In our Rule of Life we express the desire that “wherever possible we shall go out on mission in twos and threes rather than singly so that we can express our companionship in ministry” (ch. 32). Our experience has been that when brothers share in ministry they can be a support and encouragement to one another, and can complement one another by their different gifts and styles of teaching.
I suspect that St. Paul would understand this thinking and endorse it. Today we mark the feast of three of his companions, young men who accompanied him on his journeys, whom he trained and encouraged and who then went on to ministries of their own.
Timothy was Paul’s companion for his mission to Asia Minor. His mother was a Jewish believer but his father was Greek, so Paul had him circumcised so as not to offend the “Jews who were in those places” (Acts 16:1-3). Timothy later undertook missions to the Thessalonians, Corinthians and Ephesians.
Silas was a prophet in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:22-35), but also a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37-38). He went with Paul and Barnabas to deliver the decision of the apostolic council in Jerusalem that Gentile believers did not have to observe the law of Moses (Acts 15:1-21). Paul chose Silas to accompany him on missions to Asia Minor and Macedonia where he may have remained after Paul left (Acts 15:41-18:5).
Titus was a Greek who accompanied Paul to Jerusalem for the apostolic council. During Paul’s third missionary journey Titus was sent on missions to Corinth from which he gave Paul encouraging reports (II Cor 7:13-15). Paul calls him “my true child in the common faith” (Titus 1:14) and left him to organize the church in Crete (Titus 1:5).
These three are celebrated on the day after the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul because of their close connections with him. Though they were all young and inexperienced, they were entrusted with missions and matters that helped form the very life and history of the Church. Faithfulness, love and devotion to Christ saw them through situations they could not have imagined.
In our reading today from the book of Acts, we read of how they were able “to encourage and strengthen the believers” (Acts 15:32; also 16:5). This might serve as an admonition for us today and as an invitation for our prayer. We recognize how much we need each other and how much we stand to benefit from the support and encouragement that others offer us. It is essential, then, that we offer this support and encouragement to one another and to all whom we meet. What a gift it is when we can inspire others to have courage and to hope, when we can raise another’s confidence, when we can instill in them life and energy and vigor. How important it is for us to express care for one another regularly and explicitly, to commend and cherish one another, to work actively to build up the Body of Christ by our words and actions, and not to undermine its health by bitterness and complaining.
Jesus tells us to “love one another as I have loved you.” Here is the source of this strength which we can receive from him and pass along to others. We can love because he first loved us. We can offer hope and courage because of the hope and courage we have found in him. We can lift up others because we ourselves have been lifted out of dispiritedness and despondency by the infusion of grace. We can encourage and cherish because we have been encouraged and cherished by the One who calls us his friends.
Like Paul’s companions, we can be gifts to one another, sources of encouragement, hope, strength, and life, bearing one another up with the same grace that has been offered so freely to us.
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