By Cardinal Justin Rigali
In the city of Athens, Greece during the time of Saint Paul, there was a famous gathering place called the “Areopagus.” This had originally been a place where judgments were handed down in important legal cases by those who were entrusted with the law. As was their custom, after the Romans conquered a land or a people, they allowed their institutions to continue to exist under the ultimate authority of the Roman Empire. Therefore, even after the Roman Empire overpowered the Greeks, their local institutions were allowed to remain. The Areopagus continued to be a place where public discussions took place and opinions were expressed. From it we get the idea of the “marketplace,” meaning the public sector where ideas are expressed and discussed.
In chapter 17 of the Acts of the Apostles, we read of Saint Paul going to this public square in Greece in order to present the message of Christ. He begins by praising the Greeks for their good will and their interest in sharing ideas. He even praises them for having an altar inscribed “To an Unknown God.”
Saint Paul is the model for all preachers of Jesus and, like a good preacher, he takes the good will of the people and builds upon it to lead them into the message of truth. Saint Paul proceeds to present to his hearers Jesus Christ, who is Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. From this concept of Paul bringing the message of Jesus to the public “marketplace” and building on the general desire to know the truth and the good will of his listeners, we get the idea of bringing Jesus and His message to the world in whatever is the public “marketplace” at a particular time in history. In doing so, we take the eternally true message of Jesus and we follow His command to take that message “to the ends of the earth,” using the means of communication given to us at our own given time in history, just as Saint Paul did in going to the Areopagus.
This concept has been in the news quite a bit lately because the Holy See has just begun its own “You Tube” channel. In speaking of this new means of communicating the Word to the world, our Holy Father put it into its proper context by saying that, in addition to fulfilling the desire of people “to see Peter,” as pilgrimages to Rome have been described for centuries, this is also one of today’s means of communicating the Gospel. He went on to say: “So that the Church and its message continue to be present in the great areopagus of social communications as defined by John Paul II and so that it is not a stranger to those spaces where numerous young people search for answers and meaning in their lives, we must find new ways to spread voices and images of hope through the ever-evolving communications system that surrounds our planet” (Address, 22 January, 2009).
The abuse does not take away the use
I have written before about the dangers of some of the modern means of communications. I have especially pointed out the dangers contained in some forms of telephones, which contain viewing devices. This is a particular cause of concern when these devices are used by children and young people. The Internet also, with all its marvelous possibilities, contains many dangers. This is not only the case for children but also for adults who can become addicted to a misuse of the Internet. However, there is a Latin adage: abusus non tollit usum. It can be paraphrased as: “the misuse of a thing does not take away from the legitimate advantages of its proper use.”
This is certainly true in this area of modern communications. The Greek Areopagus was probably the site of some unwholesome conversations and erroneous ideas but this did not mean that Saint Paul ignored this public marketplace. Rather, he made use of its possibilities to proclaim Christ and His message using that very public forum. So it is with our modern communications. Pope Benedict has said that the Internet and modern communications make it possible to provide “timely information about the life and teaching of the Church in today’s world at the service of the dignity of the human person, justice, dialogue and peace” (Address, to Vatican employees, 17 December 2008).
Always at the service of truth
It is important to remember that communications in the service of the Gospel are, ultimately, the means of transmitting truth. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read of the situation in Greece in the time of Saint Paul: “Now all the Athenians as well as the foreigners residing there used their time for nothing else but telling or hearing something new” (Acts, 17:21). This is not praiseworthy in itself but only if there is a genuine desire to learn and embrace what is true. Saint Paul makes use of the marketplace and the desire for knowledge found there to build upon what is good in order to reach the truth.
The Church has always taught that human reason, placed within the person by God, can indeed recognize what is objectively true. Saint Justin Martyr (100-165) placed pagan philosophy, based on reason but without supernatural revelation, in its proper setting when he wrote: “They who have uttered contrary opinions clearly do not have sound knowledge and irrefutable wisdom. Whatever has been uttered aright by anyone in any place belongs to Christians; for we worship and love the Word which is from the unbegotten and ineffable God. All the profane authors were able to see the truth clearly, only through the seed of reason, implanted in them” (Second Apology, 13, 2-3).
In releasing his message for the World Day of Communications of 2009, Pope Benedict indeed praised modern communications and their possibilities. He also warned against a shallow use of communications, allowing us to avoid deeper realities and committed human relationships. For instance, in speaking of the ease with which inspaniduals are able to communicate with one another, he also pointed out the possibility that these instant and frequent, but basically impersonal, communications may take the place of committed friendships and intimate relationships.
This is also true of the transmission of ideas. With the tremendous possibilities of exchanging ideas placed at our fingertips, we run the danger of imitating the Athenians, who sometimes looked upon information and discussions as ends in themselves … “using their time for nothing else except for telling or hearing something new,” without desiring to reach the truth that is there to be received. Particularly in this Year of Saint Paul, we recall that Paul admired the pagans for their good will but that this did not prevent him from being filled with zeal to lead them into the fullness of truth. In communicating the message of Christ to the modern world, the Church reflects the same attitude of Paul.
In the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council, we read: “The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these (non-Christian) religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women. Yet she proclaims, and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (see 2 Corinthians 5:18-19), people find the fullness of their religious life” (Nostra Aetate, 2)
You may wish to access You Tube Vatican, so that you may “see Peter,” as pilgrims to Rome have done for centuries. You will marvel, no doubt, at this latest means of communicating the message of Jesus to the world. It is really nothing new because we are following the example of Saint Paul, who took the truth with him to the marketplace and offered it to those seeking the truth, using the means of communication of his time. You do the same when you proclaim your faith in Jesus by the example of your own Christian lives and in your gentle discussions of Christian truth in the “marketplace” of your own human experiences, just as I am trying to proclaim Christ by the means of communication you are now reading. Let us pray that Saint Paul, our model for communicating Christ to the marketplace, may fill us with some of his zeal along with the strength of his faith in proclaiming Christ by word and example to the marketplace of our world.
5 February 2009