St. Paul writes to St. Timothy, then a bishop but also a priest and a Christian: “In the presence of God and of Jesus Christ, who is coming to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power, I charge you to preach the word, to stay with the task, whether convenient or inconvenient — correcting, reproving, appealing — constantly teaching and never losing patience.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2) This advice of St. Paul to St. Timothy is a succinct instruction on the ministry of the priest. While it is directed to St. Timothy and to all ordained priests, its meaning can likewise be applied with great fruit to the laity as well. When St. Paul expresses the need to “never lose patience,” he is reminding Timothy and us that the preaching of the gospel involves rejection, that it involves suffering, that it involves sacrifice, that it involves self-sacrifice and that this suffering is a part of the definition of our baptismal priesthood, for a priestly people is one which offers sacrifice.
A faithful Catholic not only participates in the sacrifice of the Mass, he makes that sacrifice his own. He makes that sacrifice his own, not only at Mass while attending to the work at the altar but all day, every day. St. Paul did not only say: “I charge you to preach the word, to stay with the task — correcting, reproving, appealing — constantly teaching.” This is just the beginning. He added that essential note of sacrifice, contained in the reminders: “whether convenient or inconvenient” and “never losing patience.” These reminders help us realize that our priestly ministry, whether as ministerial or baptismal priests, is a sacrificial ministry, a self-sacrificing ministry. Would that we could all be known as people, as Catholics, rooted in self-sacrifice and self forgetfulness. In some circles there is a tendency to view the ministerial priesthood as some kind of honor bestowed upon men. While there is an element of truth to this perception, the fuller truth is that the ministerial priesthood is a call to offer and to be offered in sacrifice.
St. Paul identifies both preaching the word and sacrificial dying to self as integral elements of the evangelizing mission he entrusts to St. Timothy. He has no illusion about how eagerly the message of the Lord will be received. This is most clearly shown as he continues his instruction to Timothy: “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but, following their own desires, will surround themselves with teachers who tickle their ears. They will stop listening to the truth and will wander off to fables. As for you, be steady and self-possessed; put up with hardship, perform your work as an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:3-5) Despite the fact that Paul predicts Timothy’s teaching will be ineffective, that people will stop listening to the truth, he reiterates and insists upon the need for fidelity. As for you, he tells St. Timothy, be steady and self-possessed; put up with hardship, perform your work as an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. Paul could have quoted Mother Teresa, “God did not call us to be successful. He called us to be faithful.” In our ministerial or baptismal priesthood, we are called not only to be faithful but faithful in a steady and self-possessed fashion. This requires a dying to self, an embracing of the cross, an acceptance of rejection.