24th Sunday after Pentecost (Sixth after Epiphany transferred)
St Paul gives us today a sort of summary of the Christian life when he reminds the Thessalonians that the effect of his presence among them was to turn them away from idols to serve the living and true God and to await the return of Jesus Our Lord from Heaven, for He it is who delivers us from the wrath to come.
So we have essentially two things: the turning away from false gods to the service of the true God, and the expectation of the coming of the Lord. Christian history is indeed placed in between the period of the departure of Christ for Heaven on Ascension Thursday, and His glorious return at the end of time. In between the two, what are we to do? We are to worship and serve the true God and flee idols.
At the time of the writing of this epistle, the worship of idols was common. Paganism was prominent throughout the Roman Empire and the rest of the world. The very first task, then, of the apostles was to draw souls away from the service of these idols, who were actually nothing more and nothing less than the manifestations of demons, all the efforts to these latter being to entice souls away from God, to transfer their allegiance from the truth to lies, from life to death.
In every age the role of the Church is to lead souls to the true God and the form of adoration He desires, that is to say, the worship of God incarnate in spirit and in truth through the sacraments of the Church and a life lived in conformity with the commandments. All forms of false worship also include immorality. It is a constant. There is no false religion that does not teach or at least tolerate certain evil actions. That is why at the very end of his first epistle, St John tells the disciples: “Flee idols”, that is to say, run away from them as fast as you can, do not strike up a conversation, do not dialogue, run away, lest you be contaminated by the virus of false ideas and immoral living. This is a lesson for Christians today. In the modern pantheon one can find any form of religiosity to suit one’s tastes, and one can sometimes be tempted to go god-shopping or at least to flirt around with heterodox ideas, when it is not to create one’s own false form of worship which in way or another is really worship of self. The reminder of St John is as insistent today as it was then: Flee idols. Flee false religions. Flee any corruption or adulteration of the true doctrine handed down from the beginning by Holy Mother Church.
The other texts of today’s Mass tell us how to do that. Prayer, first of all, is of the greatest importance. It is a vital necessity. If we ask, we shall receive. If we feel weak and powerless, if we turn to the Lord in prayer, we shall be heard, and we shall become a practical realisation of the parables of today’s Gospel: the grain of mustard seed that is so small and produces the biggest of the garden plants; the leaven in the dough which causes it to rise. Both the mustard seed and the leaven are invisible to the naked eye. They go unnoticed. They do not draw attention to themselves. And yet, while the world sleeps and goes about its business, they grow and eventually cover the earth.
This reality has always inspired the Church. As she goes about her task of preaching the Gospel and converting the nations, she often meets with resistance. But that does not prevent her from proceeding with the all-important task of sanctifying her children. If Christians become holy in their daily lives, the world is gradually transformed, from the inside.
“My thoughts are thoughts of peace”, saith the Lord. Let us then seek peace and pursue it avidly. Not a fictitious peace, which is surrender to the forces of evil, but the peace the follows the victorious struggle against self, against one’s passions, against one’s prideful spirit of independence. If we pursue those thoughts of peace, if we allow the Lord’s peace to reign in and through us, then we can be sure that at his return, the Lord will deliver us from the wrath to come, that wrath of God which is upon all sinners and will manifest itself at the same time as His mercy is manifested to the saints.