Sunday, November 11, 2007

2nd Reading for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

From: 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5

The Need for Steadfastness (Continuation)

[16] Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, [17] comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

Paul Asks for Prayers

[1] Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you, [2] and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men; for not all have faith. [3] But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from evil. [4] And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things which we command. [5] May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

16-17. God chose believers without any merit on their part; that choice marks the first stage in their path to salvation; the journey to the goal of salvation involves cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom. Man needs the help of the "good hope" which comes from recognizing that he is a son of God. "In my case, and I wish the same to happen to you", Monsignor Escriva writes, "the certainty I derive from feeling--from knowing--that I am a son of God fills me with real hope which, being a supernatural virtue, adapts to our nature when it is infused in us, and so is also a very human virtue [...]. This conviction spurs me on to grasp that only those things that bear the imprint of God can display the indelible sign of eternity and have lasting value. Therefore, far from separating me from the things of this earth, hope draws me closer to these realities in a new way, a Christian way, which seeks to discover in everything the relation between our fallen nature and God, our Creator and Redeemer" ("Friends of God", 208).

By inspiring us with hope, God fills our hearts with consolation and at the same time encourages us to put our faith into practice in daily life--"in every good work and word."

1. The whole Church, not just the Apostles, is given the task of spreading the message of Jesus. All believers can and should play an active part in this, at least by way of prayer. The Apostle's request for prayers also shows that he realizes that the supernatural work entrusted to him is beyond him and yet he does not shirk the work of apostolate. St John Chrysostom comments on St Paul's approach: "The Apostle [...] now encourages them to offer prayers to God for him, but he does not ask them to pray God to free him from dangers he ought to face up to (for they are an unavoidable consequence of his ministry); rather, he asks them to pray 'that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph'" ("Hom. on 2 Thess, ad loc.").

The "speed and triumph" is evocative of the Games, which had such a following in Greece: the winner of a race was given a victory wreath. The victory, the triumph, of the word of the Lord is its proclamation reaching everyone and being accepted by everyone.

2. "Not all have faith": literally, "faith is not something that belongs to all", that is, not everyone has believed the Apostle's preaching though he has excluded no one from it. The "wicked and evil men" may be a reference to certain Jews hostile to Christianity who had persecuted Paul in Macedonia and were now putting obstacles in his way at Corinth.

It must be remembered that faith is a supernatural virtue, a gift from God, and cannot be obtained by man's unaided effort: "Even though the assent of faith is by no means a blind impulse, still, no one can assent to the gospel preaching as he must in order to be saved without the enlightenment and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who gives all men their joy in assenting to and believing the truth" (Vatican I, "Dei Filius", chap. 3).

God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4) and so to all men he gives his grace and offers the gift of faith; however, they are free to reject or accept the light he offers them.

3. "But the Lord is faithful": and therefore, unlike those who are unfaithful (v. 2), we should put our trust in God: "Do not doubt it", Chrysostom comments, "God is faithful. He has promised salvation, he will save you. But, as he said, he will do so on one condition--what we love him, that we listen to his word and his Law. He will not save us unless we cooperate" ("Hom. on 2 Thess, ad loc.").

"He will strengthen you and guard you from evil": These words may be meant to echo the prayer contained in the Our Father (cf. Mt 6:13; cf. Mt 5:37).

4-5. The Apostle is confident that the Thessalonians will stay true to Christ, and he asks God to give them the endurance they need in the midst of their difficulties. "The steadfastness of Christ" may be a reference to the example Christ gave during his passion by enduring unto death on the cross, out of love for the Father and for us; believers should love God in that kind of way (cf. Heb 12:1). However, "the steadfastness of Christ" can also be interpreted as referring to the need for Christians to be patient as they wait for the second coming of Christ (cf. 1 Thess 1:3).

Love and steadfastness are two Christian virtues which make us resemble God: "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Eph 5:1-2). So, love and endurance are interconnected and complement each other "Jesus came to the Cross after having prepared himself for thirty-three years, all his life! If they really want to imitate him, his disciples have to turn their lives into a co-redemption of Love, by means of active and passive self-denial" ([St] J. Escriva, "Furrow", 255).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

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