“The Fruitfulness of St. Paul’s Conversion in Ss. Timothy and Titus” (1/26/11)
Rev. Br. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
Yesterday we celebrated the Conversion of St Paul, and today we turn to some of the fruits of that conversion—more precisely, two fruits of that conversion, Timothy and Titus. Without St Paul, it’s hard to imagine that we’d be celebrating a Saint Timothy or a Saint Titus. Paul’s personal conversion, then, was not just a personal affair but others were counting on him. This is worth reflecting on.
In the Gospel, the seed of Christ’s word is said to produce in us 30, 60, or 100-fold. Part of this harvest might just be in our spreading of that seed to others. We do this certainly by preaching but there is also a more hidden dimension of our personal conversion influencing others.
Keeping with the image of the seed, Leon Bloy compares the Christian soul to a flower of the field, shooting forth its seed to be carried away by the wind. I guess he has in mind something like a dandelion. It disperses its seed through that fuzz that floats through the air. For Bloy the Christian’s acts of love are like this diffusion of the seed to others. His main point is that we don’t know where the seed will eventually land. It may influence lands far away and seeming unrelated to the flower. Here are Bloy’s words:
“A particular movement of grace that saves me from some danger can have come from the loving act (yesterday or 500 years ago) of an entirely unknown person, whose soul stood in a mysterious relationship to mine. What we call ‘free will’ is like those modest flowers of the field, whose seeds the wind carries far away in all directions, to land and germinate on God knows what mountain, in God knows what valley. The revelation of his miracles will be the spectacle of eternity.”
Bloy’s breadth of vision here, I think, but follows from his belief in the Mystical Body of Christ. For as St Thomas says, “Since all the faithful form one body, the good of each is communicated to the others.” The good of each is communicated to the others, even when the parts of the body seem to be farthest apart. That act of love 500 years ago might influence me today.
In the mysterious designs of God, the merit of one can flow to another. The charity of one can help enliven another. So we can say a small conversion, in a life of continual conversion, can influence others, even when the effects are hidden from human eyes. Personal conversion is not just a personal affair, but others are counting on it.
In St Paul’s case, of course, we see that the effects of his conversion were not just of the hidden sort. He sowed the seed also by preaching, by being a witness, and by forming others, some of whom were to be the pastors of the next generation, like Timothy and Titus. We see the line of causality of Paul’s influence from generation to generation when he writes to Timothy, “what you have heard from me, entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others.”
Note there are three generations of spiritual descendants here. Paul to Timothy, to faithful men, who will in turn teach others. Paul’s personal conversion was not just a personal affair, but others were counting on him. And so for us too. We know that our own efforts to grow in holiness are not just a personal affair, but others are counting on us, even if we meet some of them only in heaven.