When St. Paul spoke in Athens, he referred to the one, true God, Whom no pagan image can represent. The true God does not need our service. Rather, He freely gives us all that we have and are. He has made the whole world and the entire human race. He is everyone’s God, the only God.
St. Paul appealed to the fact that everyone, somewhere within him- or herself, knows this God. God is, after all, closer to every individual human being than he is to himself.
This true God spoke to the ancient Israelites. For this reason, we call Him “the God of Israel.” But He spoke to the ancient Israelites not solely for the sake of the ancient Israelites, but in order to begin to make Himself fully known to the entire world.
In the Mediterranean cities that St. Paul visited, he found Jews—ethnic Israelites—who, for one reason or another, had left the Holy Land. He found pagans, also known as ‘Greeks.’ And he found non-Jewish people who realized the truth, namely that the one, true God—Who they knew about in the quiet center of their souls—that this God had spoken to the ancestors of their Jewish neighbors. These people were ethnically ‘pagan,’ so to speak, but they worshiped the true God and often frequented the synagogue.
In fact, it seems that pretty much anyone who had any serious interest in divine things would go to the synagogue to listen and discuss. The local religious rituals still had a firm hold because of long-standing tradition. But people who thought about things realized that the pagan cults made no sense. In other words, they recognized that only the Jews had a serious religion, a religion that actually dealt with the real God.
It appears that St. Paul focused his preaching and teaching on people who believed in God the Creator. He did not waste a whole lot of energy trying to rattle the cages of actual pagans who were so caught up in self-indulgence and silliness that they paid no mind to their omnipotent Creator.
Rather, it seems to me that St. Paul understood his apostolate as follows: God makes Himself known as God by virtue of His power as the Creator. But he has revealed His love, His mercy, and His ultimate plan in Christ. The apostle must explain that God—Whom everyone knows as the Creator—that He has in fact revealed Himself personally in one unique man, Jesus.
St. Paul saw clearly that it did not matter if you were Jewish or not. You just had to have a Jew’s faith in the God Who made everybody. And it didn’t matter if you were a grave sinner or not. That was yesterday, and today you can be washed clean in God’s eyes by Christ.
The people who believe and receive the mercy of Christ: that’s the Church; that’s the people of God; that, in fact, is Israel, the nation of Abraham.
There’s only one Church. There are no ‘denominations’ in the Church. The idea of a ‘denomination,’ in fact, is like the local pagan cults of St. Paul’s time: a firm tradition that doesn’t make any sense, when you get down to it.
My point is this: Our apostolate is like St. Paul’s. We want everyone with us in the Church. Why? Because the Christ Whom we worship reveals the face of the Creator of every human being. He reveals the truth about our Creator’s mind. Christ founded one Church, and this is it.
Let’s use every talent and every connection we have to try and explain the truth of Christ to everyone.
If someone won’t listen because he has shut himself off from his own Creator, that’s okay. We will wait patiently. Our job in a case like that is to be here with open arms when he comes back to his senses.
One thought on “St. Paul’s Perspective and Ours”
Thank you, Fr. Mark, you have explained our evangelization role very clearly, and that is an important role for Catholics to understand, especially these days when even other Catholics seem lost….