I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.I have been thinking of my death.
2 Timothy 4:1-8
No, I have no immediate plans, and hope to delay the inevitable for at least a bit more, but the idea of it looms larger with each passing year. With that comes some understandable "rearranging"…well, understandable to me, I suppose; but not nearly enough.
The world has advice for those aging: lose weight, change the diet, increase activity, color the grays, moisturize the wrinkles, and for heaven's sake, get into a Zumba class. If a part fails you, replace it with titanium, and for the love of Pete, take your pills. In the same breath we are reminded to plan our funerals lest our loved ones be burdened with the task of interning us six feet under. We are encouraged to make all the arrangements, and for all practical purposes, stand next to the hole for the final years so when we do keel over we fall right in. Perhaps we should change the Corporal Works of Mercy by removing "bury the dead" and adding "bury yourself so the living don't have to be bothered".
Enough cynicism. Sorry.
As I consider 2nd Timothy Chapter 4 I am convinced that many among us are gripped with insatiable curiosity, even among the faithful. The occult, the continued splintering of Protestantism into "The Church of What's Happenin' Now", itinerant preachers and self-help gurus with the latest answers, and seemingly intelligent people waiting for the "Mother Ship" --all these and more go without saying. But what of those among the Catholic faithful who claim to have new revelation, new words delivered directly from Christ, or the Blessed Mother, or the saints? What of images in tree bark and on grilled cheese sandwiches? What of those who predict "World Domination" and micro-chip injections and World Bank conspiracies? Many assertions and fascinations among the faithful are better suited to the cover of the National Enquirer rather than among believers. We have grown fat on the curiosities of the world.
St. Paul tells Timothy (and us), in the face of such inconsistencies, "be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry." He did not speak thus as an observer but an active participant in the struggle to remain faithful and to fulfill his ministry. He was well aware that his time was short, and spoke of the race he had run with a nostalgic flair, comparing it to a race with a finish line in view. My meditation this morning is on his certainty, his absolute trust in the promise of Christ. He anticipated the "crown of righteousness" with conviction. Despite all the silliness of the world, the lack of consistency in belief among the faithful, the twisting of his own teaching and that of Jesus, he was firm in his belief that he had done what he could and his reward awaited him.
Many years ago in my twenties I attended a retreat in which I was considerably younger that most attendees. The focus, as the retreat developed, was primarily on the changes in the faith lives of those aging and getting closer to completing the race. At the time, I felt the entire event was a bit tiresome. After all, I was young -- I had my whole life ahead of me! I recall the elderly priest saying, "I am at a point when I am asking what to do in my faith life when all the things I hung my hat on no longer fill me with contentment and peace." I felt sorry for the old fellow, and for the men listening who slowly nodded in agreement. Yet even now I consider the words he spoke: "As I near the finish line I still can't see it clearly, and it worries me." Indeed.
He was a good and faithful priest. He served well and discharged his duties with vigor. He loved the Church and gave his life to building the Body of Christ; yet on that retreat he revealed his weakness: trust…or lack thereof.
I find myself in a similar position as I grow in age and wisdom (well, definitely the former; the latter is arguable) before man and God. I want desperately to share the trust in Christ's promise so certain in the heart and mind of St. Paul. I want so desperately to run a good race, be self-possessed, put up with hardship, perform the work of an evangelist and fulfill my ministry (apostolate, more appropriately in my case); but in the words of Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof", "Would it spoil some vast eternal plan"…just to get a glimpse, ever so brief, of the finish line?
St. Paul, pray for me. Intercede that grace may lead me to trust, to faithfulness and conviction that the promise you have seen come to fruition may fill my heart with longing for the crown of righteousness. I, too, have grown fat on the enticements and temptations of the world and long for a simple faith. St. Paul, pray that I run a good race, despite my weakness.
Weakness indeed…maybe Zumba's not such a bad idea.