Stories Seldom Heard
Stories Seldom Heard
242nd Edition – September 1, 2019
The Letter of Paul to Titus 2:1-6, 11-14
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard. I especially would like to welcome the Sisters of the Holy Family, Fremont, California. I hope you had some time during the summer to relax, because by the sound of the school bells in our neighborhood in San Francisco, I know school is in full swing. Even if we don’t have children in school, the opening of school affects our lives. Flashing lights alert us to slower speeds “while students are in school.” Students pour into college towns. Grocery lines are longer. Parking is harder to find. And our households begin once again to reestablish a daily routine. The only reminders of summer are fading tans and the bright colored post cards from vacationing friends.
Vacations bring out the best in people. Many of us even leave our computers behind for a week or two and revert to letter writing or sending post cards. This summer I received some “old fashioned” post cards – the kind we used to receive — with pictures of bays and bridges, antique houses and cities lit up at night. These cards and letters have been the center of conversations and serious travel discussions. “
Letters, whether we receive them or someone shares them with us, are great discussion starters. This is also true of the Bible. In the New Testament we have many letters from Paul. In fact, we know more about Paul than most of the other early Christians because of his letters to the different Christian communities.
The letter to Titus is just one of Paul’s letters. However, it is in a special category since it is one of the letters that raises questions about its authorship. In some ways the letter has many characteristics of Paul’s other letters. It uses some of Paul’s language and images of the church, but this letter is different from the others. It includes information about Paul’s life and his missionary work that cannot be confirmed by any other source. Therefore, some scholars think that this letter was not written by Paul.
In spite of the questions that surround the authorship of the letter, we do have some idea of who Titus is. He first appears in the Letter to the Galatians 2:1-3. He is a Greek man who accompanies Paul to Jerusalem. There is also a tradition that Titus was the first Bishop of Crete. When he died he was buried on the island, but later his relics were moved to Venice. His relics are now in the church of San Marco in Venice. I am sure that if you have visited Venice, you have also visited the church of San Marco and seen the extraordinary collection of relics they keep behind the altar.
The letter to Titus offers us two different images of the church and the early Christian community. These two images are also echoed in the Letter to Timothy. The first image refers to the church as the pillar of truth. The second image envisions the church as “the household of God.” Both are powerful images that when taken seriously can change our lives. In this article I would like to focus on the second image: the household of God. What if we were to imagine our homes as the “household of God?” How might this change the way we interact with one another?
The “household” image also reminds us of the first house churches where the early Christians gathered for support, prayer, and to celebrate the “breaking of the bread.” We hear of these safe houses for Christians in the Acts of the Apostles. When an angel breaks the chains that are holding Peter in prison we hear, “As soon as he (Peter) realizes it (that he is free) he went straight to the house of Mary the mother of John Mark, where a number of people had assembled and were praying” (Acts 12:12). Later when Paul and Silas were delivered from their prison cells, they went to Lydia’s house. “From the prison they (Paul and Silas) went to Lydia’s house where they saw all of the brothers (and sisters) and gave them some encouragement; then they left” (Act 10:40).
The household rules that appear in the Letter to Titus are rather rigid because they reflect the Greco-Roman world in which Titus lived. The letter articulates both the rights and responsibilities of individuals. But if it is really to be the household of God, then it is understood that God is the head of the household. No one in the household is more important. Certainly, our family life has changed dramatically since Paul’s time, yet the image of the church and our families as the households of God still hold true. God is the head of our households. We are called to be responsible mature family members.
Paul addresses the letter to Titus and his community, but it is meant for the whole household of God which includes us too. It is a good reminder of how God expects us to act towards one another. We hear in the letter: “men, be serious minded, loving and steadfast, temperate in all of your ways. Women, be good examples for the young. Teach them through your words and actions.” Paul is not dividing the responsibilities as much as reminding us that we adults must be people of integrity. Our actions and attitudes must reflect Jesus’ teachings. Paul places clear and strong demands on adults not just for Titus’s community, but for us, too, because each of us is a leader in our household and in the church — our faith communities.
To be authentic, our faith must permeate every part of our lives. Honesty and generosity must not just be professed in church but lived at the office with our employees and co-workers. These virtues must guide our decisions as to where we shop, what we purchase and the way we treat sales persons. Care and respect must characterize all of our words and actions regardless of a person’s education, race or ethnic background. Our lives like those who lived on the Island of Crete are to reflect the truth of the gospel: every person is an image of God!
Like Jesus we can’t be people who just talk about justice and compassion. We must be compassionate people who are moved to just actions on behalf of others. When the pain of others touches our hearts and we choose to do something to alleviate their pain, we know that God’s grace–God’s life has touched us deeply. Even if we can’t totally change their situation, we can often do something to help those who are suffering. The small amounts of money we send to the victims of natural disasters, detentions centers at our borders and/or food donations for families in distress, help those who are suffering. We often hear ourselves say we want peace and a more just world, but that is not going to happen without our participation. Praying and working for peace go hand in hand. All of this might sound rather daunting, but there is a line in the letter to Titus that helps us put this into perspective. Paul reminds us that we don’t have to do this by ourselves. In fact, we can’t. “But the grace of God has appeared in Jesus and this grace has been shared with us.” This grace enables us to live just lives, tempered by mercy and kindness.
This summer I met a forty-eight year old woman. She told me she had a brain tumor and as a result of the operation she had lost her sense of smell. This might sound strange, she said, “But it was the best thing that ever happened to me because it redirected my life.” She continued by saying, “I now treasure everyday and every person I meet. My life is not perfect, but I feel filled with new life and a deep appreciation for everything and everyone. I don’t know what grace is, but I think I have it in abundance!”
Maybe that is the grace that Paul is talking about. Grace: a life giving force that enables us to be exuberant; a spirit that allows us to appreciate life and everything that is living; a gratefulness for who we are and the simple, yet profound gifts of life that God has offered each of us; a deep desire to share whatever we have with others especially those who are in need; and an awareness that God lives within others and that each person is an image of God. God’s grace is a mystery that is probably most apparent in times of crisis, but in truth it is available to us each moment of the day. We don’t need to understand it as much as we need to recognize it. In her book Tender Mercies, Anne Lamont says, “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are, but does not leave us where it found us.”
Paul reminds us in the Letter to Titus that we are a part of the household of God. Whether we are young or old, whether we take responsibility for the care of others or others care for us, it is God who cares for all of us. God is the loving parent who will always provide what we need. “The grace of God has appeared” in Jesus, Paul says, and that presence of Jesus will guide and teach us throughout our lives if we are willing to listen.
“Stories Seldom Heard” is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered to the Christian community to enrich one’s personal and spiritual life. The articles can be used for individual or group reflection.
If you would like to support this ministry, please send your contributions to: Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, c/o Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P., 2517 Pine Street, San Francisco, CA 94115 Thank you.
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green, and Maria Hetherton who have helped in editing this article. To make changes or remove your name from “Stories Seldom Heard” mailing list, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you. Bob McGrath.