January 26: Saints Timothy and Titus, Bishops

First Century
Memorial; Liturgical Color: Red
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Today’s saints were two bishops from the apostolic period of the Church, the decades immediately following the death and resurrection of Christ. In this grace-filled time, the Apostles and St. Paul were carving the first deep furrows into the pagan soil they traveled, planting in the earth the seeds of Christian faith which succeeding bishops would water, tend, and harvest.

Little is certainly known about today’s saints apart from references to them in the Acts of the Apostles and in the epistles of St. Paul. But these numerous references are enough. The generations of theologians, bishops, martyrs, and saints who lived in the post apostolic period give universal and consistent witness to the veracity of Paul’s letters and the events they recount. There are theological, rather than historical, lessons to be taken from the lives and ministry of today’s saints.

Saints Timothy and Titus were apostles of an Apostle. They shared in, and cooperated with, the ministry of St. Paul, who had a direct connection to Christ through a miraculous occurrence on the road to Damascus, a feast commemorated, not coincidentally, the day prior to today’s memorial. Timothy, Titus, and many others, known and unknown, carried out on a local level a priestly ministry which Paul engaged in on a more regional level. It was St. Paul’s practice, and probably that of the other surviving Apostles, to appoint assistants wherever they went who acted with the authority of the Apostle who appointed them. These assistants were variously called priests or bishops, terms that were often interchangeable. Deacons shared in the priestly ministry too, but more as assistants to bishops.

A direct connection to an Apostle, either through his direct ministry or through a group or person he appointed (presumably through an ordination rite), was fundamental to establish a church. Accredited leaders were needed. This is a constant theme in the writings of St. Paul. No Apostle—no Church. The body could not be separated from the head and still survive. In other words, the proclamation of the gospel always—always—occurred contemporaneously with the foundation of a solidly structured local Church. The modern tendency to emphasize the internal, personal, and spiritual message of Christ over the external, public, hierarchical Church which carried his message was a dichotomy unknown to early Christianity. The Church carries a message and is itself a message. The content of the gospel and the form of the gospel community go hand in hand. The constant, amoeba like, splitting of Protestant communities attests to the inevitable divisions which result when the Church and its message are separated.

A later tradition holds that St. Timothy was the first bishop of Ephesus, in modern day Turkey. Equally ancient traditions state that St. John retreated to Ephesus before eventually dying on the island of Patmos, and that the Virgin Mary followed John to Ephesus, living in a house above the town. It is possible, then, that St. Timothy drank from the deepest wells of the Christian tradition. Sitting around the warm glow of a fire in a dark room at night, he may have heard about the life of Christ from the very lips of the most important witnesses. We can imagine that he heard much of what is not today preserved, and from the very man, Saint John, who ends his Gospel by writing that “there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25.)

Saints Timothy and Titus, through your lives dedicated to the missions, you helped lay the foundations of Christianity, and carried on the priestly ministry of Jesus by preaching, teaching, and governing His flock. Help us to be as bold now as you were then.

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