The link in a chain

The link in a chain

St Timothy was one of the first to hear the Gospel preached by St Paul, and went on to become a critical figure in the growth of the early Church. What does his story tell us about the formation of a preacher?

Reading: 2 Timothy 1:1-8

The following homily was preached to the student brothers during compline. You can listen here or read below:


We first hear about St Timothy, one of the two saints we celebrate today along with St Titus, in the Acts of the Apostles. Paul came across him in Lystra, in present day Turkey, on his return to the city having first brought the Gospel there on a previous missionary journey.

St Timothy was highly regarded by his own community, and chosen by St Paul to accompany him on his apostolic endeavours. He was a crucial figure in the growth of the early church, and in his life we can see something of what it means to be a preacher, to be an apostle.

Biographically speaking there are frequent references to him in Acts and the Pauline letters, sent on various missionary journeys as St Paul’s representative to places such as Thessalonica, Corinth, and Philippi. According to Hebrews he was persecuted for his work, spending some time in prison, and he is named as the co-author of four of St Paul’s letters.

He is also of course the recipient of two of these letters, the opening to second of which we have just heard. It is a powerful letter, from a master to his disciple, full of encouragement and apostolic zeal. St Paul writes to St Timothy “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.” (2 Tim 4:1-2)

As well as exhortation the letter is also full of the trials and tribulations involved in preaching the Gospel to a hostile world. St Paul mentions all those in Asia who have rejected him, and concludes the letter with the appeal: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for his heavenly kingdom.” (2 Tim 4:18)

The dynamic between these two preachers of the Gospel, St Paul and St Timothy, brings to mind a prayer of St John Henry Newman’s. It is about vocation, and begins with those captivating words “God has created me to do Him some definite service...”. And a little further on Newman says, in a line that strikes me in this context as critical to the vocation of the preacher “I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.”

From our Lord Jesus Christ appearing to St Paul, the hostile persecutor, on the road to Damascus, and from that transformed man preaching to a young Timothy in Lystra, we can see this bond of connection between persons, these links in a great chain unfolding. It is a chain that extends uninterrupted down the generations to this very day, to this very room.

St Paul’s words in our first reading draw attention to the precise nature of the link that binds him together with St Timothy, in Christ. For Timothy, like for us, there was no eyewitness experience of Christ on earth, and no Damascus moment. His encounter with our Lord was transmitted by St Paul, who writes to him: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Tim 1:6)

But there were other critical players in St Timothy’s spiritual journey too, in the formation of this preacher. St Paul also writes: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you.” (2 Tim 1:5) Timothy’s is a faith in God handed down through the generations, first learnt on his mother’s knee.

The key point however was of course concealed in the word ‘gift’. The faith that St Paul says lives within Timothy is entirely God’s gracious gift. Hence he says, in the verse that immediately follows our reading, that God called them “not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus“. (2 Tim 1:9)

So what kind of link in a chain are we called to be? What kind of bond of connection between persons, in a rich tapestry of threads that stretches out and back to Timothy, to Paul, weaving together the body of Christ?

The source of our preaching is the outpouring of the Trinity into the world, the unfolding of the divine communion which seeks to enfold each and every one of us into its bond of love. Our preaching mission is an extension of that movement, a communion of love which engulfs every person we encounter.

In St Paul and St Timothy, and St Titus, we see that there is no such thing as an atomised apostle. God has called us. Together we are sent.


Image: St Timothy and Lois, William Drost

Br John Bernard, raised a Catholic by an English father and Dutch mother, first encountered the Dominicans at Blackfriars while studying Classics at the University of Oxford, and entered the noviciate in 2018. An attraction to religious life initially grew out of time spent working with the Missionaries of Charity, which then crystallised into a Dominican vocation through a desire to integrate the contemplative life with preaching and study. Based on his recent reading, he looks forward to delving further into St John of the Cross and the Carmelite mystics, as well as combining his preaching vocation with a love of the outdoors.

Comments (1)

  • Antony TYLER

    Brother John

    My daughter-in-law, Kathy TYLER, drew my attention to this lovely piece in the chain to my attention. How resonant it is to me. Increasing,y , in my old age, I see every meeting with another, however brief and seemingly chancelike, as truly significant in a spiritual sense, and an aspect of grace.

    Antony TYLER


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