Today, I am sharing a reflection given at one of our recent deacon formation weekends by Dave Duhamel, deacon candidate from St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Oak Ridge, TN.
Remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of David, was raised from the dead. You can depend on this: If we have died with him we shall also live with him; If we hold out to the end we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful he will still remain faithful, for he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:8, 11-13
There are three lessons from todays reading we are going to cover: first, never give up/never surrender; second, hope is eternal; and lastly, that we are not in it alone.
Our reading today from Paul to his disciple Timothy comes from one of his three pastoral letters. The reading itself is fairly straightforward, but there is a lot to unpack. We see Paul remind Timothy of the kerygma, followed by specific guidelines; three positive statements and a negative one. For my reflection, I want to explore not only these items, but also how we the readers can relate to them in the practice of our lives.
So let’s start where Paul did, remembering the apostolic proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ. Just prior to this verse, Paul had reminded Timothy of the task ahead of him in leading the Church in Ephesus. Paul is calling to mind the importance of his mission, done so by pointing to the fact that Christ, a human person with an ancestral history, is divine and, in his divinity, he overcame death — therefore, calling out to Timothy and his followers the victory that Christ has won for us. Summed up: Don’t forget the focus of your mission!
Just prior to Paul pointing this out, he reminds Timothy that completing the mission is not easy. Paul uses the three familiar reference points: the hard service of a soldier, the exploits of an athlete, and the toils of a farmer. Clearly Paul is reminding his disciple of what is expected in God’s service necessary to accomplish his mission. He’ll endure hardship as a soldier would. He’ll not be successful unless he completes the race as an athlete. And there is much work to be done to complete a harvest as a farmer.
Never surrender. Never give up. No matter, what complete the mission.
Now, taking that idea, let’s look at the first two stanzas of Paul’s guidance. If we have died with him, we shall live with him. If we endure, we will reign with him. Again, the message is repeated: Never surrender. Never give up. There is reward for your labors.
But in case you didn’t get that message, Paul succinctly points out in the third stanza what happens when we do give up, when we choose to turn away from God. We deny him and, with that, we earn his punishment, his rejection. Luckily, God loves us and always offers us hope because he doesn’t end it there. No, he reminds Timothy that even if we fail and are unfaithful, no matter what, Christ will never be unfaithful to us. Hope endures!
When I look upon my life, I think of the hardships, the trials, the feeling of despair when I’ve fallen into my own sinfulness, the times I didn’t give my all or quit on myself or others. What did I do then? My hope came to me by way of the love of friendships. Throughout my life I have had the fortunate benefit of good friends — bound by military service, my marriage, or from my childhood. These friends have grown to be a tremendous source of comfort, wisdom, strength, and love.
Now, in these last four years, I have had the pleasure of developing even more friendships through our formation. Similar to Saints Paul and Timothy’s relationship, our friendship is focused on service to Christ, helping each other spiritually through prayer, affirmation, humor, and sometimes with hard truth! We are bound by the mission that lies ahead in service to Christ. For me, this calls to mind where religious brothers lived out this reading — in the French movie “Of God and Men,” a movie based on the martyrdom of seven Trappist monks killed by Islamic extremists in Algeria. These monks living in community loved each other, and they loved the villagers they served. When direct threats of immanent death were made, even though they had an opportunity to leave for safety, they refused. They ignored the warnings and continued to serve the poor villagers who depended on them. These people were their friends. Though given numerous chances to leave, they refused to surrender, they refused to quit. They knew to do so would be to deny the life of Christ they lived — and after much prayer, they remained. In a parting scene with the people that they cared for, they expressed, “Love is eternal hope. Love endures everything.” This example, and that of other saints, inspires us as we put into practice the words of Sacred Scripture.
This is the message that Paul gives to Timothy and his Church in Ephesus, like the monks to each other, like to each of us: Never surrender. Never quit. Through the suffering, failings, the setbacks and struggles, our mission remains. And it will not be easy. But, as long as we stay true to Christ and his salvific message, there is always hope! And with that hope is the love of God.
Please pray for Dave and all the deacon candidates, and for Deacon Ken Conklin.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.