No Pauline Letter to the Athenians

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Acropolis & Areopagus by Leo von Klenze

We read at Mass: St. Paul traveled from Athens to Corinth. (Acts 18:1)

In Athens, Paul had found reverence for “The Unseen God.” He pointed out: This is the true God, the Almighty, Creator and Lord of heaven and earth. Totally beyond us. Greater than anything we can perceive.

Now, tourists still visit Athens—for good reason. To see the Acropolis, a relic of the sublime aesthetic and intellectual achievements of the ancient Greeks.

But where in the New Testament, in the sequence of St. Paul’s letters, do we find his letter to the Athenians?

Paul had proclaimed to them something that they chose not to believe. The Unseen God has revealed Himself. He became man, died, and rose from the dead in the flesh. What we could never have deduced about the Unseen God, He has taught us Himself–by pouring out His Holy Spirit. The Spirit strengthens us and lifts us up, to believe in Christ.

The unseen God loves us. Loves us as His children. Has a plan for us. Wills to share His own divine life with us.

We do not see Jesus, but we know Him. His Spirit unites us with Him. His Spirit is God, the ineffable Life of all that lives, the ineffable Light of all that beautifully shines. And He mercifully pours that Godliness of God into our hearts. To bring about a friendship that transcends our powers to describe.

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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.

Altars, Pagan and Christian

First of all, let me say this: To see LeBron get sat-down was…SWEET!

…At Holy Mass, after Communion, when the deacon or priest cleanses the chalice, he says this prayer quietly to himself:

Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine, pura mente capiamus: et de munera temporali fiat nobis remedium sempiternum.

The translation of this Latin sentence which appears in the current English Sacramentary is an utter mush.

But soon we will have a new English-language Missal! This is how the prayer will be translated:

What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.

Beautifully put. Speaking of well-written sentences: I have seen Hamlet many times. I have seen all the movies, and I have seen it on stage probably a half-dozen times.

The other night I saw the best Hamlet I have ever seen. At the Folger Shakespeare Library. (Not the Folger Shakespeare Theatre Company downtown, which is to be avoided like a noxious cesspool.)

The Hamlet at the Library was great. Seeing it restored my faith in the art of Thespis. Ophelia stole the show. The play made sense to me in a new way–as the story of ruined love. Do whatever you can to get a ticket.

…Here is a short Ascension Day homily:

Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by hands, but heaven itself, that He might now appear before God on our behalf. (Hebrews 9:24)

St. Paul traveled the world to teach the Good News. When he went to the pagan city of Athens, he observed the many shrines to the many pagan gods. This moved him to explain the difference between pagan worship and Christian worship.

Continue reading “Altars, Pagan and Christian”

Missionaries

parthenonHere’s a question:

Did the name of the city of Athens come from the name of the goddess Athena?

Or did the goddess’ name come from the name of the city?

Plato reports that the goddess’ name is from the Greek for “God’s knowledge” (Cratylus 407b).

On the other hand, a number of ancient Greek cities worshiped the same goddess. The different cities called her by different names, and her name was always based on the name of the city. In Mycenae she was called Mykene, and in Thebes she was called Thebe…

October 18: WORLD MISSION SUNDAY

God came to earth on a mission. Jesus Christ was the first missionary.

There are lots of missions out there. The U.S. military is on a mission in Afghanistan. Gilbert Arenas is on a mission to get the Wizards back in the playoffs. A wife might send her husband on a mission to the grocery store to get some milk.

arenasBut of all the missions that people can have, there is only one that will bring about eternal results. That is the mission of Jesus Christ, the mission of His Church—our mission.

Today is World Mission Sunday. There are still places in this world where people have never even heard of Jesus Christ. The missionaries who are spreading the Good News rely on our generous contributions. So we have a second collection in order to send the foreign missions some money.

But let’s face it: Today what we really have is two collections for the missions. Every Sunday we have a missionary collection here. Our parish is a mission field. This neighborhood is a place where a lot of people still need to be ransomed.

Continue reading “Missionaries”