Friday, January 26, 2018

Companions and Co-Workers

Friendship, Aristotle famously said, is one of those things without which life would be unbearable. That is no less true in religious life than anywhere else. So it is fitting that today the Church commemorates two of Saint Paul's close friends - his companions and co-workers Saints Timothy and Titus.

Timothy was of mixed Gentile and Jewish parentage, which explains why he was not circumcised at birth and why Paul later did so in order to make him acceptable to Jews who would have known of his mother’s Jewishness. Both Timothy’s mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois were respected members of the Christian community in Lystra by the time Timothy became Paul’s assistant. (Photo: Rembrandt, 1648, Timothy and his Grandmother Lois)

The first reading at today’s Mass (2 Timothy 1:1-8) reflects Paul’s feelings for Timothy and his family: I remember you constantly in my prayers, night and day. I yearn to see you again, recalling your tears, so that I may be filled with joy, as I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and that I am confident lives also in you. Timothy is mentioned several times, both in Acts and in Paul’s Epistles. Famously, Timothy had some sort of stomach problem, for which Paul advised him to switch from drinking water to drinking wine (1 Timothy 5:23). According to tradition, Paul put Timothy in charge of the Church in Ephesus.

Unlike Timothy, Titus was unambiguously a Gentile, a Greek probably from Antioch, which was why he remained uncircumcised as a Christian. Having been converted by Paul, he served as Paul's assistant and accompanied Paul to the famous Council of Jerusalem. According to tradition, he became Bishop in Crete.

In this hyper-individualistic culture, in which stardom and celebrity seem capable of corrupting and impoverishing almost everything, the genuinely human friendships which Paul enjoyed with his colleagues in ministry may be a useful model for all of us to recall, both for our personal benefit and as a corrective to the individualistic imperatives that seem to surround us.

The pre-conciliar Roman Calendar assigned Saint Timothy to January 24 and Titus to February 6. The Pauline revision combined their feasts into one and assigned them to the day following the Conversion of Saint Paul, January 25. That date too is somewhat arbitrary, of course,. Most likely January 25, then the Octave of Saint Peter's Chair at Rome, was originally celebrated as a feast of the Translation of Saint Paul's Relics. Eventually, it evolved into a commemoration of his conversion.

Interestingly, Pius XII's Pontifical Commission for the Reform of the Sacred Liturgy, which paved the way for the pre- and post-conciliar liturgical reforms, discussed abolishing the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul in 1954. Although the post-conciliar revision did some really radical  surgery on the calendar, boldly abolishing things no one had ever expected it to abolish (e.g., Septuagesima, Ember Days, the Octave of Pentecost), somehow the Conversion of Saint Paul survived! Hence today's commemoration of his friends.

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