A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hold the traditions

The second chapter of St. Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians (from which today's first reading is taken) speaks dramatically of the Second Coming of Christ and the rise of the "son of perdition" - commonly known as the Antichrist.

These dramatic words (and the reality that lies behind them) can be real attention-grabbers. In particular, many books and movies have been made, fantasizing about the Antichrist, who it might be, and in what manner that dreadful figure will step out of the shadows and take over the world.

Such fantasizing is treacherous.

Yes, the prophecies are true and yes, the "son of perdition" will be revealed, but it is dangerous folly to focus too much on the things of darkness and evil.

Our focus needs to be on Christ and his truth.

The reality of evil, human and superhuman, must never be ignored, but likewise it must never be an object of obsession for us.

Now we beseech you, brethren,
by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and by our gathering together unto him,
That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled,
neither by spirit, nor by word,
nor by letter as from us,
as that the day of Christ is at hand.

St. Paul's principal intent is to keep the Thessalonians from being distracted by rumors of Christ's imminent return. The rise of the "son of perdition" must come first and that denouement will be unmistakable.

Let no man deceive you by any means:
for that day shall not come,
except there come a falling away first,
and that man of sin be revealed,
the son of perdition;
Who opposeth and exalteth himself
above all that is called God,
or that is worshipped;
so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God,
shewing himself that he is God.

There is a recognizable parallel with what our Lord says in foretelling his own coming (e.g., Matthew 24:23-27):

Then if any man shall say unto you,
Lo, here is Christ, or there;
believe it not.

For there shall arise false Christs,
and false prophets,
and shall shew great signs and wonders;
insomuch that, if it were possible,
they shall deceive the very elect.

Behold, I have told you before.

Wherefore if they shall say unto you,
Behold, he is in the desert;
go not forth:
behold, he is in the secret chambers;
believe it not.

For as the lightning cometh out of the east,
and shineth even unto the west;
so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

But even as St. Paul writes about the future "son of perdition," the ultimate false Christ who will appear before the final coming of our true Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, he makes this one fact perfectly clear:

The mystery of iniquity doth already work.

The spin machine of evil is already in operation - as we know all too well.

Indeed, St. Paul goes on to write about "all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved," about "strong delusion, that they should believe a lie," and about those "who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness."

But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you,
brethren beloved of the Lord,
because God hath from the beginning
chosen you to salvation
through sanctification of the Spirit
and belief of the truth:
Whereunto he called you by our gospel,
to the obtaining of the glory
of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And then St. Paul gets to the heart of his message for the Thessalonians (and for us) - the "what-do-we-do-now" statement:

Therefore, brethren, stand fast,
and hold the traditions which ye have been taught,
whether by word, or our epistle.

Again, this is the key part of the passage and the most important message for the Thessalonians and for us: hold the traditions which ye have been taught - that is to say, the truth about Christ which we have received from St. Paul and the other Apostles.

Christians may develop new ways of explaining the unchanging truth of Christ to a changing world, but Christianity is first and last a conservative religion in that it holds faithfully onto that which comes from the unique, perfect and historical revelation of God in the person, in the teaching, in the life, in the death, and in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Therefore, brethren, stand fast,
and hold the traditions which ye have been taught,
whether by word, or our epistle.

We should keep in mind, of course, that this conservatism and these traditions must not be automatically or exclusively identified with the "traditions" of our personal experience or of our childhood (as good as those may be). Our "old time religion" should reach back to the time of Christ and those he himself commissioned.

In this ever changing world, we must always keep reaching back, returning again and again to the source of our faith (ressourcement), as we go forward in faithfulness to the truth of Christ, by what we say and what we do.

Therefore, brethren, stand fast,
and hold the traditions which ye have been taught,
whether by word, or our epistle.

Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself,
and God, even our Father,
which hath loved us,
and hath given us everlasting consolation
and good hope through grace,
Comfort your hearts,
and stablish you
in every good word and work.