The Call of Timothy
- Acknowledge the pastoral generosity of Archbishop Prendergast.
- The faithfulness and patience of Deacon Carl Reid and his people.
This Feast of Ss. Timothy and Titus is a good opportunity to reflect on the nature of the call to ordained ministry.
- Paul and Silas began the second missionary journey (Acts 16) with a memorable experience that never failed to impress travelers in this region. They passed through the famed Cilician Gates, the mountain pass leading into Asia Minor, a journey of great beauty and danger, and arrived in the town of Lystra.
- This town was familiar territory for Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey (Acts 14:11). When they were here a few years earlier, Paul had healed a man who had been crippled from birth. The miracle so impressed the pagan population of Lystra, that they immediately proclaimed Paul and Barnabas to be gods. Barnabas they identified with Zeus, the chief of the gods, probably because of his tall and dignified bearing. Paul they identified with the god Hermes, whose function in the Pantheon was essentially that of the gods’ public information officer. Obviously the locals made the identification because Paul was the speaker and the more animated. The townspeople prepared for a great pagan festival, complete with garlands and sacrifices, to celebrate the presence of the two gods. This horrified Paul and Barnabas. Paul barely managed to stop the proceedings by preaching a sermon against idolatry. Quickly the fickle crowd’s passions were inflamed against the Apostles, and they stoned them and drove them out. But with great courage, the two re-entered the town and continued their work of preaching the Gospel.
1. Timothy’s character (Acts 16:2-3).
- Timothy’s biological father was a Greek, his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois were Jews. Already this says much about the family. Timothy’s mother couldn’t have been a particularly devout Jew for two reasons — marrying a Gentile, and not circumcising her son. The two women must have been converted by Paul on his earlier visit. Paul would later remind Timothy about how his mother and grandmother taught him the Scriptures (II Tim. 1:5; 3:15).
- The Christians in Timothy’s home town of Lystra certified that he was a man of “good repute” (v. 2). Paul regards this as a necessary qualification for leadership. The Church thus scrutinizes the candidate for ordination — is he a person of good repute? Since the priest is to put on Christ bear the name of Christ, will he be a good representative?
- Timothy also demonstrates the principle of sacrificing some of one’s personal freedom in order to reach out to others (v. 3). As a young man, he voluntarily undergoes the rite of circumcision (something the Jerusalem council said he was not required to do), in order that he would not be an offense to the Jewish people they were trying to win for Christ. Paul lays out this principle in the memorable language of I Cor. 9:22 — “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”
2. Timothy’s Commitment to the Mind of the Church (Acts 16:4-5).
- Paul’s and Timothy’s main work at this stage of the journey was to deliver the decision of the Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem. Here we have a crucial principle for the organization of the Churches. They delivered (paradosis) to the faithful the authoritative teachings (dogma) of the Apostles to observe and keep. There is no question that Paul was setting up churches that would live under authority, not self-governing, independent congregations.
- From this work of uniting the churches around the one faith that is proclaimed and upheld by the Apostles, the churches are strengthened and they grow numerically (i.e., the harvest of souls is daily).
- It is worth noting that, according to Luke’s account, the key factors which led to the strengthening and growth of the churches of Galatia were Paul’s teaching ministry and his zeal to impart to his congregations a “Catholic sense” of belonging to the wider Church, giving them the tremendous power and confidence that comes with the knowledge that you are truly at one with the Apostles and united with the Church. Healthy Christian churches were never meant to be isolated and cut off from the main body of Catholic Christianity. In this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which commenced yesterday on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, it is surely right to emphasize this!
3. Stirring Up the Fire.
Our epistle includes these words so important for our understanding of the apostolic foundations of ordained ministry:
6 Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control (II Tim. 1:6-7).
Those graces necessary for priestly ministry are not natural endowments but divine gifts, transmitted through the Apostles and their successors.
Perhaps some 12 years would have transpired from the time Timothy was ordained to the time when Paul, imprisoned in Rome, wrote to him and to Titus. II Timothy is a magnificent reflection on ministry, full of encouraging words for the new priest. [As a seminary teacher, I particularly appreciate II Tim. 2:15 – “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” For how can we image Christ the Word, if we do not strive to let that same Word illuminate our minds?
Carl, several of us here today share this extraordinary experience, sometimes mischaracterized as “re-ordination.” What the Catholic Church believes about ordained ministry is a sensitive matter in ecumenical conversations, and sometimes a little humour will help. My friends at the Irish College in Rome said to me – and it applies to you too – “Five ordinations and a wedding!” Perhaps II Tim. 2:6 might help to put this in some context – let us stir up the firm and earnest intentions of our Anglican ordination, now rightly ordered toward Catholic unity. The Church will supply the objective matter, but let us stir up the desire to be faithful always to this holy calling.
I like the way St. John Chrysostom reads this text – “For it requires much zeal to stir up the gift of God. As fire requires fuel, so grace requires that we be fervent … For by sloth and carelessness it is quenched, and by watchfulness and diligence it is kept alive. For it is in you indeed, but you must render it more vehement, that is, fill it with confidence, with joy and delight. Stand manfully.”
Cardinal Basil Hume offered a prayer at the priestly ordination the former Anglican bishop of London, Dr. Graham Leonard, giving thanks for the former ministry of the ordinand in the Anglican Communion. The Holy See has encouraged its use in such occasions.
[The bishop, having doffed his mitre, standing with joined hands, facing toward the ordinand, says:]
N., the Holy Catholic Church recognizes that not a few of the sacred actions of the Christian religion as carried out in communities separated from her can truly engender a life of grace and can rightly be described as providing access to the community of salvation. And so we now pray,
Almighty Father, we give you thanks for the X years of faithful ministry of your servant N. in the Anglican Communion, whose fruitfulness for salvation has been derived from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church. As your servant has been received into full communion and now seeks to be ordained to the presbyterate in the Catholic Church, we beseech you to bring to fruition that for which we now pray. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.