June 22, 2009
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
St. Paul's two letters to the Church at Thessalonika are most often looked to in order to find the apostle's teaching on Christ's Second Coming.
Some people in the new, but suffering Christian community had died and other Church members were concerned that they would not be able to share in the full fruits of the kingdom when Christ did return.
Paul, Silvanus and Timothy wrote to the Thessalonians to provide some consolation and to assure them that all those who die in Christ will share in the full fruits of the kingdom.
But there is much else going on in these two letters – the first letters that Paul wrote – that can help us grow in our faith.
At the core of the Christian life is the Holy Spirit. One can hardly be said to be a Christian if one is not moved by the Holy Spirit. We receive the Spirit at Baptism and the Spirit's grace in us is strengthened through Confirmation.
First Thessalonians begins with the authors proclaiming, "Our message of the Gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction" (1.5).
Then, the authors say, "In spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit" (1.6). Because the Spirit was acting with power among the Thessalonians, God's word "sounded forth from you" (1.8).
Most Catholics today were born Catholic and raised Catholic. We go to church on Sundays and have varying degrees of commitment to personal prayer and to seeing our daily lives at work, home and play as related to the Gospel.
Perhaps for a time we drifted from the practice of the faith but for one reason or another we came back. Few understand our practice of the faith in terms of the power of the Holy Spirit. That is for Pentecostals and we may be distrustful of "emotionalism."
If we see things in this manner, if the Holy Spirit has not in some way seized us, our faith may be less than it could be. That would be problematic. A partial faith cannot transform anything – not us and certainly not the world around us.
First Thessalonians ends with the authors asking, "the God of peace (to) sanctify you entirely." How can I be totally sanctified? It seems impossible to move beyond my spiritual lukewarmness. "The one who calls you is faithful and he will do this" (5.23-24).
The authors offer some tips on moving toward holiness. Love the leaders of the Church. Build up the unity of the community by consoling those who are downcast, helping the weak and warning those who step out of line. Do good to one another.
And then the tips for life in the Spirit: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, . . . do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets" (5.16-20).
The authors offer other helps in 2 Thessalonians - above all to follow the traditions of the faith (2.2; 2.15) and to call on the Lord to protect you from the tempter (3.3).
ROOTED IN THE SPIRIT
But if you are not rooted in the Holy Spirit, your following of the traditions may become mechanical and you will not be able to resist the tempter.
In a way, Paul takes the power of the Holy Spirit in the Christian community almost for granted. He reminds the Thessalonians of the centrality of that power to the Christian community, but he doesn't dwell on it as he does later in his letter to the Romans and in 1 Corinthians.
How can you live a Christian life if you don't pray ceaselessly, if you look down on prophecies and if you quench the Holy Spirit? Paul would be dumbfounded, totally baffled, at such a prospect.
So should we be. We cannot be satisfied with a faith based solely on word and ritual. We proclaim the living God. We will only find him if we seek out and live in accord with the power of the Holy Spirit.
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