Twenty Seventh Sunday In Ordinary Time

Deacon Blaine Barclay

October 2, 2016

Our readings this week tie in nicely together. The prophet Habakkuk is deeply disturbed by the violence, wrongdoing, and destruction that was all around him.  He is awake to the pain of the world.  We also need to be awake to the pain of the world, but we must not despair or be proud in our attitude toward the world.  The prophet tells us that the righteous person who lives by faith is awake to the suffering of others. They have a vulnerable heart, they’re not afraid to experience the pain of the other.  Accordingly, the refrain of our psalm today echoes repeatedly, ‘harden not your hearts, and listen to the voice of the Lord’.

Saint Paul’s letters to Timothy have been called his ‘last will and testament’ because they were written near the end of his life and reflect his mature vision of the faith that he wishes to pass on.  Paul urges Timothy ‘to rekindle’, ‘to stir up’, ‘to fan into flame’, ‘the gift’, ‘the grace’ that has been given to him in the laying on of hands’. He is referring to the grace of Timothy’s ordination by the Apostle Paul. By way of extension however, we can learn a lot from this short selection from St. Paul about how to relate to the grace of our Baptism. We have been given a great gift but it is easy to let it lie dormant within is. We are called to ‘stir it up’, to ‘fan it into flames’, to ‘rekindle’ the gift of our Baptism. To live out our Baptismal vocation takes a certain amount of boldness and confidence in the gift that has been given, in the giver of the gift.  We cannot live this Baptismal life in the Spirit simply by our own efforts.  In our Baptism, God has given us all the courage, power, love, and self-discipline that we will need in order to live the Christian life in all its fullness.

But how are we to remain faithful to this life to which we are called?  Who, what, or, where are we to find a sure guide for this pilgrim journey that we’re on?  We know from St. John that Jesus is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’, but a lot of people have a lot of things to say about who Jesus is and about what it means to be a faithful Catholic Christian living in the world.  There are a lot of voices out there, especially in the age of the Internet.  How are we to know which voices to trust?  St. Paul gives us a clue in our second reading today.  By way of emphasis he gives us the same advice in three different ways.

First of all, he says, ‘Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord’. He is referring to the Scriptures of the Old and, the then germinating New Testament.  St. Paul is writing this letter around the year 67, the same year of his martyrdom.  The gospel of Mark may have already been written, and other apostolic letters and writings would have been circulating in the early Christian communities. So the Scriptures provide us with our first ‘canon’, our first measuring rod for fidelity to the faith that we have been given.  As St. Jerome says, ’Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ’.

Second of all, St. Paul says, ’Hold to the standard of sound teaching you have heard from me’.  Where our translation says, ‘hold to the standard of sound teaching’, other translations say ‘pattern’, ‘form’, ‘model’, ‘outline’, of ‘wholesome’, ‘healthy’, ‘accurate’, teaching. Again, where are we to find this pattern, model, form, outline, of sound teaching? St. Paul says, ‘that you have heard from me’.  Referring not only to the scriptures, his words point also to another source of sound teaching, the oral apostolic tradition, the preaching and way of praying, especially of the early church.  As Catholics we believe that Scripture and Tradition are together ‘one source’ of teaching that has come to us from the apostles.

Finally, St. Paul says, ’guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit’.  Other translations speak of ‘protecting’, or, ‘keeping’, ‘the deposit’, ‘the precious truth’ given to Timothy, and by extension, to us.  Catholic tradition speaks of the’ deposit of the faith’, that has been handed on to us, and which we are to faithfully hand on.  This’ deposit’ is not a static, dead thing, but an organic, living word, a Person whose memory we want to make present in our lives and in our world; it is the good news for every generation, animated in a living way by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We are very well situated today in this regard.  We can easily follow St. Paul’s advice.  We have ready access to excellent translations of the scriptures, we have faithful Catholic publishers for a variety of good Catholic books to read, and we have the Catechism of the Catholic Church and various Papal Encyclicals and Apostolic Letters as a sure guide in our current situation.  In short, I would say, be suspicious of the Internet, using the Internet as our primary source for information about the faith is risky. We have Scripture, we have tradition, we have the Catechism and the Teaching Magisterium.  These sources can be read on the Internet of course but with too much ‘screen culture’ we can put ourselves at risk.  The actual texts are more conducive to reading and disciplined study.  In all these matters let us be attentive to the living voice of the teaching magisterium, the Bishops in union with the Pope.  In this way we will follow the advice of St. Paul to Timothy. ‘Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me’.