Updated: May 16, 2020
Praying during the Global Pandemic- Christians in the World in the light of Paul at the Areopagus
Father Lawrence Bausch
In the name of the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This past week, Pope Francis appealed to people of all religions to pray for an end to the Covid 19 pandemic.
This call was met with criticism from some, claiming that he was downplaying the uniqueness of Christianity. In the light of last week’s sermon, I would suggest that this criticism is not helpful. This global pandemic threatens people throughout the world, and we are all in this together. The more all of us can work in harmony to address the challenge, the more effective our prayers can be.
In today’s reading from Acts (17:22-34), we read St. Paul addressing Greek “pagans” on the subject of the divine. In this passage he affirms two elements of their beliefs and practices and shows how each can connect with and benefit from the message he is bringing to them. I believe that looking at these in turn can help us understand, connect with, and pray for (and perhaps with) non-Christians during this season in which we are acutely aware of our global solidarity.
First, Paul stresses that all people are related. He quotes two Greek authors who make this point. One wrote, of a ‘god’: “In him we live and move and have our being”; another wrote, “For we are indeed his offspring”(Acts 17:28). Paul shows how this insight prepares them to recognize that the “unknown god” who has an altar along with many others in this important place is actually “the God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth...” (Acts 17:24a). More specifically, Paul stresses that “he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…” (Acts 17:26a). Because this God is the Creator of everything, he “does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands…” (Acts 17:25a). Paul is helping them to see that their intuition of an “unknown god” has prepared them to look beyond their idols, their other “deities”, because the Creator is greater than all that has been made. So, there is one God for all people, and all are made by him and for him.
Second, Paul commends them for seeking the divine and a deeper knowledge of him. The sheer variety of objects of worship is used by Paul to show how “religious” they are (the Greek word translated “religious” could also be translated as “fear of any supernatural power”). Given Paul’s understanding of the Creator, he writes that people are made “that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him.” (Acts 17:27b). Also, the very fact that they had an altar to an unknown god suggests an openness to further revelation.
In the portion of today’s Acts reading we have been considering, we have seen solid grounds on which to build unity with all people. Paul used the virtue he saw in the pagans of his day to establish connection between them and himself. This strategy may be useful in helping us recognize ways in which we can pray and act as a part of the global community as we face a common threat. Emphasizing our religious differences during this time is only likely to divide rather than unite us.
Of course, Paul goes on to challenge his audience to be open to new revelation, and tosses out a call to repent and to ponder the resurrection of the one who had died! However, he leaves that crucial part of his message to another time. There is surely a time and a place for witnessing to the Gospel, but Paul shows us that it is not going to be all times and places.
As we continue our collaboration with others in responding to our global crisis, we may trust that God will bless us with everything necessary to discern and take this next step. For today, I believe that it is important for us to come alongside all fellow-sufferers and support one another as best we can. God knows what benefits will come through these efforts. May we trust in his promise that nothing we offer to Him in love will be lost, but will bear fruit to His glory and the upbuilding of his kingdom.
COLLECT: O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen