St. Paul’s Areopagus Confidence

areopagusLet’s pause and admire the serene confidence with which St. Paul stood and spoke in the Athenian Areopagus.

Fearless.

Fearless, first of all, because he knew that his speech appealed to something that dwells in the heart of every human being:  the desire for God.

As we read at the beginning of the Catechism…

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself…This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists, it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. Man cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.  (CCC 27)

St. Paul was fearless also because he preached the answer to the question of man.  Man’s desire for God is a question, a question that words cannot adequately express.  God Almighty, Who has a Word more sublime than our human languages, has answered.  The answer is Jesus.

We, too, can stand and bear witness, with the same serene confidence that St. Paul had.  If the Athenians had chosen to stone St. Paul, he was ready.  If they had chosen to embrace him and demand more attention, he was ready.  If they chose to ignore him, he was ready.

St. Paul stood and spoke because he loved.  He loved the unseen God.  He loved the Word of God, Jesus Christ.  And he loved the Athenians, because he loved everybody.  We can love all the Roanokers, and everybody else we know–and stand and bear witness fearlessly, too.

St. Paul’s New Evangelization

St. Paul preaching in the town square

“I alone have escaped to tell you.” The most heartbreaking sentence in the Bible.

Anyone know the context?

The sentence is uttered by messengers arriving to tell Job that all his property has been destroyed and all his family has been killed.

St. Paul speaking in the Areopagus offers us the mirror image of the tragic moments at the beginning of the book of Job.

To whom is St. Paul speaking? To the Athenians? To all the pagan peoples of the ancient Mediterranean? No: He speaks to mankind, to suffering mankind. We could say that he speaks to Job, insofar as Job is every human being who dwells in the shadow of death. And St. Paul’s message to Job teaches us how to advance the New Evangelization.

St. Paul acknowledges: Athenians, pagans, mankind—I see that you are religious. Facts confront you, namely: There is something, rather than nothing. Some force and power beyond our conception set the universe in motion and guides its course. We, intelligent animals—we have a special affinity for this great Almighty Power. We can seek to have a relationship with Him, to praise Him, and even to question Him in an effort to try and understand His mind.

ENGLISH VERSION OF YEAR OF FAITH LOGOOf course, to seek to know and understand the Almighty One can lead to pain, frustration, exhaustion, even despair. Because He is so altogether unknown. The flick of His wrist makes the earth quake and the mountains fall. He stands outside the course of human events, remote, unreachable, full of unknowable counsels and willing altogether mysterious ends.

So, dear inherently religious humans—St. Paul declares—I see into your souls. I see your insatiable yet frustrated religiousness. And I declare to you that something altogether wonderful has occurred. Events have occurred, and I have survived—I have lived—to tell you!

This very same Almighty Power, with whom you so desperately desire to live in harmony, yet don’t know how—Dear People, this God no longer stands outside our world. He does not hold Himself aloof from the course of our struggling lives. To the contrary! In Judea, He Himself became one of us and was born like you and I have been born!

I have lived to see it, and I am here to tell the tale! I have known the friendship of the God-man. I have seen in His face the countenance of the Almighty Father. This Messiah has suffered, He has died, He has risen again, and has ascended on high. He, Jesus of Nazareth, is the final judge of all things, the final arbiter—this meek and mild teacher of peace!

You, dear mankind—you have longings that end only in frustration without these facts. But the facts are real; I’m telling you the truth! The Unknown God has made Himself known, on earth, in Israel—Jesus.

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.