As I have noted on a few occasions, the culture and society of the Middle East during the first century after Christ was an honor driven culture. Honor was the key component in determining a person's status or place in society. Conversely, dishonor or shame was to be avoided at all costs. This is often reflected in the Scriptures, but none more so than those writings which concern themselves with the passion and death of Jesus and his disciples. Consequently, when St. Paul is thrown into prison, his disciples and associates felt the sting of dishonor just as surely as he would have.
However, placing his faith in the resurrection of Jesus, Paul comes to understand that true honor does not come from human beings. Rather it is God who bestows honor and determines shame. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, St. Paul realizes that what human beings perceived as a dishonorable death was really the key to Jesus' honor and glory. Following this line of reasoning, he considers it an honor to receive the same kind of treatment.
We hear this reasoning come through loudly and clearly in the opening verses of St. Paul's second letter to Timothy which we begin to read today. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. (2 Timothy 1:8)
Most of us have had occasions when we experience both honor and dishonor. For instance, tomorrow we will honor Fr. Lennon as he celebrates sixty years in the priesthood. As it happens, tomorrow is also my ordination anniversary – only not so many years. This weekend we will honor our Jubilarians who celebrate 70, 60 and 50 years of religious life. Next week Sr. Marilyn will receive an honor for her ecumenical work. These will be happy occasions. However, I am sure that there have been times when we have been on the opposite end of the spectrum. It is those moments which are really telling because then we, like St. Paul, can call ourselves blessed because we share a little bit in the suffering of Jesus who died such a shameful death.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator