Sunday, June 29, 2008

2nd Reading, Sunday June 29, Solemnity: St Peter and St Paul, Apostles

From: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18

The Crown of Righteousness

[6] For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. [7] I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. [8] Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

[17] For the Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the word fully, that all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. [18] The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.


6-8. Conscious of his closeness to death, St Paul writes in poetic strain about his life in the service of the Gospel, about the meaning of death and his hope of heaven. The imagery he uses shows how he interprets his experience in the light of faith. "On the point of being sacrificed": literally "poured out in sacrifice": death is an offering to God, like the libations of oil poured on the altar of sacrifices. Death is the beginning of a journey: "the point of my departure has come", the anchor is being weighed, the sails unfurled.

The Christian life is like magnificent Games taking place in the presence of God, who acts as the judge. In Greece the Games had close connections with religious worship; St Paul presents the Christian life as a type of spiritual sport: "races" indicates the continuous effort to achieve perfection (cf. Phil 3:14); training for athletics indicates the practice of self-denial (cf. 1 Cor 9:26-27); fighting stands for the effort required to resist sin even if that means death, as can happen in the event of persecution (cf. Heb 12:4). It is well worthwhile taking part in this competition, because, as St John Chrysostom points out, "the crown which it bestows never withers. It is not made of laurel leaves, it is not a man who places it on our head, it has not been won in the presence of a crowd made up of men, but in a stadium full of angels. In earthly competitions a man fights and strives for days and the only reward he receives is a crown which withers in a matter of hours [. . .]. That does not happen here: the crown he is given is a glory and honor whose brilliance lasts forever ("Hom. on 2 Tim, ad loc".).

All Christians who "have loved his appearing", that is, who stay true to Christ, share St Paul's expectation of eternal life. "We who know about the eternal joys of the heavenly fatherland should hasten to reach it by the more direct route" (St Gregory the Great, "In Evangelia Homiliae", 16).

9-18. In his letters St Paul often asks people to do things for him; his messages here are particularly moving, given as they are on the eve of his martyrdom. He is following the example of Christ: he puts his trust in God even though his friends desert him (vv. 10-12, 16); his enemies harass him more than ever, yet he for- gives them (vv. 14, 16); in the midst of his sufferings he praises the Lord (v. 18). His mention of Thessalonica, Galatia, Dalmatia, Ephesus, Troas, Corinth and Miletus show how warmly he remembers places which were very receptive to the Christian message. These few verses constitute a mini-biography.

His generosity of spirit is shown by the fact that he mentions so many disciples by name; to all he gave of his best; some of them fell by the wayside but most of them stayed faithful; some are mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles or in other letters, but for others this is the only mention in the New Testament. However, all without exception must have been very present to the Apostle who became "all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor 9:22).

16-17. St Paul points to the contrast between the way men treat him and the way God does. Because of the hazards involved in staying with Paul or defending him, some of his friends, even some of his closest friends, have deserted him; whereas God stays by his side.

"You seek the company of friends who, with their conversation and affection, with their friendship, make the exile of this world more bearable for you. There is nothing wrong with that, although friends sometimes let you down. But how is it you don't frequent daily with greater intensity the company, the conversation, of the great Friend, who never lets you down?" ([St] J. Escriva, "The Way", 88).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

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