Dear Friends in Christ,
On Wednesday of this week the Church will keep the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, and on Thursday we will celebrate the Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, Bishops. These twin liturgical observances bring into bright relief two essential truths of the Gospel: friendship with the Lord Jesus is essential to knowing one’s own personal dignity and destiny, and knowing that Jesus Christ is Lord is not a gift that we can ever keep to ourselves.
Saul of Tarsus was, by his own account, “Circumcised on the eighth day, of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrew parentage, in observance of the law a Pharisee” (Phil 3.5). As a boy and young man, Saul was educated in Jerusalem by Rabbi Gamaliel, a member of the Sanhedrin and the most famous teacher of his day, and after the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, Saul became a leader among those who persecuted the first Christians. He was present at the death of the first martyr, Saint Stephen, and he organized the arrest, torture, and imprisonment of Christian men, women, and children. On his way to Damascus to find and arrest Christians in that city, Saul was interrupted by an event he described or mentioned several times in his later writings. “On that journey as I drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’” (Acts 22.6-8) From that encounter with the Savior until his death outside of Rome about 30 years later, Saul – now Paul the Apostle – was the teacher of the nations and one of the most powerful preachers of the Gospel ever privileged to be a witness to Jesus Christ. Each year on 25 January the Church recalls the conversion of Saint Paul and rejoices in the gift of faith given to all who are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.
The following day, 26 January, the Church celebrates the ministry of two of Saint Paul’s disciples, collaborators, and successors: Timothy, Bishop of Ephesus, and Titus, Bishop of Crete. These men travelled with Paul on his missionary journeys and received from him the grace of apostolic succession by the laying on of hands and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul appointed both men to the office of bishop – or overseer of the Church – and in this transition from an apostle to his successors, we see the form of the Church’s life taking shape in what we now call the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Paul sent three letters to these men (two to Timothy and one to Titus) about how to fulfill their responsibilities as pastors of the Church, and these “Pastoral Epistles” are included in the New Testament.
A fitting way to celebrate these feasts in the liturgy would be to read the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus. Let us praise God for the grace of conversion and saving faith and resolve to live the grace of our Baptism ever more deeply by sharing our faith with others.