Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Go and tell
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the July 2, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
At a recent back yard barbeque an attorney friend shared with a group of us some of the frustrations of his profession. At the top of his list was getting people to testify in court.
One would think that giving testimony would be easy, he said. All the witness has to do is tell things as he or she saw them, but people seem reluctant to get involved. For some it is the fear of reprisal and even counter-suit that keeps them away. For others, it is a curious sense that they have nothing worthwhile to say. For still others it is the finality of their word which is evoked by the “so help me God” spoken on the witness stand.
In any case, they remain locked in the confines of their hearts and minds, and justice is weakened.
The scenario is a secular counterpart to the well-known scene in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. It is Pentecost, the Jewish feast of harvest. The disciples of Jesus remain locked in the upper room for fear of the Jews. Note the reluctance to get involved – and the sense that their little bit of testimony would add little to change the world.
The Risen Lord enters into this setting with his gift of “peace.” He gives his disciples precisely the task they felt the least willing to accomplish: to give testimony to the world of what had happened in their lives. Quite literally, he puts the binding or loosing of the world’s darkness and sin into their hands. Over the centuries, names and faces have changed, but the basic dynamic of witnessing to faith has not. The invitation remains the same. Regardless the era in which it is celebrated, Pentecost is a summons to witness.
To speak of witnessing to faith embarrasses most of us Catholics. It strikes us as a bit evangelical, perhaps even a bit anti-intellectual. The challenge to testify to the difference Jesus makes in our lives calls for a personal disclosure we usually are not ready to make. To be able to give witness presumes that one is a participant, that there is an active faith to talk about. If Jesus Christ doesn’t make a difference in our personal lives, there is little to tell, except for the possible parroting of childhood piety about Church doctrine. Somehow this seems not to be the point of Jesus’ command to tell the world the Good News.
In giving testimony, a truth surfaces within us that is both convincing and convicting. Once our experience is put into words, it takes on an existence of its own. Sometimes in the process of sharing with others what our personal faith means to us, we might surprise ourselves in seeing how deeply we really do believe. It’s just that we had never had the opportunity to put it into words for another – and, therefore, not for ourselves. Ironically, the reward for testifying is not only a richer generosity of heart; it is also a truer sense of the beauty that lies within.
The one who gives witness has no other claim to authority than a radical appeal to experience. The “theology” of the testifier may bring frowns in a Religious Studies class, but the inner conviction of the believer is what touches the heart of the listener. “So help me God” is a claim to a realm of truth which takes faith seriously as the beginning point for devotion and church practice.
It is clear from history that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has spread to the corners of the Earth to the extent that individuals have been willing to talk about it. In our contemporary world, we may have reached the ends of the earth in our exploration and discoveries. Much territory in the personal lives of those we encounter in the classroom, office, neighborhood, marketplace and home, however, remains to be touched. Whether or not the people who live and work there ever hear or see the Gospel in action just might depend on our willingness to give testimony in word and deed to what difference Jesus has made to us.
Pentecost continues. In fact, it has but begun.
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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