Paul on Paul – 25th October 2020

Pope Francis elevates the Blessed Sacrament in an empty St. Peter's Square.

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time; Year A
1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
You know what sort of people we were among you for your sake.
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.  For they themselves openly declare about us what sort of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.

There is a striking image from the very beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic that is perhaps the clearest demonstration this century of the power of Christianity. Pope Francis stands in an empty St. Peter’s Square after delivering an Urbi et Orbi Address: To the City and to the World. In his hands he holds the Blessed Sacrament aloft. It is a reminder that Jesus is really present among us, just as he has been since the Incarnation.

At that moment on 27th March 2020, where most of the world was in the midst of the Pandemic, and those that weren’t were doing the best to get ready for it,  the Pope stood to act as a beacon of hope to the world. It is “…a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not”.

But how is this to relate to Paul and his letter to the Thessalonians? Paul recounts how he went out to Thessalonica and lived among those people (at, it must be said, great personal risk to himself). But the risk was worth it, and the people learned from him and adopted the Christian life which they are now demonstrating to others.

There is a chain here – each learning from what it is shown: the Thessalonian Church had become a great example to Macedonia and Achaia; St. Paul and Timothy were great examples to the early Thessalonian Church; the Apostles great examples to St Paul; and Christ the Great Example to the Apostles. Ever since the early days of the Church we have learned from others.

So think back, then, to that evening in March, and how the message of Pope Francis in 2020 is so similar to that of St. Paul in 60AD: “How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.”

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