Cardinal, Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria
2 Thessalonians 1:1-5.
1. The text for our reflection today, from 2 Thes. 1: 1-5, is the introduction to the short 3 chapters epistle of St. Paul. This epistle, among other things,refers to some disturbing events among the Christian community in Thessalonika, They seem to have among them an exaggerated concern about the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus Christ, so much so that some of them had stopped working for a living, and just waiting for the Lord to reappear. Furthermore, in their idleness, they were disturbing other people who were going about their normal businesses.
2. St. Paul confirms that indeed Jesus is coming again, but not as soon as they expected. The signs of the end are still to be verified. Therefore, life must continue, with everyone working hard to earn his or her daily bread.
3. The language of this text further makes rather unclear references to situations of “persecutions and afflictions”. We can presume that those to whom the letter was addressed were quite conversant with what he was talking about. Whatever may have been their difficult circumstances, Paul boasts of their “endurance and faith”. He also gives them hope that God, in his justice, will consider them “worthy of the Kingdom of God for which you are suffering”.
4. It is in this context that we are to read and understand what Paul says in the very first sentence of his letter: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.“
He wishes them grace, the free gift of God, which gives endurance and faith to bear persecutions and afflictions, and to patiently suffer for the Kingdom of God. Above all, in everything, Paul wishes them peace, not just any peace, but peace which comes from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a peace which surpasses all understanding, which nothing and no one can disturb – not even war, since it comes from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
5. In the past couple of days, we have been talking quite a lot about peace – especially in the face of the horrors of wars – death, pains, destructions, exiles and refugees. It will already be a great thing if we could stop these physical wars. We have been lamenting the sad lack of the political will to take the steps necessary to halt these avoidable tragedies. But we know that even if we were to succeed in doing that, it would still not be enough. It is often said that war is not the absence of war. But what is it? Maybe a serene and harmonious environment built upon justice and solidarity? This reminds us of St. Augustine’s idea of “tranquilitas ordinis” – tranquillity in good order.
6. But this kind of “perfect peace” is hardly ever realized, or even realizable in our human experience. Most of the time, we have to make do with an imperfect peace. At times, we may have to live with the horrors of war, persecutions and afflictions.
7. I see a precious message of consolation in what St. Paul tells us in our reading of today. It is that in whatever condition we may find ourselves, there is always the grace of God which sustains our faith and hope. There is also the peace which comes from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Dear brothers and sisters, this is not just a pious talking in the air. It is real. Those who doubt it only need to listen attentively to the testimonies of faith and hope of our brothers and sisters talking to this conference coming straight from the horrible theatres of war, persecution and tribulation. This is why when we say “peace is always possible”, it is not just a vague expectation in hope, but a real act of faith in our God of peace and love.
MAY THE PEACE OF THE LORD GOD BE WITH US ALL. AMEN.