The World Needs Catholic Prophets

Without the prophetic witness of Catholics, we don’t stand a chance.

Homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

John’s Testimony

“He came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, so that through him all men might learn to believe. ” (John 1:7)

Homily for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

He was sent to bear witness to the light

A man appeared, sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, so that through him all men might learn to believe. He was not the Light; he was sent to bear witness to the light.

John 1:6-8 (Knox Translation)

To whom was John testifying?

I’ve always assumed it is a crowd, but if you look at the verses around today’s Gospel, the crowds were there the day before today’s reading. It doesn’t tell us if the crowd was still there. Maybe there were, but it’s possible they weren’t. Either way, John is testifying. He is possibly testifying to the crowds, but there are two other potential witnesses to his testimony. Before we talk about them, though, let’s talk about that word: testify.

When we hear that word, it evokes the image of a courtroom. Our human system is not always perfect, but let’s imagine how an ideal courtroom would work. Ideally, a courtroom is a place where the truth is discovered. Uncovering the truth is vital in a courtroom, because justice can only be served when the truth is known. To discover the truth, a court asks for—or perhaps compels—witnesses to come forward. The witnesses then recount their experience of an event. There are two things to note about what a witness says. First: they recount an event. An event is something that happened in history. It is an objective fact. The second thing to note: the witness recounts their experience. While the event objectively happened, each person experiences that event differently. Perhaps one witness saw one thing, another witness saw another, and a third witness hear yet another thing. If we want to understand what happened, we must take these statements together, resolve their potential differences, and piece them together into one account. To do this, we have to trust the accounts of the witnesses, because we were not there. We must rely on their testimony; we must trust them. (Remember, this is an ideal courtroom, where we are all seeking the truth, so the witnesses aren’t trying to mislead us!)

So when we talk about testimony, at least in the Bible, we are talking about a person’s experience of an event that happened. In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist gives his testimony of the event that revealed to him that Jesus was the Son of God. He testifies that he saw the Spirit descend like a dove from the sky and rest upon Jesus. This was the event that caused John the Baptist to know the Jesus was the Christ. John then tells us why. John had been told previously by the Lord that one would come, that the Spirit would rest on this person and remain on them, and that this person would baptize with the Spirit. God had appointed John as the watchman for his Son. The job of the watchman was to constantly be looking for any hint of news from afar, and to bring that news to those awaiting it. When John recognized these signs of the Messiah, he could not keep quiet: his life’s entire purpose was to proclaim that the Son of God had come.

And so, John testifies. He gives testimony that the event everyone had been waiting for had happened: God had become Man. The Son of God had come. He told them who it was, how he knew, and why he knew.

Now, back to our original question: to whom was John testifying?

The answer? John testifies to anyone awaiting the news that God has become man and that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. John’s job was to watch for this event and to proclaim it to all once he spotted it. He proclaimed it to anyone with him that day. He proclaimed it to himself, for sometimes even the watchman is startled. He proclaimed it to us, via the evangelists.

We are, in a way, judges of John’s testimony. The judge presides over the trial and determines the action that follows as a result of the trial, the investigation of the truth.  John has testified to us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He is the light to the nation foretold by Isaiah. Do we judge his testimony to be true? If John’s testimony is true, then what actions must we now take in response to it?

Today’s Readings:
January 19, 2020
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34

The abundant harvest

As the seventy-two disciples return from their mission, they are rejoicing! They tell Jesus that even the demons are subject to them. Jesus responds positively, saying he’s seen Satan fall like lightning, but then he cautions the disciples. “Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,” he says, “but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” What does Jesus mean by this? Isn’t casting out demons a good thing? Shouldn’t we rejoice over that?

Imagine this scenario with me. A good man has run his own company for many years. He has many employees and has been very successful. He and his wife are getting older, though, and they have decided that it is time to retire. For years, the man’s daughter has been working alongside him, learning the business, but not really in charge. A few days after the man retires, the daughter—now in charge of the large and successful business herself—comes to visit her father. She says to him, “This is amazing! As soon as I decide something will be done, hundreds of people make it so!” The man says to his daughter, “This is good, as it should be. But never forget, that power you wield is for a greater purpose.”

Brothers and sisters, it is all too easy to rejoice in the gifts we have been given by God and to completely miss the whole point of the gifts. Why does God give us all the gifts he has given us? The answer is right in the Gospel: “the harvest is abundant but the laborers are dew; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for the harvest.” This verse is often used in reference to priestly and religious vocations, but it applies to each and every one of us here today. We are all called to be laborers for the Lord. We are all called to bring souls to the Lord. All of us, disciples of Christ, are called to be missionaries. God gives us our many gifts so that we can labor in his harvest. He gives us our many talents so that we can not only bring our own soul to him, but so that we can go out into the world and bring ever more people to Him!

You may be thinking, “I have no idea how to be missionary! I don’t know Catholic doctrine and church teaching nearly well enough to be a missionary! I don’t know the Bible nearly well enough to teach others about it!” I understand your concern, but the first part of being a missionary is becoming a living witness of Christ. Saint Pope John Paul II wrote, “People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories.”1 We don’t have to be Ms. Happy-all-the-time or Mr. Always-has-the-Catholic-answer. We must simply live in the hope that our Savior gave us when he wrote his law on our hearts and made us new creations at our baptisms. Maybe today, or this week, or this year, or even this decade, was rough, but I have something amazing waiting for me on the other side of this life. When we live this way, knowing what Jesus did to make that possible for us, we radiate an inner peace. That peace attracts people. Everybody is in search of that peace. They might ask us what it is that is different about us, or even about our faith. This is our chance to give a joyful witness to Jesus! If we don’t have answers, seek them out, but above all, trust that the Lord will supply what you need.

I mentioned a writing of Saint Pope John Paul II above. That wasn’t the end of the letter. He continued, writing, “Today, as never before, the Church has the opportunity of bringing the Gospel, by witness and word, to all people and nations. I see the dawning of a new missionary age, which will become a radiant day bearing an abundant harvest, if all Christians, and missionaries and young churches in particular, respond with generosity and holiness to the calls and challenges of our time.”2

The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.

Today’s Readings:
July 7, 2019
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Isaiah 66:10-14c, 19-21; Psalm 66; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

Reflection for the Fifth Wednesday of Lent

The saying “do as I say and not as I do” has always bothered me. I know that there are some who mean to say, “I am trying to do these things too, but it is very hard,” but I usually can’t see that. It always sounds like hypocrisy to me. It sounds to me like the person is saying, “I can’t be bothered to try and do this, but you should.” I much prefer a different phrase, “actions speak louder than words.”

Jesus encourages us to take this a step further in the Gospel today. After telling the Jews that sin is a type of slavery, he condemns the Jews who want to put him to death. He tells them, “You are doing the works of your father!” They reply that they are children of Abraham and not of sin, but Jesus counters their argument. He says that while they are descendants of Abraham they act in such a way that their true father is revealed to be someone or something else. If they were truly children of God, or of Abraham, they would love Jesus. Their actions against love demonstrate, for all to see, that their true master is sin, in other words: the evil one.

The story of the three young men in Daniel today shows the opposite happening. The three young men told Nebuchadnezzar that he was wasting his breath by trying to get them to worship false gods. Furious, he had a furnace heated seven times more than usual before having Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego thrown into it. Some of the soldiers died throwing them in because of the heat! But the three young men were not burned. They were spared. They were even joined by an angel. Their love for God burned hotter than any furnace ever could burn. This witness prompted Nebuchadnezzar to promulgate a decree across his entire empire that the God of Israel must be respected.

This is the power of right action. In our broken culture, we cannot even speak to some people without causing more division—no matter what we say. What we can do is provide authentic, Christian witness by living a good, Christian life in the most joyful way possible. As the song says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” But they’ll also know us by our joy. They’ll know us by the different way in which we live.

Actions speak louder than words. Let us be joyful Christians, and work to convert the world through one action at a time.

Today’s Readings: Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56; Jn 8:31-42