Saint Paul’s letters addressed to the Thessalonians are the oldest New Testament writings. He wrote them during his second missionary journey, less than 20 years after the Resurrection. On that journey he entered Europe for the first time and the Macedonian city of Thessalonica was his second stop. In 1 Thessalonians he praises the members of the church because they spurned idols and set an example for other Christian communities throughout the world. “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all believers” ( 1:6).
At that time the gospels existed only by word of mouth and Paul’s others letters had yet to be written. His early writings raise the curtain on the basics of the faith. He commends the Thessalonians, who have turned away from pagan idols and devoted themselves to God. Look forward to the second coming of Christ who would leave believers into the kingdom of Christ’s joy.
We can’t find fulfillment in lifeless idols because our souls were created by God and connected to him for eternity. Today’s neo-pagans worship man-made gods and practice a religion that is nothing but superstition.
One sort of idolatry threatening our faith today is practical atheism. This worldview may even include believing in God and Mass attendance on Sunday but that’s as far as it goes. The workaday practical atheist puts God on a shelf and takes him down on Sunday to ease their conscience and to fool themselves that they are “basically a good person.” In fairness they may be a good person but they’re not being a good Christian.
In essence, they are worshipping a false God because they pray to a God in whom they can’t believe. They seek fulfillment where it can’t be found: in mere human achievements; they go along to get along. There is only one God and he doesn’t manifest himself on a flat screen TV , a summer home, or an SUV.
Jesus, when tested by a lawyer on which commandment was the greatest, replied, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than this. The whole Law and the prophets depend upon this” (Mt 22:36-40).
The Law and the prophets that Jesus refers to were considered by the Jews to contain the unique revelation of the one, true God to his only chosen people. Because we are the spiritual decedents of the ancient Israelites we must live by the same holiness code which God gave them through Moses. Now we follow Jesus who gave us the gospel, the fullness of Divine Relation.
To the practical atheist Sunday worship becomes just another item on their checklist of things to do on the eighth day. Wal-Mart runs, dropping off kids for soccer, and collegiate and professional sports: all elbow God out of the household and distract stifle our awareness of his mercy. The prevailing attitude of many Catholics is to get church out of the way so they can do other things. This is clear by the way people dress for Mass. In the “old days” churchgoers put on their “Sunday best.” A man had two suits, one they wore to work all week, one reserved for Sunday. Nowadays many come to church dressed inappropriately. The don their garish sports team jerseys and aren’t fully present nor are they conscious of the miracle taking place on the altar. They are thinking about kickoff time and chips and salsa (see Sacrosanctum Concillium no. 41).
This is especially acute among liturgical ministers. The extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist and the lectors walk into the sacristy in their summer attire, flip-flops, shorts, and t-shirts. The lectors skim the readings because they did not prepare by praying with the scriptures all week. When they ascend the pulpit they might has well be reading the phonebook.
Paul praised the Thessalonians for their devotion to the Word and how they set the standard for other churches to follow. “For from you the Word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything” (1 Thes 1:8). Paul, echoing the words of our Savior, reminds us to seek first the kingdom of God, and not only for an hour on Sunday but for eight days a week.