Is This a Cult?

In the course of his tour through Greece, St. Paul addressed the Athenians. He spoke to cosmopolitan people who knew little of Jewish monotheism. The Apostle observed the numerous pagan altars in Athens.

St. Paul’s address to the Athenians took place within a context that it is helpful for us to recall.

In Jerusalem, in Athens, in Rome, and everywhere in between, the people worshipped at altars. In other words, wherever St. Paul spoke about Christ, he spoke to people who exercised a religious cult of one kind or another.

In our day and age, the word ‘cult’ has come to suggest mindless adherence. But the root meaning of the word is something simpler. A cult is simply the external expression of a group’s religion.

As St. Paul pointed out to the Athenians, people are naturally religious, so people naturally exercise a cult.

The problem is this: All the cults of the world are natural expressions of human submission to the higher power. But only one cult expresses that submission in accordance with God’s express will. In other words, all religion is natural, but only one religion is true.

St. Paul spent his life explaining–to religious people–the true religion, which is the religion of Jesus Christ. And he spent his life practicing–for the benefit of cultish people–the true cult, which is the Holy Eucharist and its attendant sacraments.

St. Paul’s successors have done the same. St. Justin Martyr was one of these successors. Justin explained the true religion to religious people, like rabbis and philosophers. And he explained the true cult of the Holy Mass to the Roman Emperor.

What does this have to do with us? Didn’t the Word of God exhort us this past Sunday to stand ready always to give an account of our faith to any inquiring mind?

Not only that—Don’t we owe it to ourselves to seek solid explanations for the tenets of our religion and the practices of our cult? Catholicism is NOT a ‘cult,’ in the pejorative sense of the term. We are free to ask questions and seek explanations. The more we do that for our own private benefit, the readier we will be to help others.