Nothing is Impossible with God (Paperback)
I want to begin by sharing my personal testimony with you. There is a reason I do this. We Catholics have lost the art of sharing our witness for Christ and our testimony with each other in recent decades. We need to rediscover it.
The Church has encouraged us to share our stories of faith with one another as part of the New Evangelization. Some object that this is “too Protestant,” or that words are not enough.
The “too Protestant” objection is typically a defensive reaction against their success regarding music, preaching, and truly engaged attendance by congregants, in contrast to our less-than-stellar record and experience in such areas. It falls away after a few minutes of calm discussion.
Regarding words: True, words must be backed up with actions, and the bishops encourage us to preach with our entire way of life. But words can and should be used at the right time. As the popular saying commonly attributed to St. Francis goes, “Preach always, and if you must, use words.”
Words should and even must be used at certain times. St. Paul says, “But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 9:14–15) Jesus himself says, “And you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Mt 10:18–20)
Likewise, words must be used at the right time and in the right way. Constant quoting of Scripture, sacred tradition, or Church teaching can be as negative as saying nothing at all. St. Paul says to the Colossians, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one.” (Col 4:6) Some scholars believe that this also means with an uplifting dose of good humor.
Scripture says, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.” (1 Pt 3:15–16)
So words are important. But they must be backed up by our way of life, and they must be spoken in the right way at the right time. Knowing just how and when takes a bit of wisdom. Usually that can be found through a simple dose of common sense and courtesy. And the best way to find that is to ask yourself what you would like from someone at a particular time in your life. This is nothing less than the golden rule found in most good mainline faiths and moralities of the world. Jesus said it too: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.” (Mt 7:12)
But there is something even more wonderful than simply using words correctly. We become a continuation of the Incarnation of the Word through our entire way of life in following Jesus. We become a gospel of Jesus Christ.
St. Paul says, “You are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by all, shown to be a letter of Christ administered by us, written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh.” (2 Cor 3:2–3)We are an epistle of the apostles, and a gospel of Jesus Christ. Our entire life is preaching, whether we like it or not. We are preaching either Jesus and God or the self-obsession of the world and the devil without God. The choice is ours. As the Acts of the Apostles says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 8)
But this can be risky business. When we share with others there is a risk that they will reject what we say. They might even reject us as human beings. This is the risk of martyrdom.
The words witness and testimony come from the Greek μαρτυσ (martys) and μαρτυριον (martyrion). It is where we get our English word martyr. To give our witness of Christ and the Church is to take a chance. It is a risk. We might be accepted or rejected. Some have shed their blood for their witness of Christ. This is called the “red” martyrdom. But most of us experience the “green” martyrdom of daily sacrifices of love for Jesus and others. We take the risk of martyrdom when we speak about our faith in Jesus and life in the Church.
We Catholics, and other more moderate Christians and folks of all faiths and goodwill, have developed a distinct dislike for the proverbial Bible-thumper. You know the type. If you have a problem, they have a book, chapter, and verse. We have learned to run the other way when we see them coming.
But we are not exempt from being thought of as Bible-thumpers. We Catholics have our fair share of similar devotees. We might call them “Catechism-crushers.” It is the same religious animal in different theological clothes. But the basic approach is the same. It does not build up, but tears down through an unfair dose of guilt and shame. It remains lifeless and legal. All it does in the long run is repel people from the faith.
St. Paul says to speak only when it builds up another person: “No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.” (Eph 4:29) The word edify means “to build up,” like an edifice. It is οικοδομη (oikodome) in Greek. It is the original superdome! In all seriousness, it means “family dwelling.”
What we want to do is to share our faith in Christ and life in the Church with those who might be going through a period of doubt or discouragement. It is about coming to the aid of a brother or sister in a time of crisis and saying, “You know, I went through something similar. But you can make it. Jesus helped me, and he can help you too.” It is about loving support, not about condemnatory guilt. It builds up; it does not tear down.
I wrote a song called “St. Theresa’s Prayer” that says, “Christ has no body now, but yours.” I have the audience hold hands and realize that we both give and receive the hand of Jesus in this gesture. It reminds us to reach out to hold the hands of those who might be stumbling as we all walk the path of life in Christ. We don’t heartlessly drag them through the dirt. Rather, we briefly pause, and then gently but firmly hold their hands to help them back up in Christ again.
So I want to share my testimony, give my witness, and tell my story to build you up. I also want to encourage you to share your story with others in a way that builds them up in Christ.