Can I Get A Witness?!

This reflection is for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Cycle B, 4/15/2018.

I have always loved, and still love, audience participation! I try my best as a teacher to get my students involved through call and response opportunities. At the military academy I give the command, “Ears!” to which my students respond, “Open!” or after counting backward from 20 I say, “Zerooooo!” to which they respond, “Freeze recruit, freeze!” All day long I engage my students’ eyes, ears, body, and mind by inviting them to respond in some appropriate way that I have taught them. Not only is it helpful to get my students’ full, undivided attention, but also makes the day a lot more fun for everyone!

Of course, this concept of audience participation is not new to Christianity either. St. Augustine was said to be a particularly fiery preacher who expected his audience to respond with “booooes” or cheers that were appropriate to his message. The Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the Divine Liturgy, Sacrosanctum concilium, invites the faithful to, full, active, conscience participation in the liturgy. I don’t think we’ve even begun yet to realize their hopes for active engagement in our liturgies–mind, body, and soul!

I love listening to black preachers (I’m thinking of Southern Baptist, white shirt and tie, drenched in sweat and holding up a Bible!) who effectively call on their audience to provide a witness to the truthfulness of what is being said. “Can I get a witnessss-uh!” to which the faithful respond, “Amen! Preach it!”

Today’s Gospel has Jesus saying, “Can I get a witness?” What exactly is a witness, and why do they matter so much? Eye witness testimony is by far the most powerful testimony in a courtroom, on the playground, or in the workplace. Always the most weight is given to the person who is able to say, “I was there! I saw the whole thing!” Even for as much as psychologists (and hopeful defense attorneys) have tried to discredit eye witness testimony as unreliable, their attempts have largely gone unheard. When the story is too shocking to believe. When it seems preposterous and we just can’t believe our ears, we ALWAYS need someone to step up and say, “I was there! It’s true.” If you were there, you’ve got the trump card. That’s the power of the eye witness.

As we journey through the Easter season, we notice the importance that the Gospel writers place on being a witness, and the Sunday readings emphasize the significance of the eye witness testimony and the importance of faith in what they proclaimed as true.

Last week Thomas wasn’t there and refused to believe in Jesus’ resurrection in spite of testimony from the rest of the apostles. And then Jesus meets him and invites him to believe because of his own experience with Jesus. Others said it was true (I would say that their testimony opened him up to the possibility, then he experienced the risen Jesus himself, and His encounter with Jesus changed him.

Thomas wasn’t even willing to believe Jesus was alive, and then, according to Tradition, he died for Him–being run through with a spear for giving testimony to Jesus in India! In fact, everyone of Jesus’ apostles went to their death giving witness to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection! The New Testament word “witness” comes from the Greek word for martyr. (Greek: μάρτυς, mártys, “witness“; stem μάρτυρ-, mártyr-). Those who courageously gave their life for Jesus were martyred and their martyrdom stood as a witness to their belief in Jesus resurrection!

That’s amazing testimony to the truth of the resurrection! Who would die for something they knew wasn’t even true?! At some point you just laugh and say, “Ha. Ha. You got me! Just kidding!” but they did not. In fact, the book of Acts shows the disciples courageously speaking in the name of Jesus, even when they were told to be quiet and threatened with death. They said, “How can we be silent about the things we’ve seen and heard?” (Acts 4:20)

Jesus is today–no less than then–looking for disciples to bear witness with their whole life that He is real and He is risen. During this Easter season we ought to be particularly mindful to what degree our life stands out in our world as a witness to Jesus. In the way that we talk to and about others. In the way we are generous, kind, and life-giving in our actions. And especially in the way we make Jesus Christ and the community he founded a priority.

Do we study the Scriptures? Do we pray before meals, at bed time with our kids, in the car, or even at work? Do we attend Mass regularly and make it the most important day of our week? Do we actively seek out opportunities to volunteer our time, talent, and treasure to serve those in need locally and abroad? Do we take the time to read the pope’s messages, and the US Bishops teachings? Pope Francis just released his Apostolic Exhortation on The Call to Holiness. Will you read it by clicking HERE?

Jesus probably isn’t asking any of us to be a martyr today, but he is asking us to die to ourself and live for Him. He’s giving out the call today and still looking for a response. He seeking your response to be of your whole body, mind, and soul. He’s sending out the call, are you up to giving the response? In other words, “I say-uh, yezzzz-uh! Can He get a witnesssss-uh?”

And, can I get a witness? If you’re doing something great post it here! Share these posts with people you know. I’d love to hear about it! Inspire us to also die with Him!

Happy Easter! Stephen

By catholicevangelist

That You May Come To Believe

This reflection is for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Cycle B, 4/8/2018.

Today’s Gospel ends with what I consider the MOST important line for understanding the place of Sacred Scripture in the Church, namely, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” (JN 20:31)

I once heard someone say, “The only thing I believe is what is written in the Bible. If it’s not in here, I don’t believe it!” The statement struck me as quite narrow, and I hope it does to you too. Are we to believe that Jesus never went to the bathroom because Scripture never mentions it? Nowhere in Scripture do we read, “…and then Jesus went to a deserted place in order to relieve himself…”

Some may even be so bold as to suggest that because he was God, Jesus didn’t have to go to the bathroom–but that would be the heresy of Apollinarianism, a 4th century heresy that denied the true and complete humanity of Jesus.

To ask Sacred Scripture to tell us every moment of Jesus’ earthly life simply asks too much of the Sacred text–and is anti-Biblical! Scripture itself affirms that there was much more that Jesus taught his disciples and signs he performed that are not written in this book!

Of course, there is another error out there that would lead us into trouble as well, namely, that we can’t believe any of what the Gospel writers claimed to be true–from miracles, teachings, or even to the accounts of the resurrection. But if these signs/miracles never occurred, if the resurrection was just a figment of the disciples’ imagination, then there is no such thing as Christianity, and NO SALVATION in Christ.

St. Paul tells the Church in Corinth in his first letter addressing this very issue. He says, “For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.” (15:16-19)

We would be foolish to deny the eye-witness testimony to Jesus’ miracles and resurrection, and equally foolish to suggest that the only thing we should believe about Jesus’ life and teaching can be found within the pages of 4 gospels and 23 epistles! So, what’s a Christian to do?

Sadly, this is, of course, the very issue that divides Orthodox and Catholic Christians from reform-era Christians. “Scripture alone” for the truths of faith sought to provide an important corrective to the clerical abuses of Martin Luther’s day, but I believe it radically truncated the fullness of the Christian witness to Jesus’ life and teaching.

Don’t you ever wonder what Jesus spoke to his disciples about while they toasted s’mores around the camp fire? What were the little insights he shared with them about the proper Christian attitude, outlook, and way of living? What did he say to them that gave rise to the amazing community that we hear about in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles? “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” (4:32-35)

More than that even, is to consider not just what Jesus said that was never written, but also the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Christian community’s reflection about what was written, and what was not, and what they are to do in each generation in order to advance God’s Kingdom. Jesus told his disciples that there was much more to come! He said, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” (JN 16:12-13)

This is why Catholics are so adamant about Scripture AND Tradition. It must be both if we are to remain faithful to Jesus’ instruction to his disciples and open to the ongoing guidance by the Spirit. Does it simplify things to stick only to what can be found in Scripture? Yes. Absolutely! It’s no wonder that such great biblical work is coming out of the Protestant community,and why so many Protestants know their Bibles so well! Those communities stand as a witness to the fruitfulness of immersing oneself in God’s Word!

But the faithful Catholic does not seek to simplify but must instead magnify! He or she must immerse himself/herself and be nourished by God’s Word, but must also be faithful to the Tradition–the preservation of what was not canonized in the Sacred texts of the 1st century, and to the ongoing guidance received through the magisterium, councils, and theologians guided by the same Holy Spirit that guided the Biblical authors.

I believe that’s as good as it gets! I believe that is the fullness of what Jesus came to reveal. More difficult? Yes–but well worth it. This path is covered in gems dropped in every generation. It begins with the treasure that is Jesus and the 1st century’s testimony to him and the spirit at work in their midst, and it continues right up to our present day. We too are charged with dropping a gem or two of our own! Maybe this blog post may someday be counted among them!

Mary Elizabeth Sperry, on the US Bishops’ website, writes, “Today’s Catholic is called to take an intelligent, spiritual approach to the bible.” She offer the following 10 points for “fruitful Scripture reading.” I think they are helpful as we take a responsible but courageous look at Sacred Scripture today.

Remember, the Bible wasn’t written to tell us EVERYTHING, but rather some things were written down so we might come to believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, and through this belief have life in His name. That’s the meat and potatoes! Step 1. Believe! Everything else is pure gravy for those who believe and have life. Amen? Enjoy the meat, potatoes, and the gravy…maybe even some veggies too.

Below are 10 helpful tips to understanding Scripture that every Catholic should know.

1 Bible reading is for Catholics. The Church encourages Catholics to make reading the Bible part of their daily prayer lives. Reading these inspired words, people grow deeper in their relationship with God and come to understand their place in the community God has called them to in himself.

2 Prayer is the beginning and the end. Reading the Bible is not like reading a novel or a history book. It should begin with a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds to the Word of God. Scripture reading should end with a prayer that this Word will bear fruit in our lives, helping us to become holier and more faithful people.

3 Get the whole story! When selecting a Bible, look for a Catholic edition. A Catholic edition will include the Church’s complete list of sacred books along with introductions and notes for understanding the text. A Catholic edition will have an imprimatur notice on the back of the title page. An imprimatur indicates that the book is free of errors in Catholic doctrine.

4 The Bible isn’t a book. It’s a library. The Bible is a collection of 73 books written over the course of many centuries. The books include royal history, prophecy, poetry, challenging letters to struggling new faith communities, and believers’ accounts of the preaching and passion of Jesus. Knowing the genre of the book you are reading will help you understand the literary tools the author is using and the meaning the author is trying to convey.

5 Know what the Bible is – and what it isn’t. The Bible is the story of God’s relationship with the people he has called to himself. It is not intended to be read as history text, a science book, or a political manifesto. In the Bible, God teaches us the truths that we need for the sake of our salvation.

6 The sum is greater than the parts. Read the Bible in context. What happens before and after – even in other books – helps us to understand the true meaning of the text.

7 The Old relates to the New. The Old Testament and the New Testament shed light on each other. While we read the Old Testament in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, it has its own value as well. Together, these testaments help us to understand God’s plan for human beings.

8 You do not read alone. By reading and reflecting on Sacred Scripture, Catholics join those faithful men and women who have taken God’s Word to heart and put it into practice in their lives. We read the Bible within the tradition of the Church to benefit from the holiness and wisdom of all the faithful.

9 What is God saying to me? The Bible is not addressed only to long-dead people in a faraway land. It is addressed to each of us in our own unique situations. When we read, we need to understand what the text says and how the faithful have understood its meaning in the past. In light of this understanding, we then ask: What is God saying to me?

10 Reading isn’t enough. If Scripture remains just words on a page, our work is not done. We need to meditate on the message and put it into action in our lives. Only then can the word be “living and effective.”(Hebrews 4:12).

God bless. Happy Easter, Stephen

By catholicevangelist

No Fooling! He Is Risen! Truly Risen!

This reflection is for Easter Sunday – The Resurrection of the Lord, Cycle B, 4/1/2018.

resurrection

Have you heard the Good News?! He is risen! No fooling, really, Jesus the Christ has conquered the grave! Death could not hold him. He has been raised by the glory of the Father! He is risen and the world will never be the same again! Today we celebrate the foundational proclamation of our faith in who Jesus is, what Jesus did, and what that means for us and the whole world, namely, redemption, reconciliation, and salvation in the name of Jesus!

In his book, More Than A Carpenter, Josh McDowell (who follows the logic and repackages Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis) lays out the reason for our belief in the resurrection. He says that the world is confronted with three basic questions about Jesus’ person. Jesus, according to these authors, is either a liar, a lunatic, or indeed the Lord and savior of the universe. Also, you might like reading, The Case For Christ, by Lee Strobel, as he lays out the reason that lead him to an obvious conclusion–Jesus is Lord. All of these books seek to provide reasons to believe the testimony of those who were there. Their claim, of course, is that Jesus was more than a good man, more than a prophet, more than a miracle worker; he was, as they claim and as we believe, the Lord and savior of the human race.

I was quite surprised last week when one of my students asked me not if Jesus was God, but whether or not Jesus ever even really existed. Really? Is this what fake news has done to a generation of youths? Have we come to a point where a person’s physical existence is now even in doubt? What’s next, did Abraham Lincoln really ever exist?  If I’ve never met him, shouldn’t I have reason to doubt whether he ever was at all? Actually, there are a  number of extra-biblical accounts of Jesus’ true existence (Click here for an article with sources), but His being Messiah, and Lord, the Christ, is a matter of faith through reason. Not faith without reason, but instead we believe it is very reasonable to profess the faith of the Church, that Jesus triumphed over the grave and is Lord.

In fact, today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles seeks to offer the first reasoned response and a simple yet thorough explanation of the whole Gospel! According to Acts,

“Peter proceeded to speak and said: ‘You know what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses of all that he did
both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.'”

That’s it! That’s the whole thing! Jesus is the anointed one of God (the Greek word for anointed is Christos, hence, Jesus the Christ), who came to earth filled with the Spirit and with power to do good by conquering evil wherever he found it! Peter says that he and the other apostles are witnesses to Jesus’ life, actions, and teachings, and most importantly stand as a witness to Jesus’ death and resurrection. He makes it clear that after Jesus rose FROM THE DEAD they broke bread together! That’s not a small matter! So, yes! Jesus really did exist. And yes! he was crucified and rose again! And, yes! the apostles and many others ate, drank, and walked with him–as all of the Gospel options for today’s Mass make quite clear (cf. John 20:1-9, Mark 16:1-7, Luke 24:13-35).

But I think the most important part for all of us is in the last few lines of Peter’s exhortation, namely, that Jesus commissioned them (and us) to preach to people and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to judge the living and the dead, and that everyone who believes in Jesus, will receive forgiveness of sins in his name. There is nothing that matters more than this simple truth. Sin causes separation from God and from others. It causes divisions within our selves and in our communities–but through Jesus, we can be reconciled within ourselves, within our families and communities, and in our world.

The message of wholeness and redemption is needed more today than ever. Young people and veterans are committing suicide in staggering numbers. Twenty-two veterans take their life each day in this country! Shocking amounts of young people need mental health counseling and drug and alcohol counseling. School shootings have become common place. Over half of marriages end in divorce, over three thousand abortions per day in the U.S., young people are being manipulated and abused through human trafficking, and countries never cease to do violence to humanity and the earth. In sum, we need Jesus. We need the Prince of Peace more than ever. We need those who are willing to courageously share Jesus with everyone they meet. We need evangelists today more than ever! Are you in?

The resurrection of Jesus is still Good News for so many living in darkness–but we who call Him Lord need to take that message of redemption, wholeness, and reconciliation to the world! Sin is real. Name it. Forgiveness of sin is real. Name Him and receive Life–and Life Eternal. Share that good news with someone today. Happy Easter everyone. He is risen. He is truly risen!

God Bless, Stephen

By catholicevangelist