“Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching” – 2 Timothy 4:2
Urgent? Why be urgent if nothing serious is at stake?
The Gospel yesterday was profound. Jesus’ audience probably could not have imagined a worse “end” than being brutally and publicly executed by a pagan occupying force and your blood being used to commit such horrible sacrilege. And yet Jesus, after indicating that the Galileans who had suffered such a fate couldn’t be considered worse sinners than their countrymen, goes on to say, “I tell you, if you do not repent, you will perish as they did!” What is the implication here? All sinners are deserving of such punishment. And we are all sinners. Jesus is thus making clear that our repentance cannot be delayed. He continues this message by offering the parable of the fig tree. We often highlight God’s patience and mercy by this parable – and that makes sense especially given that the Psalm response is “The Lord is kind and merciful.” But it is striking that though the fruitless fig tree is given another year (a year of special attention and care, a last-ditch, extreme and persistent effort to save it), it will be cut down at the end of that year if it does not bear fruit. It seems that there will be a moment when the time of mercy is over, and what is left is judgment.
So, why be urgent? Because something gravely serious is at stake: the eternal salvation of people’s immortal souls. But do we even believe this any longer? Do we believe this in a world that tells everyone that they should just accept themselves because they are perfect just as they are? In a world where everyone is told to live as they please, as long as they aren’t “hurting anyone,” whatever that means? In a Church where no one goes to Confession, and everyone goes to Communion, and everyone in the world is going to heaven? In this kind of world, how can any of us believe that there is an urgency to repent? To turn to God? To reform our lives? We are supposed to be missionary disciples, but how can missionary activity even be understood when faith in Christ and obedience to his commandments are no longer necessary for salvation, and spreading such ideas is considered colonialist and manipulative? We even become reticent and apologetic when someone wants to convert to Catholicism, instead of joining our joy to that of the angels in heaven.
It is God’s will that all men and women be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). Precisely how will they obtain such a knowledge? Paul seems to be telling Timothy how.
Where are so many being lost today? I would propose in the very areas we are told it is not necessary for us to be talking about all the time. Yet, look at how far we have fallen in recent years. So far that young children are being encouraged in transgenderism and most of the candidates running for one of the major parties are supporting infanticide over and above unrestricted abortion. So far that almost every sexual perversion is normalized, as pornography grows more prevalent, more degrading and violent towards women, and more interwoven with sex trafficking. And just today, on the feast of the Annunciation when we celebrate God becoming man in the womb of Mary, which is also the twenty-fourth anniversary of St. John Paul II’s encyclical The Gospel of Life – with a stroke of diabolical irony – my home state legalized medically assisted suicide.
And if you speak up against all of this and stand up for God’s plan for sex or preach the Gospel of Life, you may just become a martyr, even if a “white” one. And your persecutors may very well come from within the Body of Christ. It is definitely “out of season.”
But be not afraid! Here is what John Paul II wrote in The Gospel of Life (in which he cites Paul’s words to Timothy):
“Faced with so many opposing points of view, and a widespread rejection of sound doctrine concerning human life, we can feel that Paul’s entreaty to Timothy is also addressed to us: ‘Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching’ (2 Tim 4:2). This exhortation should resound with special force in the hearts of those members of the Church who directly share, in different ways, in her mission as ‘teacher’ of the truth. May it resound above all for us who are Bishops: we are the first ones called to be untiring preachers of the Gospel of life. We are also entrusted with the task of ensuring that the doctrine which is once again being set forth in this Encyclical is faithfully handed on in its integrity. We must use appropriate means to defend the faithful from all teaching which is contrary to it. We need to make sure that in theological faculties, seminaries and Catholic institutions sound doctrine is taught, explained and more fully investigated (cf. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, August 1993, no. 116). May Paul’s exhortation strike a chord in all theologians, pastors, teachers and in all those responsible for catechesis and the formation of consciences. Aware of their specific role, may they never be so grievously irresponsible as to betray the truth and their own mission by proposing personal ideas contrary to the Gospel of life as faithfully presented and interpreted by the Magisterium. In the proclamation of this Gospel, we must not fear hostility or unpopularity, and we must refuse any compromise or ambiguity which might conform us to the world’s way of thinking (cf. Rom 12:2). We must be in the world but not of the world (cf. Jn 15:19; 17:16), drawing our strength from Christ, who by his Death and Resurrection has overcome the world (cf. Jn 16:33)” (The Gospel of Life, no. 82).
Although John Paul II was writing about life issues, he could well have been writing about sound doctrine regarding sex and marriage.
My thoughts go to one of the understated likenesses between John the Baptist and the prophet Elijah. We usually see John as the new Elijah because he was a “prophet of fire” who looked like Elijah, dressed like Elijah, ate like Elijah, lived like Elijah. Yet, why did John lose his head? Not by witnessing to Christ directly. By witnessing to the Truth (and thus to Christ who is The Truth). Specifically, the Truth about sex and marriage. He was beheaded because he opened his mouth about an unlawful marriage and adultery, and this unleashed the wrath of Herodias. Elijah likewise preached against the unlawful marriage of Ahab and Jezebel, and he spent his days on the run from Jezebel, fearing for his life. So much so that he grew weary, wishing God would just take him.
It is easy to grow weary, especially when those within the Church and some of her leadership no longer will speak up or support you if you do, or perhaps embrace heterodoxy, teach ambiguously, and compromise with the world themselves. It is easy to grow weary in a Godless culture, a “wicked and adulterous generation” (Matt. 16:14, Acts 2:4), in which few are left who hold fast to the Truth or even seem to have a modicum of common sense.
But again, be not afraid! Be urgent in season and out of season. Souls are at stake. And Christ wants us to win those souls for him as missionary disciples who courageously proclaim the Gospel of Life and Love, and Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life!