Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Communion of Saints

The Second Letter to the Thessalonians, which is among the source texts used for the Readings of the Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle C) is something of a problematic biblical text. Although it has traditionally been attributed to Saint Paul, writing with Saint Barnabas and Saint Silvanus/Silas (cf. 2 Thess 1:1), most modern scholars believe that this text (among others) was written several years after Paul’s martyrdom. Whether this letter was written by Paul or by those who had been formed by the Apostle is, however, in many ways irrelevant to the meaning of the text for the Church today. The text itself, which was certainly known to Marcion and Saint Polycarp (in the mid-second century), describes a local community that was experiencing persecution or dangers from heretical (i.e. gnostic) movements and which was at danger of losing its focus on the Faith that Paul and his collaborators had handed over to the community by their preaching and witness (cf. Raymond Brown, S.S., in The Introduction to the NewTestament, 594-596). 

Our situation is somewhat similar to that faced by those for whom 2 Thessalonians was intended, and we are mindful of those Christians throughout the world (e.g. in the Middle East and Southeast Asia) who are suffering for their faith in Jesus, as well as those who are the victims of violence and natural disasters, most recently the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. We also think of the debates concerning religious liberty here in the United States.
Although it might not be immediately apparent, our union with those who are suffering is at the heart of the Church’s belief in the communion of saints. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church observes, “In the sanctorum communio, ‘None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself’ (Romans 14:7). ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it’ (1 Corinthians 12:26-27)… In this solidarity with all humanity, living or dead, which is founded on the communion of saints, the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all” (¶953). 

In the passage from the Second Letter to the Thessalonians proclaimed on this Sunday, we are reminded that, while the invitation to discipleship is itself a gift from God, the work of discipleship is ours: “We are confident of you in the Lord that what we instruct you, you are doing and will continue to do” (2 Thess. 3:4). The emphasis here is on action as an expression of belief and this Letter more broadly reminds us that to live our faith now, in the present, is to live for the future. By saying this, I don’t only mean looking towards the eschaton, the time of Christ’s return in glory, but it is living in such a way that those around us might have a future, as well. Environmental stewardship, working for justice, securing the rights of the poor and the marginalized, caring for the mentally ill, and providing comfort and encouragement to the victims of violence and discrimination are only a few examples of how we can put into practice the faith which has been handed on to us and live as the saints we are called to be.

A Prayer for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time +
O God, who founded all the commands of your sacred Law
upon love of you and of our neighbor,
grant that, by keeping your precepts,
we may merit to attain eternal life.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)