Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost (6 Epiphany)—18 November AD 2018
Ave Maria!

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Man dwarfed by mustard bush[*]

    This morning's epistle, Saint Paul's first to the Thessalonians, was written to the people of Thessalonica (in southern Greece) about the Apostle's continuing affection and prayer for them.[1]  Saint Paul had been preaching there, but his success in making converts stirred up a riot among the zealous Jews, and he was forced to move on toward Athens.[2]   After a time, Paul sent Saint Timothy back to Thessalonica, and was very pleased with the report that Timothy sent him, saying that the Thessalonians had continued to practice the Faith in Paul's absence.  So, Paul was writing to encourage them to bear up under their persecution, and to continue to make progress in the Faith.[3]

    Trying to practice the Catholic Faith in the modern world, we often feel something like the Thessalonians.  We often are made to feel like strangers among our own people.  The scarcity of good priests and bishops often requires us to keep the Faith "on our own."  It is worthwhile to consider the things to which Saint Paul attributes their perseverance:

    God blessed them generously with the supernatural virtues, and the Thessalonians responded by practicing those virtues;  “your work of faith, and labor, and charity, and your enduring hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Paul mixes "labor" right in there with faith, hope, and charity—he is talking about the practical expression of the virtues—good works done for the poor and widowed and the orphaned, as well as the sharing of their Faith with the non-believers who lived around them.

    Saint Paul even points out that they had become a good example to people throughout the region:  “From you the word of the Lord has been spread abroad, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith in God has gone forth.”  That is to say, all throughout the Greek peninsula, probably up to modern day Albania.  The way Paul phrases these words suggests that it was their good example, more than any overt missionary activity, that “became a pattern to the believers” with whom they came into contact.

    “You have turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God.”  Not only had they abandoned the worship of lifeless and false “gods,” but they had turned their attentions and their efforts to the true God.  All too often, people convert from something to nothing, or perhaps to a lukewarm version of Christianity.  Not so the Thessalonians, whom the Apostle here praises for their enthusiasm.

    Again, all of these things came from the exercise of the virtues God had given them.  “Our Gospel was delivered to you … in the Holy Ghost.”  Through Faith and through the Sacraments, the Holy Ghost came to dwell within them in a personal way. And their warm reaction to the Holy Ghost caused God's influence to spread throughout their people and beyond.

    In light of this morning's Gospel, we might say that the Thessalonians received the Holy Ghost in much the same way that flour receives leaven.[4]  Given the right conditions, a little bit of yeast will cause a large amount of dough to rise and become suitable for baking.  The Holy Ghost permeated the church of Thessalonica because it presented the appropriate environment.

    If you have ever baked bread, you know that the dough won't rise if it is too hot or too cold, or too much exposed to light or to vibration.  Likewise the soul or the church that the Holy Ghost is trying to “leaven” with holiness.  The process of “rising” in holiness will not go forward if we are cold towards God, or burning with the fires of lust, or standing in the bright light of our own pride, or if we permit ourselves to be agitated by the works of the world.

    But, on the other hand, if we approach God with the right conditions of soul, holiness will spread not only through us but through those around us.  The virtually invisible seed of Faith will sprout and grow to something the size of a tree.  If we take care of the internal and the little, our Lord will see to the external and the great.

    As modern Catholics we ought to have a great deal in common with the Christians of Thessalonica, imitating them in the ways so strongly praised by the Apostle Paul:  Striving by faith and works to exercise and to increase the virtues given us by God;  Being a pattern of good example to each other and to those outside of our small circle;  Turning from time-wasting pursuits (the idols of the modern world) to the service of the one true God;  Cultivating in our souls those conditions needed for the Holy Ghost to leaven us with holiness, and to branch out for the salvation of souls.

    Finally, let me mention that Saint Paul did not allow the Thessalonians to “rest on their laurels.”  Neither may we allow ourselves to do so.  His two epistles to them might as well be written to us.  He exhorts us to charity and chastity, to obedience and patience, to constant preparation for our personal end (which may come at any time).   He exhorts us to thanksgiving and mutual prayer, and cautions us against idleness.

    Perhaps his most important admonition comes toward the end of his second letter:  “Brethren, do not grow tired of doing good.”[5]   Those who do not make progress fall backward.  We can never be content to look back over our achievements in the spiritual life.  Just like Paul's Thessalonians, two thousand  years ago, we must always look forward to pleasing God.  “Brethren, do not grow tired of doing good.”




Dei via est íntegra

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