29th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
We hear Paul saying to Timothy: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus [. . .]: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.” We hear Jesus tell his disciples a parable of persistence – the unjust judge who decides to render a just verdict for a persistent widow. Then, finally, we hear our Lord ask this question: “. . .when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Of course, we would want to answer Jesus, “Yes, Lord, there is faith on earth!” We might be less enthusiastic, however, about finding this elusive faith. . .unless it's our own. Our own faith might not be all that impressive – the deepest, the most subtle or sophisticated; the most lively. Our own faith might not even be all that strong. But it persists. It endures. . .along with love and hope. Along with mercy and forgiveness. Along with the courage necessary to stand in this world and shine out the Good News. Polished or not, smooth or not our own faith is the assurance we need and that the world needs to prevail. This is an inconvenient time for the faithful. I feel it in my own spiritual life. Turbulence. Disorder. Snatching temptations. We know that persistence requires courage. So, are you courageous?
Nothing going on in New Orleans right now can compare to what was happening in Timothy's day. Open persecution of Christians. Arrests. Trials. Torture. Executions. In the face of this opposition, Paul exhorts Timothy to remain steadfast, to proclaim the Word, to encourage, to reprimand, to convince. And to do all these with patience. Of course, Paul is urging Timothy to do all these within the Church. Earlier in his letter, Paul makes a prediction, writing: “People will be self-centered and lovers of money, proud, haughty, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious, callous, implacable, slanderous, licentious, brutal, hating what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, as they make a pretense of religion but deny its power.” How does Paul counsel Timothy to handle these people? “Reject them,” he writes. Reject them. . .not simply b/c they are sinful, but b/c they refuse to repent and turn to Christ. Teach them, preach to them, minister to them – all with patience, charity, and persistent faith. But those who persist in turning away Christ? Reject them b/c they have chosen to be rejected. Honor their choice.
I know, that seems downright un-Christian. But it's not. Our duty to love always includes a duty to teach with patience and minister in charity. That never changes. All we can do is live the best lives in Christ that we can possibly live; bear witness to the mercy that we ourselves have received; and sacrifice in service to all those who need us. All we can do is show the world the reality of God's providence – the truth, goodness, and beauty of life; the freedom of His children; and the wonders of living and moving and having our being in His Love. And if we doing all that we can do as followers of Christ, then the world can see for itself all that God has given freely given it. To receive these gifts or to reject them is a choice left entirely to the individual conscience. We cannot make that choice for others. We cannot compel faith or coerce love. What's freely given must be freely received. And the choices made must be honored.
But to belong to the Body of Christ as heir to the kingdom means wholly embracing the whole of the Gospel. Not just the fun parts, or the nice parts, or the parts that don't disturb my life too much. All of it. When Paul urges Timothy to be persistent, he's urging his disciple to endure temptation, trial, and every terror that can be brought against the faith. He's exhorting him to be steadfast and courageous in the face of whatever the world may bring to bear while trying to sully the Bride. The unjust judge bows to the persistent widow not b/c he truly believes her to be in the right, but b/c he fears that she will eventually wear him down. Our persistence in holding onto the faith and doing all that we can to bear witness to Christ in the world probably won't “wear down” every soul in the world. But it will bring more and more along the Way. And that's our ministry. More specifically, that's your ministry – the ministry of the laity, those who live more fully in the world, reaching into places and out to people that most of the clergy never visit or meet. It's your Christian duty to “wear down” the walls that our secularized culture have built around the Church and her saving message. It's your duty to take the blessings of this Eucharist “out there” and bring the light of Christ into the darkness. So, to you, Our Lady of the Rosary parishioners, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus [. . .]: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.” And to bear fruitful witness to the mercy you yourselves have received.
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