This first week of our “retreat in daily life” is dedicated to the first phase of holiness according to St. Gregory of Nyssa (see post below). On Sunday we heard about three burning bush moments outlined in the readings (see Sunday homily). Monday and Tuesday have, providentially, given us a holy trio ideal to this week’s meditation: Paul, Timothy and Titus.
On Monday Paul experiences his own burning bush moment when the Lord knocks him over with a blinding flash of light. Paul’s spiritual blindness is manifest in his now physical blindness before the light… and yet “In your light we see light.” (cf Ps. 36:9). Speaking with Jesus, Paul realizes the error of his way and accepts Christ as Messiah and Lord. Baptized at Damascus, Paul’s conversion is complete and his sight is restored. As we know, he goes on to a life of tremendous graces which allow him to undergo great trials even to the point of martyrdom.
The illuminative phase is a sensory thing. Jesus reaches into our experiences and touches us. Speaking to us through the human senses, it’s very comfortable… what Paul himself refers to as the “mother’s milk” of spirituality (I Cor. 3:2). This is also why it’s associated with the pursuit of the virtues: things we can see and do, at first by following clear instructions then as a matter of habit. One gets a sense of Paul passing this phase of holiness on to his disciples, Timothy and Titus… Listen to these context phrases from the readings for their feast (today):
I yearn to see you again, recalling your tears,
so that I may be filled with joy,
as I recall your sincere faith
that first lived in your grandmother Lois
and in your mother Eunice
and that I am confident lives also in you.
For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. (cf. II Timothy 1:1-8)
…to Titus, my true child in our common faith:
grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our savior.
For this reason I left you in Crete
so that you might set right what remains to be done
and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you. (cf. Titus 1:1-5)
There’s a clear bond of trust… a familial connection even to Timothy’s mother and grandmother… These men met and knew Paul as students and eventually close co-workers, ordained by the apostle (“the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands” and “appoint presbyters”). They were led by the hand of Paul their mentor who revealed to them all he himself had discovered in that first blinding flash of light. Taught by the master, they went on to become saints themselves.
A reasonable comparison in our time might be college students in campus ministry. When faith is (re)awakened during college it’s an exciting time. Everything seems joyous. There’s friends everywhere you look and easy opportunities to learn about prayer and service from college chaplains and their co-workers. It’s a burning bush moment familiar to many here in DC.
A question for the day: Who has been a burning bush in my life? How has that encounter encouraged/enticed me to pursue virtue?