You would have to feel just a little sympathy with anyone who had to follow in the footsteps of St Paul. The Apostle to the Gentiles, and arguably the greatest evangelist and teacher Christianity has ever known, towered over his contemporaries in stature and grace-given capacity, establishing Churches in many of the great metropolitan hubs of the Roman world of his time. To be the one to follow Paul as leader of these early Christian communities would have been a daunting task, especially when he was still alive and active in the communities. This was the unenviable calling of Sts Timothy and Titus, whose feast day happens to fall on this day we are celebrating the annual Red Mass.
Paul entrusted the Church in Ephesus to Timothy, and Titus was sent to the Christian community in Crete. As successors of the Apostle, their leadership was not one of intentional innovation and disruption, as might be expected of leadership in a corporate environment of today. The leadership of Timothy and Titus was more akin to that which came out of an intentional remembrance and re-sourcement. As Paul repeated, as a kind of refrain, to the young Timothy in our first reading today, “I remember my duty to God the Father in Christ Jesus…; I remember to thank God with a clear conscience…; I remember your tears and your faith…; I remember the witness of your mother and grandmother…”
All of this was acknowledged by Paul, so as to assure the young Timothy of his confidence in him. Timothy shared in the same faith as Paul, into which the fledgling Church in Ephesus was to be nurtured. Timothy had received the spark of God’s grace at the hands of his mentor; now he was to fan it into a flame of the Holy Spirit. Note what this grace consisted of: “…the Spirit of power, and love, and self-control.” The grace by which Timothy was to exercise his leadership, grounded in the surety of the faith handed onto him, was a strengthening and enabling grace. It held forth possibility, without undermining the good; it allowed for boldness, without negating prudence; it chose the path of hope, without abandoning memory. The power of grace does not impose a controlling authoritarianism; it proposes a freedom for excellence.
For its part, the law, by which order is brought to bear on human activity, is also a power. It seeks to bring organisation into the arrangements of our daily lives such that a common goodness might prevail. Law is, therefore, related to grace as a power; at least, it ought to be. How, then, might law and grace reside together? St Paul gives us some clues. As lawmakers, judges and practitioners – and all of us as participants in the ordering task of law – it is not for us to adopt a stance of forgetfulness with regard to the strengthening and enabling power of the law. Like grace, it functions best by way of re-sourcement, by intentional remembering, so as to bring about the possibility, with boldness and hope, of lives lived well and truthfully.
As lawmakers, judges and practitioners, who are also women and men of faith, you hold a particular privilege – functioning properly as a responsibility – to exercise your vocation by way of that grace which fosters the Spirit of power, love and self-control, that St Paul enunciated for Timothy to follow. You are (might I be so bold to say) successors of this Pauline privilege, bearers of a remembrance of all that the law might foster in the well-ordering of our lives. As the 2021 legal term commences, I want to encourage you to find your voice, and be our bold witnesses in this regard, so that the seeds of a graceful law might fall into rich soil.