And you became imitators of us and of the Lord. ~1 Thes 1:6
The Second Reading from Mass this Sunday finds us beginning a new sequence of readings, namely, those from the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians. This was likely the earliest of the epistles Paul wrote that are inspired and part of the canon of Sacred Scripture. Readings from this letter will constitute the second reading at Sunday Masses from now until the end of the liturgical year, with the exceptions of All Saints (November 1, next Sunday) as well as Christ the King (November 22).
In the opening of his letter, Paul reminds the Thessalonians of how he, along with other early missionaries, were models of the love of Christ for the Thessalonians, and how in turn the Thessalonians became models worthy of imitation for others throughout the surrounding regions. The theme of imitation is a basic Christian one, and certainly one that comes up from time to time in the letters of Paul. Perhaps the most famous presentation of this theme is the devotional book The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. This late medieval work is perhaps, after the Bible, one of the most frequently read, printed, and translated works of Christian devotion. It was written by à Kempis in the late Middle Ages, just a few decades before Luther and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The Imitation of Christ belongs to a pre-Reformation movement, the Devotio Moderna movement. This movement, which was based largely in north-central Europe, was a response to the dissatisfaction with much of the corruption in the Church, with a celebration of the liturgy that could often times feel very distant and merely the domain of the clergy, and an exercise of popular piety that was largely focused on externals and at times superstitious practices. The Modern Devotion movement placed emphasis on sanctification through an interior configuration to Christ, above all in our moral life. As Erasmus of Rotterdam, another figure of the Devotio Moderna movement, once observed: we worship Christ and honor the saints more through our imitation of them, than by merely praying to them.
Disappointment with members in the Church can be a frequent source of discouragement and even a temptation to quit our efforts to be holy. Rather than worrying so much about the shortcomings and sins of others, we would do well to heed the example of the Thessalonians: to become imitators of Christ and the saints.
Fr. Richard Hinkley