30th Sunday in OT / C / 2019
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
I don’t often preach on St. Paul, but this Sunday I want to preach on our second reading, from St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy. This is one of St. Paul’s final letters, written in Rome while Paul was in prison—to Timothy, whom Paul calls his "dear child."
If I were to describe the relationship of Paul and Timothy, I might use the analogy of a grandfather to a grandson: a relationship of friendship and intimacy at the same time. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians that he has "no one comparable to Timothy . . . as a child with a father he served along with me in the cause of the Gospel" (Phil 2:20, 22).
Now, Paul is an old man, in prison, writing to his younger child in the faith, encouraging him to "keep the faith," to pass on the apostolic tradition, and to serve the church in Ephesus with "grace, mercy, and peace."
I might mention here the importance of elders and mentors—and I mean people of a certain age who have experienced life—passing on words of wisdom to young people. A look around at our culture and society indicates the importance of 1) a solid foundation in moral character, 2) a knowledge of history and tradition, 3) an appreciation of the virtues of prudence and wisdom that can lead one to Truth. Any help we can give our young people is always beneficial.
But back to Paul, writing to Timothy. The letter has the feel of a "last will and testament"—Paul is an old man, and he knows the end is coming. We are not certain of the year, perhaps around 65, but St. Paul was martyred in Rome and buried there. We keep that in mind as we read his words.
He says, first, that "I am already being poured out like a libation." What is a libation? At the end of a Roman meal, the guests would take a glass of wine and pour it out as an offering to the gods—a sacrificial sign of thanksgiving and one’s willingness to serve the
god’s faithfully. For St. Paul, the libation is his life pouring out in sacrifice, service, and thanksgiving for the blessings he has received. St. Paul could say, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." The goal of all Christians.
Paul says the "time of my departure is at hand." English doesn’t catch all the nuances here. The word for "departure" here means "unmooring the ropes." Paul was familiar with ships; and when a ship departs, it unties, unmoors, the ropes, and boat floats away. His time has come to "untie the ropes" and move to a new port, a haven, his heavenly home—his true home.
Paul must have been a sports fan—there are frequent mentions of sporting events in Paul’s letters. Here he says, "I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith."
Paul, a Jew, was born and raised in the Greek and Roman worlds. Both cultures put a high value on a healthy mind and body—and athletic events (e.g., the Olympics). In this passage Paul compares the efforts of an athlete to living and preaching the faith. He has, indeed, competed well—he gave himself to the Gospel as an athlete prepares for the Olympics! And now, with a sense of satisfaction, he has finished the race, and the "crown of righteousness" awaits him.
For St. Paul, Timothy is still in the race, with "eyes on the prize." We are in that race, too. Will we finish this marathon? Will we receive the "crown of righteousness"? With Timothy, that is our challenge: as Christians and Catholics, to keep the faith, to pass on the faith, to finish the race.