This is one of my favorite stories from the Acts of the Apostles. Having tried to get to the top of the Areopagus rock where Paul is said to have given this proclamation about Jesus by trying to support the Gospel with an appeal to their own poets and philosophers and failed. Somehow his connection with Greek culture and Christian Proclamation just did not convince them except for Dionysius and Damaris. The Gospel has to be preached with the Holy Spirit informing and guiding the speaker so that he or she is not trying to outstage the message. Paul learned this on this occasion. Philosophy and poetry was not the way to lead people directly into the faith of the newly formed Christian communities that Paul, Silas, and Barnabas were founding and energizing into a new way of life.
Paul surely was working with the Holy Spirit but there was a lesson that he was learning. He had to be patient with the responses of others. Conversion is not only the work of the apostle and preacher of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit is the one who touches the hearts of people and leads them to the desire for baptism into Christ, into the faith. Fortunately, Dionysius responded. He was a member of the Athenian supreme court at ; he became one of the first converts in Athens, the center of philosophical and political wisdom. (Acts 17:34). Damaris, a woman of Athens, is also driven by the Holy Spirit to sound the depths of what Paul is speaking about that goes beyond poetry and philosophy. She is a woman of high standing (see Acts 13:50 and 17:34). We must not identify Dionysius the Areopagite with a later theologian who wrote during the middle of the fifth century (450 A.D.).
Paul is speaking but the Holy Spirit touches only a few on this occasion. Some are curious about what he says about a bodily resurrection and want to hear him on this subject in the future.
Certainly, Paul was disappointed but he does persevere and continue to preach in Corinth where he succeeds to invite those who are more earthly minded. He truly has been sent as the Apostle to the Gentiles, but also to the Jews, the Greeks, the free, the men, the women.
If we are in tune with the Holy Spirit we can learn much from our failures and disappointments. The salvation history of God’s plan continues even though we do not see or feel it. We need to witness and preach not only for successful results but also for suffering with the Lord Jesus when no one seems to think we are making sense about Christ and the life in the Spirit. We learn from Paul and all the saints how to do this and to understand the sacrament and mystery of our mission. Failures are part of how we learn to be one with Christ and the saints. May they be few just as there were few converts to Paul’s preaching on this occasion. Amen. Alleluia. Alleluia.
Copyright 2012 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.