Thursday, October 17, 2013

God would like a word with you

Read 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4 :2

Today’s passage presents a beautiful meditation on the importance of the Bible in Christian life. Even if Paul only refers to the Hebrew Scriptures – the New Testament was not yet finished at the time of the writing of this letter to Timothy – his reflection is valid for all the books of the Bible which we know today. What does Paul have to say?

First, that the texts of the Bible can lead to wisdom. Reading and studying the Bible can help us understand the deep meaning of the events which make up our lives. We find in these texts a wisdom that was accumulated over the course of a thousand years, a wisdom that even modern technology and science cannot surpass, for it is a wisdom rooted in God’s own Spirit.

Secondly, Paul reminds us that this wisdom can lead to faith. The Bible does not only present ideas: it narrates events, it introduces us to people, it helps us meet Jesus. Through these events, God has acted. Through these people, God has spoken. In Jesus, God has given God’s own self to us. To meet Jesus in the reading of Scripture is to open oneself to the gift of faith and to know salvation.

Paul says that the Biblical texts are inspired by God. Such an affirmation is difficult to accept for those who do not believe in Jesus. It is only from a believing perspective that one can recognize the divine inspiration which animates these texts. Is it not so for a love letter? Only lovers can truly sense the deep spirit which sustains such a letter. So is it with the Bible: those who welcome the love of God in their lives recognize the true author of these biblical texts.

Finally, Paul reminds Timothy that he must use the Bible not only to sustain his own faith, but to help other men and women come to that faith. One must pass from an inward motion, where the Word is welcomed, to an outward motion, where the Word is proclaimed. Indeed, it is only when one has started sharing with others his or her understanding of the Bible that these texts truly become alive for that person. In speaking our faith, our faith becomes even more real and vibrant.

Reading these few lines, we see how Paul understands the Bible: for him, it is the very Word of God. May it also be so for us.

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.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A question of leadership

Read 2 Timothy 1:6-14

Timothy had a special place within the Christian community to which he belonged. He was their leader.

Much is written about leadership today. In most major bookstores, one can find row upon row of books about leadership and management. Seminars and workshops are held from coast to coast in the hope of helping administrators become leaders. As we read this excerpt of the letter to Timothy, we learn a few things about Christian leadership.

First, leadership is not for the leader, but for the community. Timothy’s leadership is a gift to others, not a status that he seeks for himself. His leadership is not meant to build himself up, but to build up others. It is a service.

If Christian leadership is a gift for others, it is also a gift from God. This is clear from the ritual laying on of hands: leadership is received as a mission, as a consecration, as an affirmation. And though it is other leaders who lay their hands on Timothy’s head, it is the Spirit of God that is active through this physical gesture, confirming and strengthening Timothy for his ministry in the community.

Yet, leadership is not acquired once and for all. It must continually be developed, renewed, revitalized. “Rekindle the gift that is within you,” the author urges Timothy. And so all Christian leaders must strive to return to the source of their leadership, never taking for granted their call, nor their capacity to answer that call.

Christian leadership models itself on the leadership of Christ himself, accepting to suffer with Christ for the sake of the Kingdom of God. The Christian leader is motivated by love, and true love always entails suffering, for the lover must die to himself or herself in order to bring life to others. Though leadership in the Church gives much joy and happiness, it cannot avoid the refinery of sacrifice and dying to oneself.

The Spirit active in the leader banishes fear and stirs up dynamism, love, self-discipline. A Christian leader can only exercise true leadership in the Spirit. Turning to the Spirit in prayer, opening oneself to the Spirit in liturgy, listening to the Spirit in discernment, acting in the power of the Spirit: this is what it means to be a Christian leader.

Christians are called to exercise leadership in the world. Their leadership will truly be fruitful if they remember Timothy and the recommendations he received.

Some are called to exercise leadership in the Church itself. This is an awe-inspiring call, a challenge that not many can take up without trepidation and humility. Yet do not be afraid if this is your call. For the Spirit active in you will help you answer this call and provide the Church with a great and beautiful service: the service of leadership.

On pilgrimage with the bishops of Panama a couple of years ago