by Father Mike Stubbs
Picture St. Paul in your mind. He can look like a very intimidating figure.
He stands there fearless and resolute, with a long beard flowing down from his chin and holding a long sword in his hands. The sword represents the sword by which he was martyred. It also stands for the word of God, which he preached, the word of truth, which cuts like a two-edged sword and penetrates the heart. Those are the words that have rung out clearly over the centuries, the words of his writings that still inspire.
St. Paul can look like a very intimidating figure — self-reliant; a maverick even. We sometimes forget, though, that he operated as part of a team, that he did not act alone. Even when he wrote his letters, some of which ended up in the New Testament and from which we frequently hear at Mass, he spoke on behalf of others.
We see that clearly in Sunday’s second reading, 1 Thes 1:1-5b. It begins: “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians.” These three men are working together to proclaim the Gospel, to build up the church. Even though St. Paul is the leader, he recognizes that he does not act alone. The team includes all three.
The number three plays an important role in St. Paul’s thought. He is constantly thinking of God in terms of three. Thus, in Sunday’s second reading, he greets the Thessalonians with the words: “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: grace to you and peace.”
A few verses later, he adds: “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.” So, in his opening remarks to the Thessalonians, St. Paul mentions the three persons of the Holy Trinity. He is constantly thinking in terms of three.
We see this threefold pattern reflected even when St. Paul is writing about the lives of Christians. He frequently points to the three virtues of faith, hope, and love, on which Christians should base their lives. Those three virtues appear most famously in 1 Cor 13:13: “There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.”
But the first recorded instance in which St. Paul mentions those three virtues appears in Sunday’s second reading, when he commends the Thessalonians on their behavior: “the way you are proving your faith, and laboring in love, and showing constancy in hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” He is pleased with the conduct of the Thessalonians.
May God similarly be pleased with ours. May those three virtues of faith, hope and love cooperate in us to bring about lives pleasing to God, lives which in their own small way reflect the inner life of the three persons of God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.