It’s one of Christendom’s classic sermon themes this time of year as days shorten and cooler air reminds people of their mortality.
"Come Before Winter" conjures the desperate letter the imprisoned Apostle Paul is said to have written from Rome to his loyal young missionary, Timothy, imploring him to set sail before the Mediterranean Sea was closed by foul, wintry weather and to bring him his coat and books. Paul feared he would be executed before spring, and he longed to see Timothy one last time.
"Try to get here by winter," he wrote in earnest (2 Timothy 4:21, The Catholic Study Bible). Circumstances prevented Timothy from making the trip until spring, and when he arrived at the prison where Paul was held, he found him gone. Timothy would learn that Paul had been executed.
The story of St. Timothy comes alive next weekend in the debut of an original musical by composers Tim and Julie Smith, commissioned by their parish, which is named for the first-century missionary — St. Timothy Catholic Community in Mesa.
The musical is part of the yearlong 25th-anniversary celebration of the parish founded March 1, 1978, and shepherded since 1985 by Monsignor Dale Fushek.
"Timothy of Lystra: Come Before Winter" is the fifth Christian musical composed and produced by the Smiths since they introduced "Troubadour" in 1988. It was followed by "A Heritage of Hope" in 1992, "Jubilee 2000" debuting in 1998 and "Present to the Passion" in 2000. Several have been performed elsewhere in the United States and Canada.
When the Smiths were approached last year about creating a new musical, it seemed appropriate to explore the life of the church’s namesake.
"We said we would like to do something to let people know who St. Timothy was," said Tim Smith, the parish’s music director. "It always kind of bothered me that, at times, Monsignor Dale would say, ‘We don’t know much about St. Timothy.’ "
But Tim Smith said more is known about him than other major biblical characters such as Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus.
"We know his mother’s name, his grandmother’s name. We know what town he is from, and St. Paul talks about Timothy having stomach problems, and we know he was timid, and people looked down on him because he was young," Tim Smith said.
Timothy was born of a gentile Greek father and a Jewish mother. He saw little of his father and was likely converted by Paul on his first trip to Asia Minor. Timothy’s devotion and faithfulness led Paul to send Timothy on sensitive missions to Thessalonica and Corinth, although Timothy’s fears and unassertive nature undermined his effectiveness. He would be the first bishop of Ephesus. A fourth-century account says Timothy was beaten to death in the year 97 by a mob for opposing the observance of a pagan festival. Because of his stomach illnesses, Timothy is also the patron saint against stomach disorders.
The Smiths collaborated in writing the lyrics and music and many of the words for the play, as they have done in their works the past 15 years. Married almost 19 years, they met at the All Saints Catholic Newman Center at Arizona State University, where both were involved in music. (In July, they did a benefit concert at the Newman Center to raise funds to repair the 100-yearold church, which was vandalized in June.)
The parish anniversary at St. Timothy’s has afforded a chance to involve many in the musical.
"Because this was a kind of a community celebration with the parish, we’ve tried to really involve a lot of peopletogether, early on — a bunch of different writers who came up with different story lines and helped with the research. It is hard to write, so it is a solidarity thing in some ways," Tim Smith said.
The musical has a cast of about 40 adults (including Timothy in three stages of life) and 60 children. Much of it is set in Timothy’s hometown of Lystra, but opens with a somber scene of Paul chained in his dungeon in Rome and writing, " . . . Timothy, my death is days away. Please come. Bring the parchments and my cloak . . . and please, Timothy, son of my heart, come before winter."
"This is really about procrastination," Tim Smith said. "Do what you need to do before the winter of death comes. Say what you need to say. If you need to say, ‘I love you,’ say it. Be there for people."
Tim Smith said his late mother inspired him in his work on "Come Before Winter." She had been "such an integral part of this whole theater thing," a force in his career and the one who named him Timothy.
"I feel her presence and her guidance in this whole thing," he said.