The following homily was preached this morning on the feast of Saints Timothy and Titus by Father Romanus Cessario, O.P. I found it to provide a wonderful opportunity to focus the minds of priests and seminarians alike on the importance of who we are and what we are called to do.
“Stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands (2 Tim 1:6).” These words should strike the hearts of those gathered in this or any seminary chapel. Priests and deacons receive these words as an instruction from Saint Paul himself. Those preparing to receive Holy Orders should take to heart the injunction that the Apostle gives to his “dear child,” Timothy. All must stir into flame the special graces that they have received.
The priesthood is not an occupation for cowards. Too much rests at stake for the priest to draw back from the fray. Nothing challenges the priest of today more than his achieving a prudential and pastoral engagement with error. Prudence is not a throw-away term; the priest is neither a coward nor a Soldier of Fortune, one who acts impetuously. The priest confronts error of all kinds: moral errors about what constitutes the good of the human person; sacramental errors about how God sanctifies his people; ecclesiological errors about the nature of the Church. The only way that the priest can prepare to respond intelligently to these errors is by study. Bonhomie and facile answers may, for a while, placate the people. Only the truth sanctifies them. Stir into flame, the flame of truth!
The priesthood is not an occupation for bureaucrats. Administrative responsibilities fall to every priest. They fall on the shoulders of some more than others. Priests learn to deal with them. Bureaucrats, on the other hand, make administration their end. They create administrative protocols, plans, offices, and the like. The bureaucrat cares about smooth operation. He shirks hardship. He eschews sacrifice. The pure apparatchik stands up for nothing. The Church is a communion not a bureaucracy. The Catholic priest serves a communion of people. He cannot be ashamed of testifying to the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Stir into flame, the flame of love!
The priesthood is not an occupation for the undisciplined of mind or body. Measure marks the life of the priest. He cannot choose to devote himself to the things that please him and to ignore the things he finds unpleasant. The priest prays, studies, works, and recreates. Each activity generates its own reasonable measure. The mistake that undisciplined priests make is to think that, when they slack off, they will find fulfillment and even happiness. Truth to tell, only activity perfects the human creature. If Aristotle found contemplation to be the highest perfection of the rational creature, what should be said of those who have been given “the gift of God”? Stir into flame, the flame of virtue!
Today’s saints encourage both priest and seminarian to sustain a seriousness of purpose. Each is required, by reason of the gift that he has received, to exercise a spirit of “power and love and self-control (2 Tim 1:7).” The seminarian who says, “I can get by” or “I’ll do it my way,” fools himself. He rather invites error into his mind, diffidence into his heart, and vice into his life. These are not the “apostolic virtues” that the Collect of the Mass ascribes to Saints Timothy and Titus.