I was at a meeting of the Seminary Council today for one of our diocesan seminaries. It is the Redemptoris Mater Seminary of the Neocatechumenal Way that is currently training almost thirty of our Washington men for priestly Ministry. Four men are currently stepping forward for Holy Orders this Spring and they each spoke to the Council, seeking our prayers and recommendation to the Cardinal.
They are all fine men. But what most impressed me is that, when they were asked to tell us a little something about themselves, they went beyond the mere, date of birth, country of origin, basic course of studies, sort of answer. Rather, they each gave personal testimony of how the Lord has both ministered to them and transformed them. These men were witnesses of the Lord and his power.
Each of them spoke of how the Lord rescued them from various afflictions, family and personal struggles, and agnostic and/or ambivalent tendencies. They spoke of how the Lord called them and made a way for them, how He has transformed their lives.
I told each of them how important it is for them to share this personal witness with the people they serve. They really did not need for me to say this, since the Neocatechumenal Way has personal witness and testimony as an important hallmark of their formation and liturgical experience.
I too have discovered the importance of the priest bearing personal witness to the gospel in his preaching, teaching and daily life. I have discovered that our people need, and are hungry for, those of us who preach to move beyond mere slogans, information and abstract homilies, to a personal witness of the truth. We cannot simply proclaim the truth, we have to know, to experience that it is true. We have to be first hand witnesses and to be able to say how we have personally experienced the power of of the Cross of Jesus Christ to put sin to death and bring newness of life to us.
St. Paul wrote, If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). The danger for a bishop, priest or deacon who preaches, is that we just quote the Scripture more as a slogan or handy phrase. But what is supposed to happen is that the preacher is able to say:
Yes, if anyone is in Christ he IS a new creation, and I can personally say to you, my people, that this is true not only because it is in the Bible, but because it is happening in my life. I, am a new creation. I am seeing my life changed and transformed by the cross of Jesus Christ. Through the sacraments, his Word, prayer and the ministry of the Church, Jesus Christ is setting me free from sin and every negative thing in my life. He is breaking the chains of the things which held me in bondage. He is giving me a new mind, and new heart. I love people I never thought I could love! I am more chaste than I ever thought possible. Serenity and joy are replacing fear and depression. I am more and more a man of hope, confidence and courage. Yes, I AM a new creation. What the Lord says is true, and I am a witness. I’m not what I want to be, but I’m not what I used to be. A wonderful change has come over me.
I am convinced that many Catholics long to hear their clergy speak with conviction and like men who have actually met Jesus Christ. Of course, before they speak such things, they actually have to be true.
I am glad that the men who testified today have actually met Jesus Christ and experienced his power. They have something to say because something real has happened to them. And herein lies the necessity not only for clergy, but for parents and all Christians who are called to evangelize. It is absolutely critical that we personally know the Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of his Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. It is essential that, in the laboratory of our own lives, we have tested the Word of God and found it to be true. And from these experiences we can preach, speak and witness with authority.
We preach with authority only if we have met the “Author” and felt his power to transform our lives. Otherwise we risk giving information, but without the conviction or personal witness that helps people to transformation. We can say all the right an orthodox things, but then comes the ultimate question: “That’s all very nice, but how do I know it is true?” And the preacher, the teacher the parent, the catechist, the evangelizer, has got to be able to say in response, “Look at me….I promise you it is true because it is happening in my life. I promise you in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ that a completely new life is available to you, and I am a first hand witness of it.”
Of course to be able to say all this requires that it is actually happening. That’s why it is so important for the priest, parent and any Church leader to tend to their own spiritual life. To study the Word of God and see its truth in the laboratory of their own life, to consider well the evidence and gather their own testimony.
Fulton Sheen once remarked something to the effect that we have tried every other way to evangelize and grow the Church: seminars, workshops, committees, new music, liturgical creativity. All to little avail. But one thing only has not been tried: holiness. Yes, authentic transformation that comes, only when we finally take the Lord up on his offer, and take his word seriously that we are, and can become, a new creation.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. St. Paul couldn’t look this up and quote it like a slogan. He had to write it. And before he wrote it he actually experienced it. So when Paul says this, its not a slogan, it is a surety, it is an experienced truth.
This is what the Church needs, humble but strong preachers who have confirmed the Word of God in their own life. Men who can boast, not of what they have done, but what the Lord has done for them through the power of his cross to put sin to death and bring grace alive. And from experience comes authority, for they have met the Author of their salvation.
Thanks be to God for these men at the seminary today, and for their witness, their testimony, their “boasting” in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf Gal 6:14).
Photo Above right is of Redemptoris Mater Seminary, Wash. DC and was taken by me
This Songs says, You Should be Witness…..Why don’t you testify? Don’t be afraid to be a witness for the Lord….Stand up and be a witness!