Luke 17:5-10
Encouraging the Young by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith."  The Lord replied, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

"Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here immediately and take your place at table'?  Would he rather not say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat.  Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink.  You may eat and drink when I am finished'?  Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded?  So should it be with you.  When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'"

St. Paul's two letters to Timothy are filled with solid pastoral advice to his young cohort whom Paul had traveled with extensively, trained in the Faith, sent on sensitive missions and commissioned to oversee the Church in Ephesus as its bishop.  His second letter, from which we have our second reading, has a particularly personal tone and reflects rather warmly Paul's role as a mentor and spiritual father to Timothy.

One of the themes that Paul addresses consistently in these two letters is the need to remain firm in faith and teach clearly and with conviction the basics of the Faith and principles of the Christian way of life to the flock.  "Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us."  Paul knows that Timothy is facing opposition from non-Christians and even from some Christians who are confused or who have wandered from the path to Christ.

Paul also knows that this aspect of being a pastor can be a real challenge, and so he exhorts Timothy to be strong. "For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control."  As Paul calls upon Timothy to be courageous, he links this call with the grace to be full of love and self-control.  He is to be courageous and clear in his teaching, but also to be full of charity and self-control.  He is not to lord it over the flock, nor to beat them over the head with the truth, but to preach the good news with patience, wisdom, perseverance and charity.

Paul goes on: "Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God."  Christians experience the hardship by learning to live the Gospel before preaching it and by proclaiming it within a culture that does not want to hear it.  But part of the hardship is also to fight our natural tendency to speak harshly or rudely out of frustration, anger and impatience with those whose faith is weak and who have been duped by the false arguments of many in our world today.  Paul is exhorting Timothy and us to speak with charity, never compromising on the truth, but always mindful of the tone we use, the timing and frequency of our challenges, and the support that we offer to those to whom our words are addressed.  Do we spend enough time praying with, encouraging and building up those to whom we are teaching the Faith?

In the light of Paul's words to Timothy, it is timely to recall that the Church in the United States has named the first Sunday in October "Respect Life Sunday."  We all know that the beautiful, Christian understanding of the dignity of the human person - based upon the word of God revealed in nature as well as Scripture and tradition - runs contrary to moral principles of many in our modern culture.  The Church's effort to proclaim that dignity and help our nation guarantee that dignity at every stage of life is challenged on so many levels from various sectors of society.  We do well to head Paul's words to Timothy as they relate to this huge modern-day battle.

I have been very encouraged in recent years by the faith and conviction of many of the young people in the Church today on this issue of respect for life.  I find them embracing in even  greater numbers over the past 20 years the Church's teaching regarding the dignity of human life from conception to natural death with fervor and devotion.  I find them being bold in their willingness to stand up against our culture and to "guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us."  The number of young people who participate in pro-life organizations and demonstrations, who volunteer at nursing homes, and who advocate for those on death row is growing.  I think that a driving force in the effort to proclaim the good news about life is the young Church.

So, Paul's words to Timothy are ever more relevant today.  The young people of the Church need to be encouraged to speak clearly and with conviction the truths of our faith, especially pertaining to the fact that every human being was made in the image and likeness of God and therefore has an inherent dignity given by our Creator.  We never have the right to take the life of an innocent human being.  We need to encourage them to be courageous in the face of persecution.  We also need to travel with them, like St. Paul, as we challenge them, care for them with the love of Christ, invite them to develop virtue and grow in their self-control in the face of opposition, and to remember that we teach loudest with the example of our lives.

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