Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Ex 22:20-26; Ps 18:2-3: 3-4, 47, 51 1; Thes 1:5C-10; Mt 22:34-40
I love when I see a connection between the epistle and the other two readings. The reason that those connections attract me so much is I know they were not planned by those who laid out the readings. They are rather happy accidents that allow God, the ultimate author of Scripture, to speak through his providence.
The reading from the Book of Exodus is part of that book that comments upon the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. The Gospel gives Jesus’ teaching on the heart of the law that we cannot truly understand the love of God without living out the love of our neighbor, and we cannot really understand what it means to love each other unless we live out the primary commandment to love God.
So, the commandments regarding love are made clear in the Gospel and the Old Testament, but it is the second reading that helps us to understand how to live the commandments with integrity.
Paul is praising the Thessalonians because they have a well-earned reputation for living the Gospel. They have done this by imitation of the life of St. Paul as he has modeled his life in imitation of Jesus Christ.
It is that reputation that has drawn others to Christ and to the Gospel. The example of the Thessalonians has made the preaching of Paul more effective since their witness shows exactly what full acceptance of the Gospel looks like.
Obedience to the two-fold commandment of love is far more than a personal response to the Gospel. The credibility of the Gospel and the fulfillment of Jesus’ perennial commandment to go forth and make disciples of all nations hang in the balance.
Look at the witness of the saints and the fruits of the Church as it has grown in their wake. Usually, there is a great flowering of the Gospel and of the Church by those who have been inspired by such witness.
Now look at the counter-witness of Christians, specifically Catholics, who have failed to live with integrity the two-fold commandments. Too often the consequence has been a Church that lost the missionary impulse of its founding.
I vividly remember RCIA classes that were filled to bursting in our diocese. I remember listening to the stories of these catechumens and candidates which were so often filled with the witness of certain Catholics that they knew personally or knew by reputation.
The stories are still there, but the numbers have dropped dramatically throughout the diocese. What is especially telling is a reluctance on the part of Catholics to expressly invite others into the Church.
There are causes for this which we all can name, but we should never be so silenced by the counter-witness of others that we forget the power of what Jesus Christ can do in us.
How far is this from the confidence of St. Paul, who invited others to be imitators of him as he was an imitator of Christ? Our diocese, our Church, needs every parish to become like the Church of Thessalonica. We are called not just to be obedient to the two-fold command to love God and our neighbor; we are called to be witnesses of living that two-fold command to our communities, our diocese and our country.
As we are bringing to a close our bicentennial year of the founding of our diocese, taking up that challenge would be a fitting way to truly celebrate the gift of the Gospel we have received in the witness of those who have formed our communities over the last 200 years. With St. Paul we pray for the growth and power of the Gospel to go forth from our witness as well in order to draw all to Christ.