Our Lord Jesus has entrusted to us, his Body the Church, several vital tasks. For example, he commanded us to “make disciples of all nations,” to teach, and to baptize (Mt 28:19). In today’s Gospel, he commissions us to be his witnesses, to “acknowledge [him] before others.” While it is not given to everyone to go about teaching and preaching, all of us, regardless of circumstances, are called to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. He instructs us: “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” Jesus not only encourages us to be fearless witnesses, with the reward of his acknowledging us before the Father, he also warns us that refusal to do so can have serious eternal consequences. “Whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” Anyone who denies Christ here in this world can find that he has no place in Heaven.
The power to serve as his witnesses comes with the Gift of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus taught before his Ascension: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Today’s Gospel Acclamation confirms this: “The Spirit of Truth will testify to me, says the Lord; and you also will testify.” The Gifts of the Spirit (Wisdom, Counsel, Fortitude, etc.) help us fulfill our mission as witnesses, and the Fruits of the Spirit are signs that the Holy Spirit is indeed at work in the Church and the world through us (cf. CCC 1830-32).
Our proclamation of faith is not a matter of words alone but rather, and even more importantly, of the way we live. St. Anthony of Padua wrote in this regard: “A man who is filled with the Holy Spirit speaks in different languages. These different languages are different ways of witnessing to Christ, such as humility, poverty, patience and obedience; we speak in those languages when we reveal in ourselves these virtues to others. Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak” (Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, June 13).
When the Holy Spirit is at work in us, we can proclaim very eloquently “on the housetops” what has been given to us as we live according to the commandments of God and the Christian virtues. However, the message is very challenging! Not only do we feel resistance from our own fallen nature, we will also be opposed by the world. The Gospel is inherently counter-cultural; it stands opposed to the world’s false and empty values of comfort, ease, and selfish pleasure. For example, we will not find the world welcoming the call to put the worship of God on Sunday above all the activities that threaten to replace it, like sports, shopping, and non-essential work. Even stronger opposition arises to the proclamation of Gospel values that challenge the world’s view on marriage and sexual morality.
St. Paul, in today’s second reading, speaks about the ugly and pervasive reality of sin in the world. “Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned.” The reign of sin and death explains why the world so strongly opposes anyone who is trying to be a witness of the crucified and risen Lord. Witnesses of Christ will be attacked, persecuted, and rejected. They can experience what the prophet Jeremiah describes in today’s first reading: “I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!’ All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.” However, the power of grace is far greater than the power of sin. “The gift is not like the transgression,” Paul says.
The most eloquent and authentic way of bearing witness to Christ is by living a life that reflects the mystery of Christ crucified. Christian witness is principally through the Cross of Christ; other things are secondary. St. Paul says: “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the Cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power” (1 Cor 1:17). As Christian witnesses we do not rely on worldly power but on the power of the Cross – that is, on grace and the power of the Spirit. For this reason, we have nothing to fear, as Christ tells us repeatedly in today’s Gospel: “Fear no one…. Do not be afraid….”
The one fear that we do need is that of offending God who loves us and so separating ourselves from his eternal love. “Fear of God” is one of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is not a negative emotion but truly “the beginning of wisdom” (Prv 9:10). The wisdom that is rooted in our loving reverence for God assures us that he is truly for us, and every detail of our lives, even every hair on our heads, is under his providential care. We can go forward without fear in our mission as witnesses of Christ because he who sends us also provides all we need. With Jeremiah we can proclaim, “the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion!”
How has Our Lord Jesus called me to be a witness and to “acknowledge him before others”? What are the difficulties in our modern day culture that come against my witness to Christ crucified? What are my thoughts as I ponder on the Lord’s words, “Fear not and do not be afraid”?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.