Thursday in the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.

When Saint Paul writes about “the imposition of my hands” to his disciple Saint Timothy he is remembering a moment of great pride, joy and satisfaction. On that occasion his protégé stepped forward with the endorsement of the entire Christian community and received the anointing of the Holy Spirit from the Apostle’s hands.

The Church points to this ceremony as the key to “Apostolic Succession.” Despite innumerable troubles and challenges, the “chain” of succession from one bishop to another remains intact since the original apostles imposed hands upon their successors.

The most salient feature of this ceremony might be the bestowing of authority upon the candidate, but I prefer to notice the great affection that Saint Paul held for all his people, and Saint Timothy in particular.

Jesus did not send us to recruit an army to conquer the world. Rather his commission began with, “I call you friends.” Jesus' Church is founded on his love for us and built up by our affection for one another. 

This is not a numbers game, an attempt to score as many souls as possible. Rather, Christ-like missionaries discover, regard and honor the Christ-likeness of every human being. They see in every person, regardless of race, culture or class, the possibility of friendship. 
Missionaries have sometimes been accompanied by soldiers, merchants and settlers. None make good companions
  • in Latin America, the friars arrived with soldiers who set up the sugar plantations and the slave trade. The missionaries tried to alleviate the cruelty of slavery but were nonetheless regarded as an occupying force with an alien religion. 
  • in North America settlers and merchants of arms and alcohol accompanied the missionaries. Their schools are remembered for punishing the children who spoke their native language; 
  • In the Hawaiian Islands ministers from New England brought the new religion but their descendents assumed political, social and economic leadership of the islands. According to James Michener, it was said of the New Englanders and their children, "They came to do good -- and they did very well."
The missionaries certainly had good intentions but their efforts were sometimes compromised by other interests. Even today we are watching an unhappy, pointless contest in North Africa where southern Christians and northern Muslims struggle for the hearts and minds of the unfortunate population caught between. Eliza Griswald has described this conflict in her book, The Tenth Parallel, Dispatches from the Fault Line between Christianity and Islam.

The one success story I know of was Ireland. Rome sent Saint Patrick and others missionaries beyond the Roman Empire with neither soldiers nor merchants. The missionaries had to learn the language, eat the food, drink the water and expect to die childless in a foreign country. A few centuries later the Irish would send unarmed monks throughout northern Europe to bring civility and learning to the barbarian hordes. 

So much for the history lesson....

The point is Jesus teaches his disciples to regard strangers as friends, not as potential clients, customers or slaves. They do not have to change anything to be our friends but in some cases, they will be fascinated by our decency and seek to join our congregations. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.