Remember Your Leaders (Heb 13.7)
January 26, 2012
Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage, through all patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4.2) Today we follow an apostolic feast with an episcopal memorial. On the heels of celebrating St. Paul’s conversion, we celebrate two of his intimés, Sts. Timothy and Titus. In the New Testament, we find their names at the head of letters St. Paul addressed specifically to them. Letters to individual pastors of churches—distinct from letters to Christian communities as such—1, 2 Timothy and Titus are dubbed “Pastoral Epistles.” “Epistle” is, more or less, another word for “letter.” In using “epistle,” we evoke the notion and mission of an “apostle.” But for a couple of vowels, the words are the same; they have , in fact, the same root. An epistle is a message sent-to someone; and an apostle is an individual sent-from Christ. Hence, although letter-writing is a basic and widespread feature of ancient communication, the Apostolic Epistle is a unique literary genre of faith. Our Savior called the Apostles to preach the Good News to the furthest reaches of the earth—not simply the geographic earth, but the historical world. Hence, e.g., the letters of St. Paul are not simply communications, say, to the community of Corinth two thousand years ago, they are also words sent to us! The reason why we are able to receive the Apostle’s words on behalf of Christ is because they are handed on by the bishops who have succeeded them. Hence, in the Roman Canon, “we offer firstly” the eucharistic sacrifice for the Church, recognizable as the community of those who are united with the Pope, the Bishop, “and all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith.” It is by virtue of the apostolic preaching, continued through time through episcopal succession, that we hear the very words of faith. Not without reason, St. Paul says that faith comes by hearing the words of those sent (Romans 10.16). The visible and audible ministry of the hierarchical Church infallibly and indefatigably collaborates with the invisible mission of the Holy Spirit. Through the Church’s preaching, the light of faith spreads through the world. It is precisely this faith that Christ is speaking to us about in our Gospel (Mark 4.21-25). The Pslamist says, “Your Word O Lord is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path” (118 .105). Christ tells his Apostles not to hide the lamp because they have been entrusted with his very own mission, he who is the light of the world. The Church is entrusted with the mission of enlightening the world’s path through handing on the words of faith. This mission is not simply handed over to those bearing episcopal consecration. Dominican friars participate in this authoritative preaching in a unique way through our ministry of the word. In fact, our capuce (the shell over our scapulars) is the friar’s distinctive mark of episcopal collaboration—he is able to travel wherever needed to preach the Word to the furthest reaches of the earth. Moreover, the laity has a particular prerogative to testify to this Word. Hence, St. Paul not only recalls St. Timothy’s episcopal consecration through his laying on of hands (2 Timothy 1.6); he also recalls the foundational faith of Timothy’s mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois (1.5). They too have “stirred up the flame of faith”; after all, through the sacrament of Confirmation, they received, through the bishop’s imposition of hands, the prerogative to be a soldier for Christ. If all of us, regardless of state, are to measure out the words of faith, we must measure our reception of these words to the fullest extent possible. The internet—whatever its evident (and yet undiagnosed) dangers—serves as a medium for the Gospel. Today, we have the privilege to regularly receive the preached words of Christ’s vicar on earth! The Pope’s preaching is so often made available through the publication of texts, audios, and videos. We also have the privilege to regularly receive the words of our bishops, many of whom are communicating regularly through the digital media. Today is also the patronal feast day of the Archbishop of New York, cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, who serves as the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Our bishops are speaking with an alarming consistency about the Department of Health and Human Service’s disregard for religious freedom—not an unimportant topic for conversation during an election year. Listen to the words of the Gospel, of Christ’s preachers; do not bury the lamp. You are the light of the world!