Today the Lectionary for Daily Mass turns to readings from the Christian Scriptures for the first reading. We encounter St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians.
St. Paul began preaching in Greece in about 50 A.D., approximately twenty years after Jesus’s return to the Father. He probably began in Philippi and then turned to Thessalonica. His experience of preaching to the Gentiles was fraught with difficulty as he was persecuted by both the Gentiles and the Jews for his efforts. The suffering that he endured also fell upon the communities he founded. In both Philippi and Thessalonica, he was grateful for the fact that these converts to Christianity persevered in their faith in the Gospel despite persecution.
While many of St. Paul’s letters are theological treatises, the Second Letter to the Thessalonians is dubbed “parenetic” by Scripture scholars. In other words, it exhorts and encourages the recipients of the letter as it continues to persuade them to hold firm to the faith they have professed. That encouragement is evident from the very outset of the letter. “We ought to thank God always for you, brothers, as is fitting, because your faith flourishes ever more, and the love of every one of you for one another grows ever greater. Accordingly, we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God regarding your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and the afflictions you endure” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4).
Every one of us knows how important encouragement can be. Teachers and parents especially understand the power of positive reinforcement. Much of life tests our capabilities. Constant testing can be daunting. When I was a high school teacher, I purposely made the first quiz or test that I gave relatively easy. I remember the broad smiles that would appear when I handed back the tests. When a student starts out with an “A,” it usually engenders a desire to get another one, to keep it up, to see how long he or she could maintain that level of performance.
Giving positive reinforcement can be another form of “mercy.” All of us know what it is like to be criticized. Even if the criticism is justified, it is usually a source of a certain amount of sadness or ill feelings about oneself and one’s performance. Paying compliments, finding something positive to say is usually a great “pick-me-up” for anyone who is feeling less than satisfied with his or her performance.
St. Paul knew this well. No one can gainsay that his letters are filled with challenges as well as reproof when he encounters something that needs correction. Yet all of his letters begin with a statement similar to what we read today at the beginning of the Second Letter to the Thessalonians. St. Paul is very much in the habit of beginning by giving thanks for what is right or good before pointing out what needs to be corrected.
As we move forward today, we can all emulate St. Paul’s efforts by finding something positive to say to our co-workers, our students, our children, and our friends as we go about the business of our day.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator