do I praise the Gospel with my life?