25 January 2010

No spirit of cowardice among us

Timothy & Titus: Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

We are not born again of water so that we might wither and die in a spirit of cowardice. The spirit that binds us to one another in the Church and the Church to Christ is the spirit of power, love, and self-control—the Holy Spirit of God, the same Spirit that set the apostles on fire at Pentecost and gave birth to the Church. Hiding in the Upper Room, fearing for their lives, Christ's followers were spiritual refugees, dissidents and heretics, outcasts from their temple and rebels against the Empire. Their Teacher was dead, and though resurrected from the tomb, he had yet to fulfill his promise to send a spirit of consolation and guidance. They were weak, scared witless, desolate, and completely without a purpose. When the Holy Spirit descended upon them, they were transformed as bearers of the Word to the world, set aflame with a zeal for preaching and teaching, for witnessing and healing. And they knew—Christ has promised it—they knew that their ministry in the spirit would see them once again cast out and persecuted. But rather than gather again to complain about these injustices or plot a strategy for dominance, they went out and did what they were ordered to do: they lived lives of power, love, and self-control. In the presence of opposition to the gospel, even outright hostility or violence, do we bear witness to this spirit, or do we live cowardly lives of silence?

In a homily on Paul's second letter to Timothy, the great Patristic preacher, St. John Chrysostom, says, “. . .if we were soldiers of this world, and waged an earthly war, the chains that confine our hands would [serve to restrain us]. But now God has made us such that nothing can subdue us. For our hands are bound, but not our tongue, since nothing can bind the tongue but cowardice and unbelief alone.” Had we been charged by Christ to subdue the political powers of the world, it would be enough to throw us in jail as violent prisoners of war. Unable to kill our enemies from behind bars, the war for the Kingdom would have been quickly ended. Our courage, steadfastness, and determination would have been wasted and ultimately footnoted in history as just another zealous Judean uprising against Rome. Fortunately, as St John preaches, though our hands can be chained by the enemy, our tongue cannot. Only we can bind our witness; only we can silence the Word we have been given to speak.

If we are silent, suppressing the spirit of courage we have been given, are we silent b/c of cowardice or unbelief? What do we fear? Why would we not believe? There is a certain clarity to fear. Being afraid provides a straight path, a downhill run. For example, the discomfort we may feel in preaching the gospel is easily avoided, simply ignored. Just be quiet. Don't speak. No one is offended. No one is harmed. Everything remains as it always has been. And we can continue to enjoy the esteem of family and friends. Disbelieving is more difficult but no less effective in silencing the gospel. Love is really just being polite. Mercy is really just overlooking sin. Faith is really just a wild gamble against the inevitable, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. Disbelieving is a cowardly way to pick and choose easy victories over our equally disbelieving enemy. It's fighting for the other side.

Paul writes to Timothy, “. . .bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.” What is this strength? Yes, it's the spirit of power, love, and self-control, the Holy Spirit given to the Church, the Body that Christ himself identifies when he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Are we brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers of the Son? If so, we will do the will of God, setting aside cowardice and stirring up the Spirit that gives us life and strength and, finally, even victory over death.

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