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Paul and the Athenians

by May 8, 2024Friar Reflection

The Apostles have been commissioned to preach the Gospel to the whole world: “But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).  In today’s first reading from Acts we see Paul witnessing and preaching in Athens, the classical center of culture and philosophy.  In this center of Greek culture Paul preaches to a Gentile audience.  He begins by recognizing their piety, “You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious.”  Now Paul desires to make known to them the one true God: “What…you unknowing worship, I proclaim to you.  The God who made the world and all that is in it.”  He invites them to find the one true God who is already in their midst since “In him we live and move and have our being.”  It is only when Paul speaks about God raising Jesus from the dead that some scoff.  These Greeks believe in the immortality of the soul but not the resurrection of the body.  For these Greeks the body is a prison and so they reject the idea of the resurrection of the body.  Nonetheless, “some did join Paul and become believers.”

Paul shows the true way to evangelize.  We do not bring God to people rather we help them to recognize the presence of God already in their midst even though they may worship God imperfectly.  We help them to discover that the one true God is a God of love and mercy not a God of violence and revenge.  As Pope Francis has taught: “Violence in the name of God is a blasphemy.”  All of us, both Christians and non-Christians, need to discover anew each day the one true image of God.  Each day we are invited to have a personal encounter with Jesus and so come to a deeper knowledge of this one true God who has given us the gift of life and love.

The words of St. Paul are echoed in one of the Prefaces for Sunday mass:

“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.

For in you we live and move and have our being, and while in this body we not only experience the daily effects of your care, but even now possess the pledge of life eternal.”    (Preface of Sundays in Ordinary Time VI).

Image: “Herodion, Athens … HDR” by Emil9497 Photography & Art is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.