2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14, Luke 17:5-10
Paul wrote two letters to Timothy and one to Titus, that differ from his other letters. His other letters were addressed to the churches in the various cities where Paul had preached. The letters to Timothy are addressed to the pastor and are far more personal. Paul had known Timothy since he was a child and Timothy’s grandmother was a member of one of the early church communities. It would seem that Timothy was greatly influenced, if not deeply impressed, by Paul, and becomes a companion with Paul on several of his journeys. Paul then sent Timothy off on his own while he went to Rome to await his trial. Paul mentions in this letter that he is a prisoner.
Young Timothy is on his own and apparently is having difficulty dealing with the struggles of being a missionary. Word reaches Paul about Timothy’s struggles and Paul responds with this beautiful letter of encouragement. In the portion we heard he tells Timothy not to let the fire of his faith and zeal go out, but rather, “to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.” He exhorts him not to give into the spirit of cowardice and not to be ashamed of his testimony. He reminds him that God gave him a spirit of power and love and self-control, and that Paul himself was a prisoner because of the Gospel.
I don’t think that Paul was trying to put a guilt trip on Timothy by reminding him that he was in prison and still preaching the Gospel, while Timothy was free and yet struggling. Maybe part of the image is that, although Paul was in prison, he did not let the bars take away his freedom to give witness to Christ. His message to Timothy could be that, while Timothy is free, he should not allow disappointments to take away his freedom to witness. Paul was showing Timothy that with God comes the strength to endure hardship and suffering, and to do so with joy.
All of us have bad days and bad weeks, and some of us might even have bad years. At times like that our faith can be fragile and we might feel like giving up. We might feel that everything is going wrong, that even God seems to have abandoned us, and so we ask; so why go on? It’s at times like this that we benefit in taking Paul’s words to heart. It is good to recall the beauty of the gift of faith and God’s presence we have experienced. We have the choice to either allow the difficult times and situations imprison us and take break our spirit, or to continue to live in the freedom of God’s children. These are times for us stir into flame the gift of faith that we received at Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, and at other deep spiritual moments of our lives. Just like Timothy, God has given us the spirit of power, love and self-control. These gifts help us to rise above disappointment and discouragement, and to be witnesses of Christ’s victory.
This advice to Timothy is advice that helps us recapture our faith and to live it with renewed zeal. May we not allow the fire of faith to go out in our lives, but rather, may we have the grace and determination to “stir into flame the gift of God,” each of us has received as members of Christ’s Church. May we always be renewed in the fire of God’s love and permit it to burn brightly within us.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.