October Word of Life

“For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self- discipline” (2 Tim 1:7).

The letter from which this Word of Life is taken is considered by many to be St. Paul’s spiritual testament.  The apostle is imprisoned in Rome and awaiting sentence, when he writes to Timothy, who is a young disciple and his co-worker in charge of the complex community of Ephesus.  The writing contains recommendations and advice addressed to Timothy in particular, but is applicable to every member of the Christian community both yesterday and today.  Paul is in chains in prison because he has preached the Gospel. He wants to encourage the disciple to face trials and to be a safe guide for the community, even though Timothy is rather afraid of persecution and hesitant because of the difficulties involved in his ministry. It is not in the nature of Paul and Timothy to suffer because of the Gospel but such witness is possible because it is based on the power of God.

For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

Paul wants to bear witness to the Gospel. It seems clear that it is not talent, ability or personal limitations that ensure or hinder the ministry of the Word, but it is the gifts of the Spirit – strength, charity and prudence – that guarantee the power of witness. If charity lies between strength and prudence, it facilitates discernment and, together with prudence, is manifested in our being wise and ready, when faced with any situation. Timothy, like disciples from all ages, can proclaim the Gospel with strength, charity and prudence, even to the point of suffering for its sake.

“For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

We too may have felt the temptation to become discouraged in living and bearing witness to the Word of God and we may have been unsure how to deal with certain situations. Chiara Lubich helps us to understand where to draw strength during such times: ‘We must appeal to the presence of Jesus within us. The best attitude is not being passively resigned to the situation and feeling blocked by it,  but going outside ourselves and taking up  what is required by God’s will. It means facing the duties to which our vocation calls us and relying on the grace of Jesus within. So, it is important to look and act outside of ourselves. Jesus himself will develop in us the virtues that we need in order to bear witness to him in carrying out the task that has been entrusted to us’.

“For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

Strength, charity and prudence are three virtues of the Spirit that are obtained through prayer and the exercise of faith. Father Justin Nari, from the Central African Republic, his confreres and about one thousand Muslims were taking refuge in a church as they tried to escape from the reprisals of war. They received death threats and, on several occasions, the militia leaders who were besieging them asked Father Justin to surrender.  However, he always tried to dialogue with them in the hope of avoiding a massacre. One day they showed up with forty litres of petrol and threatened to burn everyone alive if he did not hand the Muslims over to them. ‘With my confreres, I celebrated Mass for the last time,’ says Father Justin, ‘and there I remembered Chiara Lubich. I asked myself what she would have done in my place She would have stayed and given her life. And that’s what we decided to do.’ After Mass there was an unexpected telephone call: the African Union army was passing through the region and was in a nearby town. Father Justin ran to meet them and together they returned to the parish. There was just thirteen minutes to go before the ultimatum expired, thirteen minutes that saved the lives of all those people and avoided bloodshed. [i]

Letizia Magri

[i] Unità è il nome della pace: La strategia di Chiara Lubich, edited by Maddalena Maltese, Città Nuova, Rome 2020.

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