Knowing the Truth is Knowing What Isn’t
A few years ago in Canada, we updated our money. Not only is our money in all different colours, but it also has some very distinguishing features that help to prevent it from being counterfeited. One of the most cool features is that it smells delightfully like maple syrup. This probably one of the best decisions our Government has ever made! I was in the United States this past weekend and can say that it is a bit more difficult to ensure I am giving and receiving the correct change, since every American bill looks the same. It requires greater care to ensure that your money is safe in the United States because you could give $50 when you meant to give $5. The same type of vigilance goes for us in sharing and receiving information. We need to know what is the truth and what is the counterfeit.
Through a recent experience, I was reminded of the fact that to be a truly effective evangelizer and witness of the Gospel, I need to be informed of the world around me, and to have an understanding of what beliefs are held that are contrary to our Catholic faith. I understood on a deeper level that while I need to be “all things to all men”, in order to do this, I need to know what other people may believe, in relation to or as compared to what we believe as Catholics. This knowledge also helps me to stand strong when my beliefs are challenged. We cannot be afraid to understand other cultural or religious beliefs, or try to understand other moral points of view, so that we can carry on discussions with others in an informed way, and with love. Most importantly, we need to know the truth for ourselves.
In the book of Acts, St. Paul goes to Athens, Greece and some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers met him and brought him to the Areopagus, also know as the hill of Ares. This was a meeting place for the elders to meet to discuss Greek education, philosophy, and religion. It was also filled with shrines to many different Greek deities. One of the altars was built in honor of the “unknown god”. St. Paul, being versed in Greek culture and philosophy, preached to the elders of Athens and related to them from the basis of their own beliefs, who God is.
So Paul, standing in the middle of the Are-op′agus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:22-25)
In St. Paul’s experience, he was welcomed, and went in and preached, from a place of first understanding and acknowledging the beliefs of the people of Athens. He recognized their seeking of the truth and then shared with them the truth of the Gospel. He provides for us a great example of what it means to be an effective evangelizer. We must known the culture to be able to preach to the culture. This is why the Apostles could not stay cooped up. They had to go out into the world and preach the Gospel in every land and culture.
When we look at the lives of the Saints, we can see many examples of those who went out unafraid into the world to preach the Gospel. St. Francis of Assisi went to Africa to preach to the Muslims. St. Francis Xavier went to Japan to preach to the pagans. We have St. Jean de Brebeuf who came to Canada to preach to the people of the Hurons (he was martyred in the process). In all these examples, they would have needed to study and learn the culture to which they were going.
For us, we may not be called to go to foreign lands to proclaim the Gospel, but we are called to proclaim the Gospel where we are. This means sharing it with our family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. This could be as simple as speaking about it on Facebook or Twitter, sending a text or email, or simply talking about it at Thanksgiving dinner. These are our own Areopagus, to which we need to go and speak the truth in charity and unashamed boldness.