Franciscan Spirit Blog

Lent with Richard Rohr: Waxing and Waning

Palm Sunday | Readings: Philippians 2:6-11


In this overflow of rich themes today, including an entire reading of a Passion account, an extra Gospel on the Palm Sunday event, and pivotal readings from Isaiah 50 and Philippians 2, anyone would be at a loss to decide where to look, what to think, or how to feel. Since less is almost always more when it comes to diving deep on the spiritual journey, I hope you will be content with one meditation on one reading.

I am going to direct you toward the great parabolic movement described in the Second Reading of Philippians 2. Most consider that this was originally a hymn sung in the early Christian community, and certainly an inspired one on many levels. To give us an honest entranceway into this profound text, let me offer you a life-changing quote from C.G. Jung’s Psychological Reflections: 

In the secret hour of life’s midday the parabola is reversed, death is born. The second half of life does not signify ascent, unfolding, increase, exuberance, but death since the end is now its goal. The negation of life’s fulfillment is synonymous with the refusal to accept its ending. Both mean not wanting to live, and not wanting to live is identical with not wanting to die. Waxing and waning make one curve.

The hymn from Philippians artistically, honestly, but boldly describes that “secret hour” when God in Christ reversed the parabola, when the waxing became waning. It says it actually started with the great self-emptying or kenosis that we call the Incarnation in Bethlehem and ends with the Crucifixion in Jerusalem. It brilliantly connects the two mysteries as one movement, down, down, down into the enfleshment of creation, and then into humanity’s depths and sadness, and final identification with those at the very bottom (“took the form of a slave”) on the cross. Jesus represents God’s total solidarity with, and even love of, the human situation, as if to say “nothing human is abhorrent to me.” God, if Jesus is right, has chosen to descend—in almost total counterpoint with our humanity that is always trying to climb, achieve, perform, and prove itself. He invites us to reverse the process too.

This hymn says that Jesus leaves the ascent to God, in God’s way, and in God’s time. What freedom! And it happens, better than any could have expected. “And because of this, God lifted him up, and gave him the name above all other names.” We call it resurrection or ascension. Jesus is set as the human blueprint, the standard in the sky, the oh-so-hopeful pattern of divine transformation. Who would have presumed that the way up could be the way down? It is, as Paul says, “the Secret Mystery.”

Trust the down, and God will take care of the up. This leaves humanity in solidarity with the life cycle, but also with one another, with no need to create success stories for itself, or to create failure stories for others. Humanity in Jesus is free to be human and soulful instead of any false climbing into “Spirit.” This was supposed to change everything, and it still will.


“Your mind must be the same as Christ’s. Though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God as something to be clung to. Instead he emptied himself, and became like a slave, and was born in the likeness of humanity. . . obediently accepting even death.” —Philippians 2:5–7


“Lord Jesus, if you are indeed the Lord of History, then you are showing us the plan, direction, and meaning of the human journey. I want to speak like never before that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord.’ Now it is not an assertion of dominance or rightness over anybody else, but only a willingness to trust and follow your humble path.”

¡Haga clic aquí para ver la traducción en español!

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1 thought on “Lent with Richard Rohr: Waxing and Waning”


    Good morning Richard and team,
    I left the Catholic church mid 2021, after 69 years, after a number of situations occurred where I was reduced or forbidden from being Christ-like presence to those in the margins. I have not attended Mass in person for most of that time. I instead have a Sacred Time at home on Sundays, or on another day I call the Sabbath, if I have grand-parent duties on a Sunday. I found this 2012 reflection on PALM SUNDAY youtube and it warmed my heart and spirit. Thank you. I do hope you health is settling Richard. I brought you into Auckland NZ about 2009 I think, through the Sisters of Mercy Retreat Centre where I was the programme coordinator. You spoke on Masculine or Male Spirituality. It was so well received, we were all thirsty for this teaching.
    Go well good man, in Christ, Gabrielle Daly

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