“The words of dying men enforce attention like deep harmony”
--William Shakespeare, Richard II, II.1.5-6.
Often times, a man’s last words are his most important ones. With very little time left, he can only concern himself with what must be said and with what he has always wanted to say. After all, this is it, this is his last chance to make his mark, to leave an everlasting impression, to pass on the most crucial aspects of this thought. There is no time to speak trivially.
This is where St. Paul finds himself. He is in his first Roman captivity when he writes letters to Timothy and Titus, whom he had given the responsibility of overseeing the churches in Ephesus and Crete, respectively. He is in his second and last Roman captivity when he writes to Timothy again. Paul is aware now that his end is approaching, and he writes to Timothy a letter with many personal references. As such, this second letter is usually regarded as “his spiritual testament.”
If these are indeed his last words, then we should pay particular attention to them. All of the words of Paul are important, but his letters to Timothy, being perhaps the last words he ever wrote, are especially notable. In them he addresses many themes, such as the way worship should be regulated, the duties of those who hold Church office, and how to deal with false teachers. As catechists, whose main responsibility is to teach towards conversion, we should pay particular attention to Paul’s words regarding the proper care for the truths that have been handed down to us. This is seen particularly in two passages from Paul’s letters to Timothy: 1 Tim 6:20 and 2 Tim 4:1-4. It is essential then to look at these passages and see how they relate to our catechetical activity.
The passages in question read as follows:
1 Tim 6:20 “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge,”Chapter 6, verse 20 closes Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Thus, if Paul could leave Timothy with a final thought it would be this: “guard what has been entrusted to you.” Particularly, he should guard it against “the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.” A few questions are readily apparent: What is it exactly that Timothy must guard? What is “godless chatter”? Answering these questions will help us to better apply this verse to our work as catechists.
2 Tim 4:1-4 “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2. preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. 3. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, 4. and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.”
The original Greek that the RSV translates as “what has been entrusted” is elsewhere translated as “the deposit entrusted to you” (ESV), “the entrusted deposit” (Darby). The Latin Vulgate reads “depositum custodi.” We can glean from this that what has been entrusted to Timothy is a deposit of some kind. The Navarre Bible gives us some helpful information on the language of “deposit” in Paul’s time:
According to Roman law, a “deposit” was something one entrusted to someone who was then under an obligation to protect it so as to be able to return it to the depositor when the latter so required; usually a deposit consisted of money or some other form of property. St Paul applies the term to Revelation and the faith (cf. 2 Tim 1:12-14) and it has passed into the language of theology.Thus, the deposit to which Timothy has been entrusted and which he must guard is Revelation and the faith.
We learn more about this deposit in the passage that was cited:
2 Tim 1:12-14 “and therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. 13. Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; 14. guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.”When Paul speaks of “that Day” (vs. 12), he is always referring to the Second Coming of Christ. It is obvious that it is Jesus in whom he has believed. Jesus will guard until “that Day” what has been entrusted to Paul. After all, He told the apostles before His death, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Likewise, when Paul refers to “the Holy Spirit who dwells within us” (vs. 14), this is the same Spirit who Jesus sent to “be with you forever” and who they know because “he dwells with you and will be in you.” It is with this Spirit that Jesus will guard the deposit (vs. 14).
But, how did Paul receive this deposit? He wrote to the Galatians, “I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Likewise, to the Ephesians, “the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly” and to the Corinthians, “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.” Paul probably received this revelation when he was struck blind by Christ on the way to Damascus.
From all this, we can see that, when Paul speaks of “what has been entrusted to you” in 1 Tim 6:20, he is referring to the faith revealed to him by Jesus Christ. This faith is preserved by the Holy Spirit, who Jesus sent to empower both the apostles and the “faithful men” who the apostles designate to teach this faith in their absence. “For our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit.”
Now, how is this relevant to catechesis? Well, the catechist who understands the deposit the way I have described it here should be humbled by it. He should know now that what he hands on to others is not his own teaching but the teaching of Christ. He should entreat the Holy Spirit to guide him in his delivery of the Gospel, since the Holy Spirit was given to the Church for this very purpose. Finally, he should guard this deposit as if it were a “treasure,” and not let it be corrupted by “godless chatter.”
But, what is this “godless chatter” that threatens the deposit of faith entrusted to Timothy? The Greek word for “godless chatter” is transliterated kenophonia. It is found only one other place in the New Testament, in Paul’s second letter to Timothy:
2 Tim 2:16 “But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness,”The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon defines kenophonia as “empty discussion, discussion of vain and useless matters.” While this is the only other verse where the word kenophonia is used, Paul uses enough similar phrases in his letters to Timothy to show the reader that this is something particularly abhorrent to him. He speaks elsewhere of those who “occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations” and certain persons who have “wandered away into vain discussion.” Timothy is to “have nothing to do with godless and silly myths” and to refuse to enroll younger widows who “learn to be idlers, gadding about from house to house, and not only idlers but gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” He who does not agree “with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ” has “a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words.” Finally, Paul advises Timothy to “remind them of this, and charge them before the Lord to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.”
When I read this, I am reminded of Article 52 from Catechesi Tradendae (CT):
The first question of a general kind that presents itself here concerns the danger and the temptation to mix catechetical teaching unduly with overt or masked ideological views, especially political and social ones, or with personal political options. When such views get the better of the - central message to be transmitted, to the point of obscuring it and putting it in second place or even using it to further their own ends, catechesis then becomes radically distorted. The synod rightly insisted on the need for catechesis to remain above one-sided divergent trends - to avoid "dichotomies" - even in the field of theological interpretation of such questions. It is on the basis of revelation that catechesis will try to set its course, revelation as transmitted by the universal magisterium of the Church, in its solemn or ordinary form.This seems to be exactly what Paul is talking about in the passages previously cited. Theology and ideological views can often times “promote speculation,” and devolve into “vain discussion” and “disputes about words.” Instead of troubling catechumens with all this and obscuring with is true, catechists should confine themselves to the essentials of the faith, those things that every Catholic Christian must believe. CT repeats this in Article 21, where a list of the characteristics of proper catechesis is provided:
- It must be systematic, not improvised but programmed to reach a precise goal;
- It must deal with essentials, without any claim to tackle all disputed questions or to transform itself into theological research or scientific exegesis;
- It must nevertheless be sufficiently complete, not stopping short at the initial proclamation of the Christian mystery such as we have in the kerygma;
- It must be an integral Christian initiation, open to all the other factors of Christian life.
2 Tim 4:1-4 “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2. preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. 3. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, 4. and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.”Right at the onset, Paul gives his message an eschatological undertone. He is reminding Timothy that he will have to account for how he performed his ministry when Jesus comes again, and the outcome of that Judgment depends on how seriously Timothy considers his responsibility to persevere in preaching and in patience. The Navarre Bible provides another interesting context:
1. The last chapter of the letter, summing up its main themes, is in fact St Paul's last will and testament and has the features of that type of document: it begins in a formal manner (vv. 1-5), protests the sincerity of his dedicated life (vv. 6-8) and concludes with some very tender, personal messages (vv. 9-22).Thus, an extraordinary importance is placed upon Paul’s words by the way in which he expresses them. In a near legally-binding way, Timothy (and indirectly, anyone who takes up the position of teacher) is charged to “preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.”
The opening is couched in a solemn form (also found in 1 Tim 5:21) similar to a Greco-Roman will, laying on the heirs an obligation to carry out the testator's wishes: "I charge you"; a series of imperatives follows. To underline the importance of what the testator is requesting, God the Father and Jesus Christ are invoked as witnesses, guarantors of the commitments which will devolve on the heirs. By swearing this document the testator is performing an act of the virtue of religion, because he is acknowledging God as Supreme Judge, to whom we must render an account of our actions.
From this charge, we can learn many things. For one, preaching the word will not always be a popular endeavor. It is for this reason that Paul tells Timothy to “be urgent in season and out of season.” The catechist is not to be swayed by the zeitgeist, or the spirit of the times. In some circumstances he will be well received, in others he will not be. He must preach the word regardless.
Secondly, Timothy must “convince, rebuke, and exhort.” Underlying this charge is the assumption that the word of God can actually do such a thing. The word, which the Second Vatican Council tells us is comprised of both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, has the power to convince a man. Paul says elsewhere in this letter that through apt teaching, “God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” Only a man convinced of Christ turns away from the devil.
The word can also rebuke. It calls out every man who is not living a holy life and convicts him of the wrongness of his actions. Paul told the Colossians to admonish one another with the word. After all, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Finally, the word exhorts. To “exhort” is “to force or impel in an indicated direction.” Sometimes, the word of God is forceful. It makes demands upon us and insists that we make certain decisions. But, we do not beat people with the word. We must exhort, but we must also “be unfailing in patience.” The Lord’s servant must be “forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” Paul begs the Ephesians to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love.”
There is much that the catechist should derive from this. He should know now that the word entrusted to him, the word that he must guard and faithfully pass on to others, is a mighty weapon. With it he can do great things: convince, rebuke, exhort. But, he must wield this “sword” with patience and gentleness. There will be times when his audience will not want to hear what he has to say. They may even abandon him for something that is more pleasant to their ears. But, the catechist must persevere. He must always preach the word with faithfulness and diligence, no matter the circumstances.
“It is a sure saying”: Paul’s letters to Timothy have enormous implications for the catechist. Paul took great pains to ensure that Timothy (and Titus) had the proper direction with which to teach and to guide the churches entrusted to their care. When you become a catechist, or a Director of Religious Education, what will you do with the church entrusted to your care? My hope is that you will learn from the wise counsel of Paul, especially as it is articulated in 1 Tim 6:20 and 2 Tim 4:1-4. In them, as in all the scriptures, you will find words “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
- - - “For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come” (2 Tim 4:6, RSV).
 Jose Maria Casciaro, Director, The Navarre Bible: St. Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians and Pastoral Epistles (Dublin, Ireland: Four Courts Press, 1992), 131.
 All Scripture citations from the Revised Standard Version.
 Jose Maria Casciaro, Director, The Navarre Bible: St. Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians and Pastoral Epistles (Dublin, Ireland: Four Courts Press, 1992), 129.
 cf. Rom 2:5,16; 1 Cor 1:8; 3:13; 5:5; 2 Cor 1:14; Phil 1:6,10; 2:16; 1 Thes 5:2,4; 2 Thes 2:2,3; 2 Tim 4:8.
 Mt 28:20
 Jn 14:16-17
 cf. Jn 14:26; 16:13; 1 Thes 1:5.
 Gal 1:12
 Eph 3:3
 1 Cor 11:23
 cf. Acts 22:6-7,14-15.
 2 Tim 2:2
 1 Thes 1:5
 Mt 13:52
 1 Tim 6:20
 Online here
 1 Tim 1:4
 1 Tim 1:6
 1 Tim 4:7
 1 Tim 5:13
 1 Tim 6:3-4
 2 Tim 2:14
 John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Catechesi Tradendae (October 16, 1979).
 1 Tim 1:4
 1 Tim 1:6
 1 Tim 6:4; 2 Tim 2:14
 Jose Maria Casciaro, Director, The Navarre Bible: St. Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians and Pastoral Epistles (Dublin, Ireland: Four Courts Press, 1992), 152.
 “Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church” (Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation [November 18, 1965], no. 10.)
 2 Tim 2:24-25
 cf. Col 3:16.
 Heb 4:12
 “Exhort” in the One Look Dictionary Search
 2 Tim 2:24-25.
 Eph 4:1-2
 Eph 6:17
 1 Tim 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim 2:11; Tit 3:8
 2 Tim 3:16-17