Homilette for Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter, memorial of St. Pius V, pope

(Acts 17:15;22-18:1)

The scene of the first reading likely inspires most Christians. Athens is the cradle of Western Civilization, the home of the philosophers Socrates, Plato, Aristotle; the great Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides; and the historians Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon. Now Paul, the best educated and most successful of Christian missionaries, clears his throat to speak to the learned populace. His words do not disappoint us. They, in colloquial terms, “meet the people where they are.” They hint at Athenian culture and mention the traditional regard for religion. They appeal to the people’s mind, especially their strong sense of justice. Certainly, we feel, Paul will win Athens over to Christ.

Of course, the result of Paul’s preaching is catastrophic. The Athenians not only reject his ideas; they scoff at him. “’We should like to hear you on this some other time,’” is only a nice way of saying, “Get lost.” But Paul and indeed all Christianity learn from this bitter experience. No longer will Paul attempt to impress the sophisticated with lofty arguments. He will tell the Corinthians that he came to them without sublime words or wisdom but preaching Christ crucified. Through the years Christians have had to defend the gospel with reasonable argument and has met this challenge remarkably well. But it has realized all along that faith is God’s gift that neither rhetoric nor logic can implant.

St. Pope Pius V implemented the reforms dictated by the Council of Trent. He was intelligent and had the luxuries of the Vatican in affluent times at his disposal. He was prudent enough, however, to perceive that brilliance and pomp will not carry the battle that the spirit wages. Like Paul and the preponderance of Christianity, Pius understood that that faith and discipline are essential. We remember Pius V to this day for his assiduous leadership in shepherding the Church through a truly critical historical period.