A week ago Thursday, Bishop Elizondo was with us for the sacrament of Confirmation. For those of you who have ever been with the Bishop and have heard him preach, you know he is very enthusiastic and passionate.
He asked the Confirmation candidates to remember two words that Pope Francis has been calling us to live: disciple and missionary.
He explained that a disciple is one who follows, more explicitly, one who follows Jesus and his teaching.
A missionary is one who is sent to share what one has experienced and has been taught as a disciple of Jesus.
While this all sounded very nice, he then drove home his point by saying, “We don’t need more numbers of people in the Church. We have plenty of numbers. What we need are disciples, missionary disciples, people truly committed to Jesus Christ. We need people whose lives are changed because of Jesus Christ; whose lives are filled with the joy of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.”
And then in characteristic Bishop Elizondo style, he looked intently at the candidates and said over and over again to them, “Don’t be a number. Be a disciple. Be a missionary.”
I wanted to shout out, “Preach it brother! Preach it!”
Today, on this Solemnity of the Ascension, I want to build on Bishop Elizondo’s preaching by adding one word to live by: “witness.”
Both in the Acts of the Apostles and in the gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, “You are my witnesses.”
“You are my witnesses.” This is a powerful statement and an awesome identity.
We usually understand “witness” in a passive sense, meaning that a witness is someone who sees something occur. Yes, the disciples did see Jesus teach, heal, lead, forgive, suffer, die and rise, but there is more to being a disciple than being a spectator.
Being a witness means communicating to others the reality of Jesus that we have been blessed to experience.
Being a witness is an active role, not a passive one. The true witness of a disciple is to become a proclaimer Jesus’ teaching, not simply a reporter of past events.
Being a witness of Jesus also means that we live out in our lives the same radical love and trust that Jesus demonstrated in his life, passion, death and resurrection.
In Greek, the word for “witnesses” is martyres which gives us in English the word “martyr.” Indeed, martyrs are people who witness to their faith in Jesus at the very cost of their own lives.
All the apostles but John, and so many of the disciples of the early Church were put to death because of their faith. By witnessing to Jesus Christ and remaining faithful and united to Jesus in a death like his, they manifested their hope to share in his resurrection as well.
Though we may not be physically put to death because of our faith, there are many opportunities in our daily lives in which we are called to be courageous witnesses of Jesus Christ.
Being a witness of Jesus also means that it should have a practical effect not only in our lives but in the lives of others as well.
St. Mark begins his gospel with these words of Jesus, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
The message of Jesus has a purpose. It is meant to change our lives, bring about repentance and lead us to holiness, which then affects the lives of others. We are transformed by the good news of the gospel and that transformation affects others.
When Jesus tells his disciples that they are his witnesses, the early Christians understood that being a missionary disciple of the Lord meant:
- That they share with others what they themselves had received;
- That they live out in their own lives the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection;
- That they show the world what a life conformed to Christ looks like;
- SO that others will be inspired and encouraged to become disciples of Jesus as well.
Being a witness then, is about effectively leading others to Christ. It is about being a missionary disciple and sharing the joy of the gospel.
Take a moment and think about someone who has done that for you.
How have you done that for someone else?
Who might you witness to this week by what you say and do and hence help them encounter Jesus Christ?
Jesus said, “You are my witnesses.”