Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost—18 November A.D. 2012
(Mass of the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany)

“Our gospel hath not been unto you in word only, but in power also,
and in the Holy Ghost, and in much fullness....”[1]

    In writing to the people of Thessalonica (a city in what today is northern Greece, a little bit inland from the Aegean Sea) Saint Paul is almost boastful because they make up one of his most successful efforts at evangelization.  Other local churches accepted the Catholic Faith from him, but the Thessalonians seem to have accepted it most completely.  They not only accepted and claimed to believe the teachings of Jesus Christ, but they conformed their actions and their very lives to the Gospel.  By comparison, when Paul wrote to his converts among the Corinthians he had to warn them to give up a number of immoral vices.[2]  The Thessalonians served as a good example of what it meant to be a Christian to all the people of their region.

    Clearly, the believing of the truths of Faith revealed by God, and the keeping of His Commandments, is of primary importance to each Christian individual.  Those whom Paul had to correct among the Corinthians might have been eternally lost if Saint Paul had said nothing, or if they had ignored his words.  But Paul’s joy over the behavior of the Thessalonians goes beyond these holy individuals.  They were a necessary “pattern to all that believe” in the area around them.  Paul knew, as we also should know, that there is a continuous struggle in the world that seeks to draw men and women collectively away from God.  In all times and places, there are false religions and false philosophies that seek to replace God, the Gospel, and the Church.  The antidote to these false religions is found in God’s grace and in the example of the steadfast believer.

    In Paul’s time there was the Roman Empire.  Rome had a whole pantheon of false gods, and would, on occasion, put people to death for refusing to worship those false gods.  More than death itself, the tortures of the ancient world might move the less-than-dedicated Christians to “apostasy,” the abandonment of their Faith.  Having a few really good examples around could really help to inspire those of lesser faith.  Around 200 A.D., the Roman writer, Tertullian, said:  “The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church.”[3]  It was martyrdom—willingness to die—that inspired Christian resistance to false gods and false philosophies.  Paul knew that martyrs would come only from those completely committed to the faith of Jesus Christ—only from those like the Thessalonians—for these were the “mustard seeds” and these were the “yeast” that could leaven the whole Church—nothing lesser would do.

    In the same writing Tertullian mentioned that the persecutors preferred that their victims submit to immorality rather than death—for this satisfied the pagans’ lust, deprived the persecuted of the victory of martyrdom, and dishonored them in the eyes of their fellow Christians “for the stain upon chastity is reckoned more heinous among us than any punishment and any death.[4]

    Now, it is said that even among the priests of the false gods, there were few or none who actually believed in them.  “Jupiter, Minerva, Ceres, Diana, Venus, Mars, and Apollo” were the stuff of Roman literature in the centuries before Christianity became legal. but they were hardly “gods” in any authentic sense.  The persecutions served not to honor the “gods” but to secure the power of the ruling elite.  We never hear of a persecution on behalf of Jupiter, for example, or Apollo—the persecutions are always named for the politicians who hoped to benefit from them: Nero, Caligula, Diocletian, Valerian, or Julian the Apostate, by way of example.  The politically powerful made use of the “gods” (and even declared themselves to be “gods” in some cases) so as to deprive the common people of life, liberty, and property.

    None of this went away when Christianity became legal in the Empire.  In some cases it was mitigated by the authority of the Church keeping in check the avarice and immorality of Christian kings and princes.  But there were many persecutors over whom the Church exercised little or no control.  Some were merely conquerors from Scandinavia, with no religious agenda, but others, like the Moslems from Arabia and Mongolia plundered in the name of a false “god” and a false religion.  And like the persecutors during Tertullian’s time, who sought to subvert the morals of lax Christians,  these new religions were happy to make converts by offering a few extra wives, or the prospect of easy divorce—immorality became more of a carrot than a stick.  Again, it took character, like that possessed by the Thessalonians, to stand up to the persecutors.

    In modern times—let us say, since the French Revolution of 1789, or the European socialist revolutions around 1848—the persecutors changed their tactics a little.   Instead of requiring the worship of false deities, socialism is a sort of “religion” that substitutes man himself for God—man or mankind becomes its own false “god.”  It doesn’t recognize sin or grace—it doesn’t recognize man as a fallen creature, eternally lost without saving grace—but substitutes state planning for divine redemption.  Instead of a paradise in the hereafter, socialism promises paradise in the here and now.  It will use the might of the state to absorb the resources of any who oppose the collective plan—forcing them to become collaborators, whether willing or not.

    And, of course, immorality plays a bigger part in the socialist program than in any earlier form of persecution in history.  Socialism doesn’t work—eventually the state runs out of “other peoples’ money” and goods to redistribute.  Contraception and abortion not only appeal to irresponsible lust, but they also keep the state from having to care for future generations of unproductive citizens.  Likewise, the elimination of the feeble and elderly.  We have here a sort of human sacrifice to the state, as it becomes a more and more powerful force in everyone’s life—as it were, a false god.

    This is why the Thessalonians are so important to us in modern times.  Socialist revolution is no longer an isolated occurrence that can be assigned a place or  date in the past, like “France, 1789” or “Russia, 1917.”  Rather it is on every continent, backed by the major political parties, urged upon us even by many Christian churches, bishops, and clergy—and the date is “now.”  The time is ripe for persecution that will make Nero, Caligula, and Diocletian seem mild.  For the salvation of our souls, and for Christians collectively to survive it will be necessary not only to believe the teachings of Jesus Christ, but to conform our actions and our very lives to the Gospel,  “not ... in word only, but in power also, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much fullness....”  Like the Thessalonians, and like all those who have won the victory over politicians, persecutors, and false gods.


[1]   Epistle:  I. Thess. I: 2-10

[2]   Cf.  1 Corinthians v:1-5;  vi:9-10

[4]   Ibid.

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