This is the will of God, your holiness. (I Thessalonians 4:3)
We believe in God and love Him above everything else. God has a will. God has a will for us.
What fuels our lamps?
How about acts of faith?
Yes, Lord. I believe. I believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I believe in Jesus, true God and true man. I believe in the Blessed Sacrament, in Confession, in all the sacraments. I believe in heaven. I believe in Your plan, Lord.
Yes, Lord. I believe. I believe what the saints have believed. I believe what the Pope believes. I believe what the Scriptures teach. What the Catholic Church believes, has always believed, and always will believe—until You come again in glory: I, too, believe.
Yes, Lord. I believe. You are holy and good. You will the good. You will that, when all is said and done, I will know You as I am now known by You. Amen.
In the meantime, I believe and hope and love You and my neighbor. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Today I believe.
“Lord, I believe.” How many times a day? Five, ten, twenty, fifty?
Faith fuels our lamps, and the Bridegroom promises to come when we least expect. So we need to keep the lamps burning all the time, with faith.
You received it, not as the word of man, but as it truly is, the word of God. (I Thessalonians 2:13)
Do you think that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., intentonally gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on St. Augustine’s feast day? Maybe he did. The following year, Dr. King went to St. Augustine, Florida, to conduct a non-violent civil-rights campaign.
Augustine of Hippo repented of his pagan way of life and dedicated his prodigious mental energies to ministering the liberating Word of God. I can’t hold myself out as an expert on either St. Augustine or Dr. King. But certainly they shared many things–in addition to African blood.
By leading the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King sought, as a Christian leader, to reconcile black and white America.
St. Augustine also dedicated the better part of his life to reconciling divided Christian peoples. He led the church in North Africa through the Donatist controversy, when a whole generation of baptized Christians disagreed violently with each other over who had the authority to confer the sacraments.
And both St. Augustine and Dr. King emphasized the love of God in their work of trying to unite people. Left to our own devices, we fall, we divide, we invent pretexts for hating each other. But God shares His love with us in Christ. Christ can make us loving and decent, respectful and united in the truth.
St. Augustine and Dr. King taught the gentle, forgiving love of God. The love of the Sermon on the Mount. The love Christ taught us. The love that meets evil not wth violence, but with meekness.
Dr. King himself got a kick out of the story about a black man who had been insulted by a bus driver. “I got two pieces of bad news for you,” the man said to the driver, “First, I ain’t no boy. And second, I ain’t one of them nonviolent Martin-Luther-King Negroes.”
Dr. King had friends and benefactors in New York City. Once he was riding an elevator in a skyscraper with a group of white lawyer friends. A woman got on, and, assuming that Dr. King was the elevator man, she told him what floor she wanted. He courteously pressed the button for her without saying a word. After she got off, Dr. King and his friends had a good laugh over the elevator boy who was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year.
The word of love and solidarity is not the word of man. It is not the word of St. Augustine or Martin Luther King. It is the word of God. Blessed are we if we receive it as such.
As Dr. King put it, quoting the prophets Isaiah and Daniel, fifty years ago:
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain made low, the rough places will be made straight, and the glory of God shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into the beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
As the year of St. Paul marches on, we have now begun to read at Sunday Mass from his first letter to the Thessalonians. Let us take this opportunity to reflect on a couple of important points about St. Paul’s letters. First, though, let us recall the circumstances under which St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians.
After St. Paul preached the Gospel in Philippi, he left the church there in good order, and he headed south to Thessalonica.
Like Philippi, Thessalonica was an old Greek city named after a relative of Alexander the Great–his sister Thessaloniki. Unlike Philippi, at the time of St. Paul, Thessalonica was home to a large number of Jews, and there was a synagogue for St Paul to go to and announce that the Messiah had come.
As had happened at Philippi, jealous Jews denounced St. Paul to the Roman authorities. “This man says there is a king other than Caesar, named Jesus.” To keep him from being put into prison, the Christians rushed the Apostle out of the city quickly. St. Paul went south to Athens, then to Corinth. He remained in Corinth for a year and a half.
While he was in Corinth, St. Paul worried about the Thessalonian Christians. He knew they faced persecution from the same Jews who had denounced him. Since he had to leave Thessalonica so suddenly, he had not had the chance to finish teaching the new Christians everything he had a mind to teach them. St. Paul sent St. Timothy to Thessalonica to check up on things.
St. Timothy reported that the Thessalonian Christians were bearing up well under persecution, but that they were confused about life after death and about the second coming of Christ. So St. Paul dictated a letter to them to explain.
This was the beginning of something enormously important. It was the beginning of the New Testament. St. Paul was in Corinth about 18 years after the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven. Meanwhile in the Holy Land, St. Matthew may have been writing his gospel at the same time. This was the beginning of the writing of the most important collection of little books in the history of the world.
Let us pause to consider two important facts about this moment when St. Paul began to dictate First Thessalonians, and the writing of the New Testament began.
The first fact is this: St. Paul did NOT set out to compose “the New Testament.” When he began to write, what the Apostle had in mind was the Thessalonian Christians, what they knew and did not know. In other words, when St. Paul wrote the letter he was not launching a project. He was already in the middle of a project: He was executing the mission that the Lord had given him, to preach the Gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth.
In other words, the books of the New Testament were written because the Church was already busy doing what She is supposed to do until the end of time. The writings of the New Testament bear witness to the Sacred Tradition of the Church, which the Lord Jesus entrusted to His Holy Apostles at the very beginning. In order to understand this testimony, we of course need the guidance of the successors of the Apostles, the Pope and the bishops.
The second fact to mediate on is this. When St. Paul originally preached in Thessalonica and wherever he went, those who heard him and believed accepted his words not as the teaching of a man, but as the revelation of Almighty God Himself.
There is no way for Christian teaching to make sense if it is not given on divine authority. It cannot be a matter of opinion. St. Paul did not teach that Christ is the Savior for the people who want Him to be the Savior. No: All the Apostles taught that Christ is the one, true God. The Church continues to teach the same. Our faith is not in human teaching, but in divine revelation.
In this day and age we frequently must confront the hostility of a different religion. This religion tries to teach that God does not speak clearly, and if you say that He does, you are close-minded. This other religion tries to tell the Church that the Catholic religion is one among many religions, no better than any other.
There are even Catholics who have been confused by the teaching of this other religion into thinking that if they believe that the Gospel is the true Word of God Himself, then they might not be able to relate other people who do not believe this. And, of course, relating to others with an open heart and mind is a crucial part of being a good Christian.
There is a great irony about this confusion regarding how to be open-minded. The idea that being wishy-washy makes you open-minded is precisely the opposite of the truth.
St. Paul himself proves the point. Has the world ever seen a man more adept at relating to people than St. Paul? He is one of the most genuinely open-minded people of all time. He successfully communicated with more different kinds of people than just about anyone ever has. He “became all things to all men.”
May he intercede for us that we might understand his teaching more deeply and imitate his love and zeal more perfectly.
History has not recorded St. Paul’s exact date of birth, but scolars have narrowed it down pretty well. We are very likely within one year of the two-thousandth birthday of the Holy Apostle who is the human author of half of the New Testament. Pope Benedict has set this year aside as a special Pauline Year.
During the Church’s yearly cycle of readings, our second readings at Holy Mass on Ordinary Sundays are taken in sequence from St. Paul’s letters.Perhaps you have noticed that, through the summer, we have been reading sequentially through Romans at Mass.(For some homilies on these readings, see:
If there were ever a year to follow through on your resolution to try to read St. Paul’s letters, this is it. (And if you never made such a resolution, you should have.)It might be more enjoyable and more stimulating to read them along with the whole Church.The Sunday Mass readings do not include every verse of the letters, so if you read on your own at the same time, you will be a step ahead of everybody else at Mass, and you could give a little lecture in the parking lot afterwards.
Here is the schedule between now and the end of the Pauline Year, next June 29:
Starting on September 28, we will spend three weeks reading Philippians.
From October 19 until the beginning of Advent, we will spend five weeks reading I Thessalonians.(Though on two Sundays we will have special readings:November 2 for All Souls, and November 9 for the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran.)
[During Advent and Christmas season, we break out of our sequential reading of St. Paul, so I am going to have to get back to you on this.]
From January 18 until February 25, we will spend four weeks readings chapters six through eleven of I Corinthians and then two weeks reading the beginning of II Corinthians.
During Lent and Easter season…Very complicated; I will have to get back to you.
From Pentecost to the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, we will spend three weeks reading more of II Corinthians.
To summarize all this complexity, here is your St. Paul reading plan for the Holy Year:
Read Romans before September 28.
Read Philippians between September 28 and October 19.
Read First Thessalonians between October 19 and November 30.
Read First Corinthians 6-11 between January 12 and February 24
Read Second Corinthians between June 1 and June 29.
Follow this reading plan, dear reader, and I guarantee that…