Image: Bishop Mark Hagemoen greeting Elders at his installation in the diocese of Saskatoon
You might be able to look back at your school years and remember at least one teacher that stood out from the many others and who was a positive influence in your life. Maybe they were funny and made class less boring. Perhaps they took time to pay attention to you and understood you in a way that others did not. Whatever it was, we owe part of who we have become to their instruction and care for us.
In this life there is a lot to learn. It certainly gives us a huge head start if we can count on our parents, teachers and other mentors to share their knowledge and to save us a lot of missteps, by imparting their wisdom and what they have learned from their mistakes and successes along the way. It is true that as young people we did not always take such advice seriously, and some things you just have to figure out on your own, but without their help we would have struggled much more than we did.
In today’s first reading we find Saint Paul offering himself as this kind of mentor for Timothy. In his letter, he outlines the qualifications that he has and the reasons why Timothy would do well to follow his example. He writes, “You know what I have taught, how I have lived, what I have aimed at; you know my faith, my patience and my love; my constancy and the persecutions and hardships that I have overcome with the help of the Lord.” Paul has come through so much and he has done so with faith and trust in God. It would be a terrible mistake on the part of Timothy if he were not to take up his counsel and follow in his footsteps.
Paul goes on to warn Timothy that other people will come along and maybe they will seem like they have something to offer. Paul’s suggestion is that Timothy always weigh what he hears with what he has known to be true his whole life. He should ask the questions, does this fit with how I was raised and what I learned from the people who loved me? Is what they say in accord with the scriptures and the traditions of the faith in which I believe?
In our indigenous communities the discernment of who to turn to for good advice and teaching is a community affair and those who have experience in life, who have learned from their mistakes and who are full of faith are recognized collectively as Elders. Not every person of age is considered an Elder. I once asked an Elder how they came to know that they had become one. He said, “people told me”. It is not an honor that you can bestow upon yourself, it is something that people recognize in you because of how you live and because of the spirit of God that lives in you.
If you are a young person listening to these words, know that you do not have to figure out your life all on your own. Turn to those you can trust and listen to what they have to say. In the end you still get to make your own decisions but there is no reason you have to do so without good information to guide you.
If you are a person with the experience of years, remember the young people who are looking for support in their lives. You might not think you have anything of significance to offer but just reaching out and showing interest in the life of a young person will make an impression. Your story, which you might think is ordinary, might be just the kind of thing that will inspire and give direction to someone searching for a path in their life.
Of course, our best teacher is the Holy Spirit. God gave us the gift of divine wisdom and counsel. If you are making a big decision or wondering how to get back on track, ask for the help of the Spirit to guide you along a good path and know that God will not let you go astray.