St Timothy and St Titus

Bishops (entered heaven at the end of the first century)

Dear Tim,

I was sorry to hear about your latest debacle – but perhaps not so sorry as you might think.  To be soundly trounced in public debate can do wonders for deflating vanity and deepening humility.  On that score, I trust you will share my pleasure, even if I don’t have to share your shame. I am, however, a bit puzzled as to why you lost the debate.  Protestantism is truly Christian, no doubt about that, but even they cannot defend the authenticity of what they mean by “Christian.”  For that, they have to appeal to us Catholics (and we are always more than happy to oblige). You see, my tongue-tied nephew, non-Catholic Christians have no buck-stopper, no final authority, no structured system to resolve the innumerable difficulties and contradictions and arguments that inevitably come up (even Christians, after all, are human beings).  Our Catholic Church, on the other, has received from its Founder (i.e., Jesus Christ), full authority to guard, interpret, and apply his Word and his Grace in every moment and situation of history. There is only one Church (which, as St Paul so beautifully puts it, is the “pillar and foundation of truth” [1 Timothy 3:15]); there is only “one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16).

By a happy coincidence, today’s saints permit a further reflection on this point, which behooves you in light of your defeat last night.  Timothy and Titus were both bishops of Christian communities in the time of the Apostles. They are repeatedly mentioned in the New Testament, which even contains some of St Paul’s letters to them.  Careful study of those letters and the career of St Paul (the Apostle to the Gentiles, as you will remember) show exactly how the Apostles themselves structured the Church. They would go around and preach the gospel, and as God moved the hearts of their hearers to faith, they would baptize and confirm new believers.  So that they themselves could continue carrying the message abroad, they would train and ordain ministers to take care of these new Christian communities, passing on through the laying on of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit the authority they themselves had received directly from Christ. These became the first bishops (successors to the Apostles), who in turn would ordain helpers (presbyters – equivalent to today’s priests) and other bishops, as the Church continued to expand.

St Paul alludes to this in his letters to Timothy and Titus. (“For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.” [2 Timothy 1:6] “Do not lay hands too readily on anyone, and do not share in another’s sins. Keep yourself pure.” [1 Timothy 5:22] “For this reason, I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you.” [Titus 1:5]  Of course, there was no Christian Bible at this time (they were still writing it!), so this was the only way to pass on Christ’s message. Christ appointed the Twelve, under the leadership of Peter; they appointed successors, under the leadership of Peter’s successor (the Pope), and that’s the way it has gone on until this very day.

So the next time someone challenges you about some text in the Bible, or about some Catholic practice, don’t be afraid to turn the tables.  Tell them that you are just following the pattern set by the Apostles, as instructed by Christ, and then ask them the name of the pastor whose pattern they are following… all in perfect charity, of course.

So long. Uncle Eddy

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