St. Paul the Mystic

image of St. Paul  Last Lent I didn’t get to the letters of Paul to Timothy. So its high time I do  that now.

These letters are wonderful directives to Timothy about teaching. Teaching the spread of faith in Christ. This refrain has never left Paul, his life or his letters. There are life lessons for us in these letters as well. Lessons about who are the true and false teachers. The qualities of a good teacher: self-discipline, kindly towards all, being gentle and tolerant when challenged so others might have a change of heart and mind. The wisdom and the saving power of knowing and recalling the sacred writings. Lessons about living by the faith and the love which is ours in Christ Jesus.

These are very personal, endearing letters to Timothy; Paul’s unabashed affection when he  calls Timothy his dear son, shines through the letters.  He refers to the faith of Timothy’s mother and grandmother, a faith which Paul is confident is now alive in Timothy. Paul often praises the faith of women and credits them for passing this faith on, as he does here.

Paul knows that his days are numbered. (2 Timothy 4:6-8) He says I have run the great race, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. What struck me as this letter ends is Paul’s request for the cloak he left at Troas on one of his many journeys, and his books, particularly his notebooks. I suppose I find these especially endearing, requests from a man who knows his days and hours are numbered. He wants his favorite things with him. Perhaps I resonate with this because I’m a book-a-holic, and there are notebooks I keep that I would be sorely pressed to part with. This request from Paul to have these things which he holds most dear with him at the end shows us another side of this man who so passionately persevered in spreading the message of faith, which he has held more dear than anything in his life. And this is what he wants to see survive beyond him as  he instructs Timothy, always insisting on authenticity and integrity in their lives and teaching.

I suspect in those notebooks Paul has kept his experiences traveling and spreading the faith. Paul wants to pass on to Timothy what it has meant to him to live his life as herald, apostle and teacher. But Paul is one thing more: he was a mystic. He had more than one experience of the living Christ.  It is this living and lived experience of the Christ that informs his life and has fired the flames of the Spirit which he encourages his companions to continue. If we can but sift through some of the more Parasitic rhetoric in these letters we read a man who has turned his personal experience of the person of Christ to a life work and ministry that meant to bring others to that same lived experience. For Paul this is the greatest treasure whose immediacy and immanence he wants to  impart as a new way of being draws near for him. The sacred incarnate in our lives as it becomes, as it did for Paul, our center, source and love of our lives.

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