Friendship, Aristotle famously said, is something without which life would be unbearable. Today, however, many Americans say they have no close friends at all. That’s a problem if in fact having friends enriches one’s life and is probably good for one’s health. Aristotle said that no one would choose to live without friends, even if he had all sorts of life’s other goods. I think that is no less true in religious life than anywhere else. So, it is fitting that today the Church commemorates two of Saint Paul’s close friends – his companions and co-workers Saints Timothy and Titus.
The first reading at today’s Mass (2 Timothy 1:1-8) reflects Paul’s feelings for Timothy and his family: I remember you constantly in my prayers, night and day. I yearn to see you again, recalling your tears, so that I may be filled with joy, as I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and that I am confident lives also in you. One cannot read those words of Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy without appreciating the intense bond of friendship between the two.
As friends, Paul and Timothy (and Titus, another friend of Paul whom we also commemorate today) shared a common mission – the mission which Paul had received directly from the Risen Lord and which Timothy had received from Paul, the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
Timothy was of mixed Gentile and Jewish parentage. Both his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois were respected members of the Christian community in Lystra by the time Timothy became Paul’s assistant. Unlike Timothy, Titus was a Gentile and a convert, a Greek probably from Antioch. Having been converted by Paul, he served as Paul’s assistant and accompanied Paul to the famous Council of Jerusalem.
Jesus, as we just heard in the Gospel, famously sent his disciples out on mission in pairs, not just because a group effort would be more efficient but because of the greater witness value of non-competitive, collaborative life and work in partnership. In the Middle Ages, Saint Dominic, discerned the special witness value of such an apostolic manner of life for his time and place. And, in the 20th century, the Second Vatican Council likewise highlighted how such an evangelical life witnesses to God’s kingdom at work in the world through the Church.
In today’s climate of predatory individualism, a dead-end into which our consumerist culture seems increasingly capable of absorbing even religion itself as well as so much of the Church’s life, the renewed witness of shared life and mission cannot be underestimated.
Homily for the Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, Disciples and Companions of Saint Paul, Church of Saint Paul the Apostle, New York, January 26, 2024.
Photo: The Beheading of Saint Paul, painting by Robert Reid, Altar of Saint Paul, Saint Paul the Apostle Church, NY.