The readings we listened to were taken from St. Paul's letters to Titus and to Timothy. I do not intend to go specifically into what St Paul wrote to these two beloved disciples of his. Rather, I would like to stop awhile to reflect upon the following fact: that these letters, which are personally addressed to two beloved disciples of St. Paul's, are really the Word of God addressed to the whole Church. These two letters are personal, especially the letter to Timothy; in fact, the latter can be considered Paul's spiritual testament to his dear disciple. This is why Paul opens his heart so naturally in this letter.

No other writing in the New Testament is as autobiographical as this one. In the letter to Timothy, Paul pours his heart out with surprising tenderness. St. Paul, who is so strong, so impetuous, and so great, even as a religious thinker, opens his heart to his faithful disciple with such tenderness and simplicity that it deeply moves us. I think that this fact will be exceptionally important for a meditation on the basic aspects of our Christian religion.

The personal relationship is a value that is crucial. The outpouring of St. Paul's heart upon one of his disciples, an outpouring that is so human and so intimate, becomes the Word of God for the whole Church. What does all this mean? Why is it that such a personal and intimate writing as the letter to Titus was chosen as the means to convey a message of universal value? Who is Timothy, who is Titus to us of today? Certainly, we know nothing about them from sources outside St. Paul's letters. And in St. Paul's letters, we do not learn anything about them except that they were loved by St. Paul. In fact, we do not know much about their individual lives: we only know about St. Paul's relationship with them.

The first teaching that these two letters give us is precisely this: that the personal relationship is a Christian value. The Apostle Paul preached the Gospel and brought the faith to the corners of the world. He was a giant who accomplished great feats, a man who is unsurpassable as a religious thinker. It is an impressive fact that such a man would conclude his life by writing to his friend, turning to him in a personal relationship that is so intimate and vibrant that it is startling even to us of the modern age.

Indeed, in the Saints' lives we usually take note of the personal aspect, which is the aspect that brings us closer to them more than any other. I am thinking of the Confessions of St. Augustine and the letters of St. John Chrysostom. In any case, let me repeat the question I asked in the beginning of this letter: what does this mean? The answer is simple: everything culminates in a loving personal relationship. Keep well in mind the fact that it is not even about a relationship with God. Paul is writing to Timothy, to Titus. We would have much to say about Christian friendship, because although these two writings contain pastoral teaching, they are first and foremost evidence of a deep friendship. Certainly, this friendship is also tinged with spiritual paternity, but this does not detract from the affective character of the relationship, which involves only two souls.

I think the first lesson to be learned, a lesson which is valid for the whole Church is this: great works are worth less than a loving relationship between God and the soul, or one between two souls united in Christ. Certainly, we are speaking here of spiritual friendship, but this does not mean that the human, affective element is absent; on the contrary, the fact that the relationship is spiritual only enhances the human element; and the letter of St. Paul to Timothy gives witness to this.

True love of neighbor is not about giving our things away; rather, it is about establishing an intimate relationship between friends, in which both souls are bonded to God; indeed, the bond of Christian friendship can be nothing but Christ.

But what is friendship? Friendship always has a sacrificial character. A true friend is someone whose love for his friend is not a possessive love, one that is based on the desire to bind another to oneself. The bond of friendship is formed when the friends give themselves to each other. Thus, the bond is formed of its own accord, but it never involves possessive (selfish) love, but mutual sacrificial love. If a person truly loves his friend, then his wish is to give only the highest values of his life and experience to his friend. In St. Paul's case, these values were his apostolic mission and his interior life, which certainly involved desolation and the sense of abandonment, but there was also joy in it, the joy of serving God; and it also involved union with Christ, a union that delights the soul.

In the 19th century, the first lay religious movement was founded by Pio Brunone Lanteri and it was called "Christian friendship." We too must achieve this kind of friendship, one that involves a true exchange of treasures, treasures of spiritual life and knowledge of God. This should be done with mutual understanding and respect and with a sincere desire to help one another.

How can we achieve all this? We can achieve this if the weekly Group Meeting really becomes one of friendship in Christ. Only if this happens, will the Group Meeting no longer be a burden; in fact, you will feel the need to go to the Group Meeting, because, clearly, the love that unites us gives light to our life, light which it wouldn't otherwise have. It enables man to overcome his loneliness: this is the first sorrow experienced by man in his earthly life. Since the purpose of the Group Meeting is to foster Christian friendship, it is clear that our group meetings should focus on the Word of God, on our Christian experience, an experience born of our spiritual meditation, in which we encounter the Lord

We must certainly have the utmost respect for others. That is, we shouldn't ask others what they would be unwilling to give. In other words, we should ask nothing and accept everything. But, clearly, friendship means sharing values, the highest values. Certainly, we cannot force intimacy on anyone; intimacy is something that should come about naturally and gradually through time spent together. However, intimacy should be our aim. We should seek fraternal communion with everyone and share with them the treasures of knowledge and interior life that the Lord has bestowed upon us. We should do this, not in order to feel good about ourselves, but in order to form a bond of love with each other, thereby establishing real fraternal communion. Without this, the Group Meeting will be difficult and artificial. We should achieve fraternal communion with each other not only in the Group Meetings, but also during Gatherings and Retreats. I shall say more: we should strive to establish fraternal communion with others even in the Spiritual Exercises, because we should never lay aside our love for God and for our brethren.

If we grow in love of God and neighbour, then our growing love should show in the fact that we are more closely united together in friendship. We are not members of a club, members who get together for economic or work reasons. Rather, we are united with one another by reason of our bond with God. We are united together by reason of the charity that makes us all one in Christ.

We must understand that Christian friendship is one of the most precious fruits of Christian life. We have spoken very little about it because when the topic is brought up, what comes immediately to mind are exclusive friendships, and the danger of creating exclusive friendships does indeed exist. Actually, spiritual life always involves risks, but we should be prepared to deal with and not avoid them. In the end, when we walk on the way of perfection-and the road is always uphill-the higher we go, the more dangerous the fall. But we should continue to grow in true friendship: this doesn't necessarily lead to particular or exclusive friendships. The more we grow in love, the more open we will be to accept others and give ourselves to them.

Once we have matured by means of our experience in the Group Meeting, an experience which involves spending time together in small groups, we shall be able to open up to larger groups and ultimately to the entire Community. It involves opening up more and more to welcome others. It is a gift that multiplies and can thus be shared with our brethren, but it always remains a personal gift and this is the most important thing.

Bible Study not only enables us to live a relationship with God. When Bible Study is conducted in the Group meeting, it should awaken everyone's interest in such a way that a bond is formed between each person of the group and the person who is leading the Bible Study. If not, then we are doing nothing but playing the school teacher or university professor and this does not help to build up the Community. Jesus had a personal relationship with Peter, John, Philip, Bartholomew and they had a personal relationship with Jesus.

We should understand that establishing personal relationships is the final goal. Nothing can act as a substitute for a person because every person has an absolute value. Since this is so important, we should strive to be more understanding of each other; we should get to know each other better; and we should love others just as they are.

Clearly, in our friendship with others, we should seek to enrich them and we should help them overcome their shortcomings; but this isn't the most important aim. The most important aim is: love. That is, the recognition of the worth and value of each person. Every person, even the least, has worth, because every person is loved by God and is therefore worth more than all of creation.

Christian friendship is something very important and we should ask God for the grace to be able to live it truly.

Observe how St. Paul holds nothing back, how he opens himself and gives himself to others. Undoubtedly, Timothy was much less talented than Paul. He was not a great man as Paul was, but in some respects he was no lesser than Paul: in fact he probably surpassed Paul in one thing: faithfulness. Timothy had left his mother, grandmother and family and had gone on several voyages with Paul. Timothy did this without Paul giving him any guarantee-Paul could not guarantee anything because he himself received nothing but persecution. Paul had so much confidence in Timothy's faithfulness that he asked him to leave Asia Minor-quite an undertaking in the ancient world-and Paul asked him to go see him in Rome where he was imprisoned at that time. Friendship is not something that is beyond God; rather, it is the very expression of our love for God, because love of God includes love of neighbour.

May we, too, be open to others and may we be more understanding and accepting of them! May we form a stronger bond with them! Let us be open in love, a tender love, a love that is truly divine, but one that does not cease to be human as well, because God loved us with a human Heart as well.

The Father
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