Wednesday, October 9, 2013

An encouraging Word

When I was a child, we only sang in Latin at Mass. As I grew older, things changed and we began to sing in French. One of the first songs I remember was Lucien Deiss: "Souviens-toi de Jésus-Christ", sung in English with the words: "Keep in mind that Jesus-Christ has died for us and is risen from the dead; He is our saving Lord, He is joy for all ages." The long ascending melody and broad rhythm reflected well the solemnity of this profession of faith, the Gospel summed up in one sentence.

Many years later, I discovered that today's reading is the source of Father Deiss's text. To fully grasp its meaning , we must remember its context. Paul, in prison, writes to his young friend Timothy to encourage him in his ministry as head of a Christian community. Timothy must find it difficult, and Paul acknowledges this. He compares Timothy in turn to a soldier, to an athlete and to a farmer who must all give of themselves if they want to reap the desired fruit .

Paul himself has spent himself thoroughly. He refers to the profession of faith that he just quoted, explaining that it is the reason he is in prison. In spite of this, he affirms with remarkable energy that Word of God itself cannot be chained! This Word is the source of his courage, his determination, his perseverance. Even from prison, he proclaims time and time against this extraordinary news: in Jesus, God loved us unto death... so that we might all live!

Paul concludes this passage by quoting a hymn that would have been sung in the early Christian communities. Timothy himself had to know it, but Paul reminds him of the words to encourage him. "If we die with Christ, we shall live with him..." Paul had already taught this in his letter to the Romans: in baptism we die to sin and to ourselves, we are buried with Jesus in order to rise with him. "If we suffer with Christ, we shall reign with him..." What we have experienced in baptism should now mark our everyday lives. We must be willing to suffer for the love of others if we wish to participate in God's Kingdom of justice, peace and joy.

The song then warns: "If we deny him, he also will deny us." To deny Christ is to refuse to stay the course in perseverance. I've just read in a novel, "To deny, to reject, to spit out of one's mouth, this is the act of embittered bullies, guys who want to believe they are self-made and that no one came before them." How can Christ keep us with him if we run away from him this way?

But the hymn ends with a reminder of the possibility of forgiveness and return: "Even if we lack faith in Him, Christ will not fail to keep faith with us: he is ever faithful to his promises." Such is the final word ; God's faithfulness in Jesus who forgives all our wrongs, lifts us up from all our sins , brings forth light even in the darkest night.

This reading is like a balm for anyone who is faced with trials and difficulties. It invites us to reach out, to trust, to try once again. Paul's words, written from his prison in Rome in the year 60, still resonate today in our hearts, two thousand years later.

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