You Are Witnesses of These Things – A Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter

Risen Christ Appears to Apostles, Duccio (1308-11)

This Sunday’s Gospel speaks to the necessity of becoming witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection Jesus. It begins with the necessary foundation of the Church’s proclamation: The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon! (Luke 24:34) This solemn declaration forms the doctrinal certitude of the resurrection. On this foundation of the truth, the personal witness of every Catholic must be built. In this gospel we see how the Lord confirms His resurrection through the teaching authority of the Church, confirms the apostles in its truth, clarifies their faith, and then commissions them to be witnesses. Let’s see how the Lord does this.

I. The Certainty of the Resurrection And [the disciples from Emmaus] rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

In the early hours of the first Easter Sunday, the news began to circulate that Jesus was alive and had been seen. These reports were at first disbelieved or at least doubted by the apostles. They dismissed reports from both women and men. Several women, including Mary Magdalene, had seen Jesus alive. St. John had seen the empty tomb and had “believed.” And though Luke does not mention it here, Mark records that when the disciples returning from Emmaus first sent word they had seen Jesus, they too were at first disbelieved (Mk 16:13).

As we pick up the story that evening, there is a sudden change, a declaration by the apostles that the Lord has truly risen!

What causes this change? After the early evening report from the disciples returning from Emmaus, Peter slipped away, perhaps for a walk. According to both Paul (1 Cor 15:5) and Luke (Lk 24:34), the risen Lord then appeared to Peter privately, prior to making Himself known to any of the other apostles. Peter reports Jesus’ appearance to the others and it is at this point that the resurrection moves from being doubted to being the official declaration of the community, the Church. The official declaration is worded as follows: The Lord has truly risen, and he has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34)

Did the women’s and the laymen’s declarations mean nothing? Of course not. Indeed, the Lord later upbraids the apostles for being so reluctant to accept the testimony of the others (Mk 16:14). He calls them “hard of heart” for this reluctance, especially given that He had said He would rise on the third day. Even to this day the Lord often presents apparitions of Mary, the saints, or Himself to the faithful. The clergy must carefully discern such actions, not quickly believing or disbelieving them. However, no apparition or devotion (e.g., the Divine Mercy Chaplet) can become official teaching of the Universal Church until the Church, in union with Peter’s successor, rules it worthy of belief.

This is even more the case with a dogma like the resurrection. It becomes an official teaching when proclaimed so by Peter and his successors. Pope Benedict, writing as Joseph Ratzinger, sees an ecclesiological dimension to Peter’s special role in causing the resurrection to go from being merely attested to being “true indeed.”

… This indication of names [Cephas and then the Twelve], … reveals the very foundation of the Church’s faith. On the one hand “the Twelve” remain the actual foundation stone of the Church, the permanent point of reference. On the other hand, the special task given to Peter is underlined here. … Peter’s special witnessing role is confirmation of his commission to be the rock on which the Church is built. … So, the resurrection account flows naturally into ecclesiology. … and it shapes the nascent Church [Jesus of Nazareth Vol 2., pp. 259-260].

So, the resurrection is now officially declared by the Church; it is certain and true. Faith is a way of knowing. Our faith in the Church as stated in the Creed (I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church) leads us to the certain knowledge of the resurrection by the Church’s dogmatic declaration: The Lord has truly risen, and he has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34)

However, even though the faith is a communal and official declaration of the Church through the College of Apostles with Peter as its head, it cannot remain simply this. Faith must reach every member on a personal level. It is not enough for us to say, “Peter says …,” or “The Church says …,” or “Scripture says …,” or “My mother says …” We must also be able to add our own voice to the witness of the Church. We must be able to say, “Jesus is risen; it is true! What the Church has always taught, I, too, have experienced. All her teachings and doctrines, all that the Lord has taught and revealed is true because in the laboratory of my own life I have tested them and found them to be true!”

Thus, we must stay with these disciples in their journey to experience the proclamation of the Church: “The Lord has truly risen, and he has appeared to Simon!”

II. The Contact with the Resurrection – While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

The truth, if we will lay hold of it, is consoling and freeing. Jesus, in the truth of His resurrected glory, stands before them and says, “Shalom,” peace. While the truth does liberate and bring peace, a journey is usually necessary to realize and accept this. Before we can receive the gift of truth, we must often accept the conflict that it introduces into our life.

As we all know, the truth can startle and even upset; it can break conventions and challenge what we know and think. The apostles are at first startled. It is one thing to hear and accept that the Lord is risen, that He has appeared to Peter, but it is another thing to be personally confronted with the truth.

It is one thing for them to believe with the Church and say, “The Lord is truly risen, and he has appeared to Simon!” But it is another for them to personally experience this. It breaks through everything they have ever known. Their belief is no longer abstract; it is no longer merely communal. Now they are personally in contact with the reality of it.

So, too, for us on our journey to deeper faith. It is a faith declared by the Church, but a faith that we must come to know and experience personally. Thanks be to God that the Lord is willing to help us to do so. For He does not simply shatter our notions. Rather, He helps us to “connect the dots” between His truth and what we already know.

III. The Clarification of the Resurrection – Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them. He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.

The truth can often startle us; it can challenge what we know and think. For this reason, some avoid it or resist it, at least initially.

But the Lord, in His mercy, often sends us assurances. He helps us to “connect the dots” between what challenges us and what we already know, between what is new and what is ancient and attested to. Truth has a unity; greater truths build on lesser ones. God prepares us in stages for the full truth. Jesus once said to the apostles, I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth (Jn 16:12-13).

Thus, in this Gospel the Lord sets forth a kind of continuity and clarification for them. Through various methods He shows them that though gloriously risen and transformed, He who stands before them now is also the same Jesus who walked with them days before. He shows them His hands and side to indicate that He was indeed the one they saw crucified. He bids them to touch Him and see that He is not a ghost. He eats to console them and to show them that He still has fellowship with them among the living; He is no shimmering apparition from another realm. Finally, He opens their minds to the understanding of Scripture, so that they may know that all that happened is not some radical break with or tearing up of God’s plan. Rather, it is a fulfillment of all that was written, all that was prophesied.

What seems new and different is in fact in line with, in continuity with, all that has gone before. This is the new Passover that opens the way to the true, more glorious and eternal Promised Land of Heaven. This is not failure; it is fulfillment. This is not rejection of the Old Covenant; it is the ratification of it and the transposition of it to a higher and more glorious level than ever before. Moses gave them manna, but Jesus gives Himself as the true bread from Heaven. Moses gave them water, but Jesus changed water into wine and wine into His saving blood. The blood of the Passover lamb staved off a death that would come later, but the Blood of the True Lamb cancels the second death of Hell.

This is clarification. Jesus is helping them to “connect the dots” between what they have known and this startling new reality: that He has overcome torture and death. It is really He, though as the resurrection accounts indicate, He is transformed. He has not merely taken up His former life; He has elevated it to a new and mysterious level. He has a humanity that is not only risen from the dead, but is glorified. His Lordship and glory shows through as never before. He can appear and disappear at will and is able, it would seem, to alter his appearance.

So here is a truth to which we must journey: Jesus is not a mere Rabbi or ethical teacher from the ancient world; He is the Lord. He is our brother and yet also our Lord. He raised our humanity from the dead but glorified it as well. He lives at a new level, and we who are baptized into His death also rise with Him to a new and higher life (Rom 6:4). Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17).

In our journey to what is new, the Lord does not destroy what is behind, what He has done. He takes it up, fulfills it, and elevates it. His truth builds, and while what is new challenges us, it does not destroy or cancel our reason or what we have already come to know as true (if in fact it was true).

It is for us to cooperate with His grace and personally lay hold of the truth declared by the Church. The Lord does this in a way that respects our intellect and our sense of the faith. In this way our conflicts are gradually overcome. Our faith is deepened and though communal, also becomes more personal. Now we are ready to become witnesses to the Church’s unchanging declaration, “The Lord is risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” and to every other teaching that flows from this.

IV. Commissioning of the Resurrection – And he said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

What is a witness? Well, it is not someone who merely repeats what others have seen and heard; it is one who testifies to what he himself has seen and heard. The apostles, having contacted personally the certain truth of the resurrection proclaimed by the Church and having had it clarified for them, are now ready to go forth as witnesses. Bishops, priests, deacons, catechists, and parents must move beyond merely repeating formulas, precious and necessary thought they are (please, do not go out and invent your own religion!). That Jesus is risen from the dead is certain and true because the Church solemnly proclaims it: “He is risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”

Next must come that moment when we allow the Lord to stand before us and affirm what He proclaims through the Church. Having this contact, we must allow Him to clarify it and then commission us to go forth as His witnesses. As witnesses, we can and must say, “The Church says that He is risen. The Scriptures say that He is risen. And I say to you that He is risen.” You are witnesses of these things.

Are you?

Four Qualities of Bold and Believable Witnesses to Jesus

It is worthwhile to look back at a text that was read on Saturday (Saturday of the Octave of Easter). It is from Acts and sets forth a picture of courage and holy boldness that is too little evident in many Catholics. Let’s look at the passage and then reflect on four qualities that the Apostles Peter and John manifest.

Now when [the Sanhedrin] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened (Acts 4:13-21).

Their Authority The text opens with a reference to the “boldness” of Peter and John to the fact that the religious authorities are “astonished.” How could such uneducated and common men speak and act this way?

The Greek word translated here as “boldness” is Παρρησία (parresía or parrhēsía) from pás, “all” + rhēsis, meaning “a proverb or statement quoted with resolve.” In other words, parresía means to speak with confidence and exhibit strong resolve; it means to speak plainly, publicly, or boldly. It is from the root rhēsis that the term rhetoric comes. Rhetoric is the art of effective or persuasive speaking and in its more technical sense usually requires training in logic and poise.

Thus, the boldness described in this passage shows the transformation that that the resurrection and Pentecost have effected. Prior to Pentecost, the Apostles, though often zealous and willing to make sacrifices to follow Jesus, were also slow to understand and often confused. Beginning with Easter Sunday (e.g., Luke 24:32,45) and most likely throughout the forty days before ascending, the Lord instructed and formed the Apostles in the Gospel. It would take Pentecost, however, to fully quicken their minds and confirm their hearts. Jesus had said, I still have much to tell you, but you cannot yet bear to hear it. However, when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth (Jn 16:12-13). Elsewhere, He added, All this I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have told you (John 14:25-26).

Prior to Pentecost, the Apostles and disciples gathered in fear, behind locked doors. Afterwards, though, they go about with the boldness described here. The religious leaders are “astonished” and marvel that such common and unlearned men can have such a sweeping command of their topic, and such serene courage. Peter and John have healed a man who had been lame for forty years, a man they knew was lame and had seen in the temple. The religious leaders cannot explain it; further, the usual threats do not seem to have the desired effect on them.

Yes, Peter and John are bold, confident, and unafraid. They are manifesting the gift that the Lord promised when he said, On account of My name, they will deliver you to the synagogues and prisons, and they will bring you before kings and governors. This will be your opportunity to serve as witnesses. So make up your mind not to worry beforehand how to defend yourselves. For I will give you speech and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict (Luke 21:12-15).

Such a change in these men, especially Peter! It is clear that the Lord has gifted them just as He promised. Their boldness is God’s grace. May that grace reach Church leaders today, both clergy and lay. Holy boldness such as this is needed more than ever.

Their Association The text says that the Sanhedrin recognized that they had been with Jesus. What a magnificent line. While this may have meant they recalled that these men had accompanied Jesus, for the reader the expression has far more depth. Peter and John, by their transformed lives, are manifesting that they have been with Jesus. They are showing forth the fruit of a life-changing, transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, these men have been with Jesus; it is obvious!

How about you and me? Would someone be able to look at us and conclude that we have been with Jesus? Is this not a description of what should be the normal Christian life? Is your association with Jesus Christ obvious to others? It ought to be.

It is, of course, a sad reality that most Christians are content to hide out or to blend in with the culture. They are undercover Christians, secret-agent saints, and frozen chosen. There’s no real fire to attract attention, no bold proclamations or visible signs of spiritual life. Few would ever conclude that they had been with Jesus.

Where are we on the light spectrum? Is the Light of Christ in us visible (Mat 5:14)? Do we bear the brand marks of Jesus (Gal 6:17)? Do we love our enemies (Mat 5:44)? Do we shine like the stars in the midst of a twisted and depraved generation (Phil 2:15)?

Their Arresting Ability Although Saints Peter and John have been arrested, they have, in effect, turned the tables and arrested the Sanhedrin. As remarked above, Peter and John do not seem cowed by the usual threats and their arguments are not easily set aside, for they speak with sincerity and authority. Further, the crowds are amazed and the leaders themselves cannot explain how a man, known by them to have been lame for forty years, now walks and even dances!

They don’t really know what to do. They are arrested by the winsome and courageous witness before them.

True holiness can have this effect, at least in certain conditions. St. Teresa of Calcutta was like this. Though many did not share her faith, even enemies of the faith admired her. This was not because she was a people pleaser; in fact, just the opposite. She had a boldness to scold even the most powerful, but a love that could not be denied. Her reflection of the glory of Christ arrested one and all.

This is perhaps one of the rarest gifts of all, yet still one to seek, so that at least some in every age have a holiness and a goodness that is arresting in its purity.

Their Assertiveness – To be appropriately assertive is to get one’s needs met without trampling others. And what is the greatest need of any saint? To proclaim Christ and Him crucified and risen. Thus, when Peter and John are warned to stop proclaiming the name of Jesus, they assert their need and right to continue doing so. However, they do so without disrespecting the leaders before them. They do not shout, “We won’t listen to you!” They do not personally disrespect them at all. Rather, they commend themselves to the conscience of these leaders as a way of respectfully declining a command they cannot follow:

Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.

In other words, they say, “Brothers, Elders, would you not agree that a man must obey God before obeying any man? Do what you must do. Make your judgments. But we must obey the Lord and speak of Jesus until our last breath.”

They are respectful but clear. They assert themselves and their mission but do not attack and trample the reputations or lawful authority of those in the community or state. They cannot cooperate in an evil directive, but they do not attack or stage an attempted overthrow of power. They stand before their opponents and look them in the eye. They will not flee or yield to fear, but neither will they become like them in arrogance and unrighteous demands.

This is a good model for us who are entering into increasingly difficult days, in which the pressures made upon us by the culture and the government may require that we refuse to cooperate with evil demands. Our goal is not to humiliate and overcome our opponents, but to convert them; and if not them then the culture around us. As St. Paul says, We do not use deception, neither do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor 4:2).

So here is a model for us and a set of challenges. We are to manifest a bold and sincere confidence in the Gospel we proclaim, because we have met Jesus and are being transformed into His likeness. Indeed, we should ask and strive for that rare holiness that is arresting in its purity but also assertively announces Christ Jesus without compromise or hypocrisy.

Help us, Lord!

Training for Testimony is Missing in Many Parishes

credit – Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

Catholicism has glorious liturgical and intellectual traditions, but because we have not excelled in training Catholics to give joyful witness to wonder of the Lord and our faith, they are among the best kept secrets around.

In certain denominations, giving witness is a major focus, and congregants are well-trained for it both through personal testimony (witness talks are common in Protestant liturgies) and in their musical tradition. Pastoring in African-American parishes for most of my priesthood has introduced me to this training ground. The “Black experience” is more relaxed with testimony and witness.

Even when I am in a store in an African-American area it is not uncommon for people to say to me, “You got a word for me today pastor?” They are interested in knowing about my church and tell me of their own. They ask for prayers and often engage in certain “call-response” acclamations. Someone will say to me, “God is good!” I reply, “All the time!” To which the response is “And all the time …” I then call back, “God is good!” Then we conclude the ritual with a joint “Amen.” Right there in the aisle of the local Safeway we “have a little Church up in here” as the expression goes.

The testimonies exchanged in this sort of tradition are not highly theological or complex, but they don’t need to be. It can be a simple and joyful statement such as this: “God’s been good to me,” or an expression of hope in a difficult moment: “God’ll make a way for you,” or “I know He’ll see you through.”

Much of this courage and relaxed sharing is the result of a certain kind of liturgical training. The giving of testimonies is common both in and out of church.

There is also the musical tradition that teaches worshippers to recall that God is in the blessing business and that His mercies are not exhausted. It also teaches that one’s relationship with God is transformative and that reform and healing should be expected.

The song “He’s Blessing Me” says,

He’s blessing me, over and over again, He’s blessing me, right here where I stand, Every time I turn around, he making a way somehow. Over and over again he blessing me!

You may not be able to see, just what the Lord is doing for me, but over and over again he’s blessing me! He’s in my heart and soul, from the crown of my head to the tips of my toes, Over and over again he’s blessing me.

The message is simple and yet attractive and beautiful. It trains people for joyful testimony and witness.

The song “He’s Done So Much for Me” says says,

He’s done so much for me,
I cannot tell it all….

He washed my sins away;
I cannot tell it all,

He walks and talks with me;
I cannot tell it all,

He gave me victory;
I cannot tell it all
, I cannot tell it all!

Other songs speak to conversion. One song says, “Something on the inside, working on the outside, I’ve seen a change in my life.” Another song says, “I’m not what I want to be, but I’m not what I used to be. A change, a change has come over me.” Yet another song goes like this: “Great change since I’ve been born! … Places I used to go, I don’t go no more. … Things I used to do, I don’t do no more. … Company I used to keep, I don’t keep no more. … There’s been a great change since I’ve been born.”

These are just a few examples of the kind of “training” that many receive in the evangelical denominations. Frankly, we Catholics have received far less of this. As result, many Catholics are uncomfortable speaking about the Lord and what He has done. Sometimes we simply lack the vocabulary and the models that others have. Even more tragically, many are not even taught to expect a great deal from their walk with Christ. How many Catholics are told to expect a “great change”? Not expecting much often leads to not experiencing much, and not experiencing much makes it pretty hard for a person to testify to what he has seen and heard.

The Catholic faithful need to be better prepared for evangelization. This is more than manifesting joy; it also includes the ability to witness to a moral renewal that also serves to call others to soulful repentance. If we know deep down that we have been rescued from sin and from this present evil age, we are grateful and joyful and we have an experience to speak of that will encourage others.

As a concluding model, perhaps the following song is of value: “I really love the Lord. I really love the Lord. … You don’t know what He’s done for me. He gave me the victory. I love Him, I really love the Lord!”

Can you honestly say that? 

Suffering for the Gospel: Pondering a Picture of Apostolic Times

Death of St. James by Stefan Lochner (c. 1435)

Writing as I am on the Feast of Saint James, likely the first Apostle to be martyred, I’d like to ponder the kinds of sufferings the Apostles endured in order to announce the Gospel and win souls for Christ. In the “softer” Church of the declining West, it is hard for us even to imagine. How many Catholics today can barely rouse themselves to get to an hour-long Mass on Sunday? How many of us clergy will not risk so much as a raised eyebrow in order to speak the truth?

Yet all but one of the first Apostles suffered martyrdom as well as countless other sufferings before their lives were brutally ended. Arguably, 30 of the first 33 popes died as martyrs. Two others died in exile. Only one died in his bed.

We should never fail to thank God for the heroic ministry of the early Christians, clergy and laity alike, who risked everything to believe and to announce the Gospel. Having encountered Christ, they were so transfixed by His truth and His very person, that they could not remain silent. Even in the face of persecution and death, the Apostles declared, simply and forcefully, we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20).

In tribute to them and to the early Church I want to present a kind of catalogue of the sufferings of St. Paul. Of him we know the most, but surely many others suffered as he did. As you read of what Paul endured, remember the many others as well, and when discomfited by a mere inconvenience or minor persecution, consider the price that others paid so that we could know Christ and be saved.

In this first passage, Paul’s sufferings were announced by God to Ananias:

•  Acts 9:15-16 – For he is a chosen vessel of mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake (Acts 9:15-16).

Here are some of Paul’s own descriptions of what he endured:

•  2 Corinthians 4:8-12 – We are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed — always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always manifesting the death of Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.
•  2 Corinthians 11:23-27 – … in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
•  2 Corinthians 6:3-20 – … in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fasting; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
•  Galatians 5:11 – Why do I still suffer persecution? [For, if not] the offense of the cross has ceased.
•  2 Corinthians 12:10 – Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
•  2 Timothy 3:10-11 – … my doctrine, my manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me.
•  1 Corinthians 15:30-32 – And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily …. [Indeed] I have fought with beasts at Ephesus.
•  2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
•  Galatians 4:13 – You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first ….
•  Galatians 6:7 – From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the brandmarks of the Lord Jesus.
•  Romans 9:1-2 – I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.
•  2 Timothy 4:10-17 Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me …. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus …. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense [in Jerusalem] no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.
•  2 Timothy 4:6-8 – For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have longed for His appearing.

Death of St. Paul by Stefan Lochner

And lest we think that St. Paul may have exaggerated his sufferings, consider the following occurrences documented by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles:

 •  Acts 9:23 – Fellow Jews plot to kill him in Damascus, must be lowered in a basket from city walls to escape
•  Acts 9:29 – Hellenists seek to kill him in Jerusalem, must flee to Caesarea
•  Acts 13:15 – Persecuted and run out of Antioch in Pisidia
•  Acts 14:5 – Facing likely arrest and stoning at Iconium, flees to Lystra and Derbe
•  Acts 14:19 – Stoned, dragged out of Lystra and left for dead
•  Acts 15:11 – Opposed by elders and others in Jerusalem
•  Acts 16:23 – Arrested as a disturber of the peace, beaten with rods, and imprisoned at Philippi
•  Acts 16:39 – Ordered by Roman officials to leave Philippi
•  Acts 17:5-7, 10 – Attacked where he lodged in Thessalonica, must be secreted away to Beroea
•  Acts 17:13-15 – Forced out of Beroea, must flee to Athens
•  Acts 17:32 – Mocked in Athens for teaching about the resurrection
•  Acts 18:12 – Apprehended by fellow Jews and taken before the judgment seat of Gallio in Corinth
•  Acts 19:23-41 – Opposed by the silversmiths in Ephesus, who riot against him
•  Acts 20:3 – Plotted against by the Jews in Greece
•  Acts 21:27-30 – Apprehended by the mob in Jerusalem
•  Acts 22:24 – Arrested and detained by the Romans
•  Acts 22:24-29 – Barely escaped being scourged
•  Acts 23:1-10 – Rescued from the Sanhedrin and Pharisees during their violent uprising in Jerusalem
•  Acts 23:12-22 – Assassination plots made against him by fellow Jews, who swear an oath to find and kill him
•  Acts 23:33-27:2 – Two-year imprisonment in Caesarea
•  Acts 27:41-28:1 – Shipwrecked on the island of Malta
•  Acts 28:3-5 – Suffered a snakebite
•  Acts 28:16-31 – Imprisoned in the Rome

Paul was executed by decapitation ca. 68 A.D.

Never forget the price that others have paid in order that we may come to saving faith. Each Sunday, remember that the Creed was written in the blood of martyrs.

Warning: the following video graphically depicts the sufferings of the early martyrs in the arena:

He Kindled a Fire that Never Died Away – How I Met Jesus

110713Personal Testimonies are supposed to be three to five minutes. I suspect that my written version of how I met Jesus violates that rule. But, since many of you have known me a while, I think that I have to add a few details that I don’t when I am speaking to people who know less about me.

Thus, here is my personal testimony of how and when I met the Lord. I break it into sections so that perhaps you can abbreviate your reading where necessary. The over arching truth of my life is that the Lord kindled a fire that did not die away, despite trials and personal failings. Thanks be to God, here is how I met Jesus.

I. Death to life – I know by faith that I met Jesus the day I was born. I know this because I was baptized the day that I was born. Having complications with something called “RH factor” in my blood, it was likely I might not survive the day, so the priest was summoned and I was baptized at once. It was July 10, 1961, St Francis Hospital, Evanston, Ill.

And thus, Jesus came, and saved my soul, he also saved my life in this world. For here I am, still alive all these years later.

And though I know by faith, that I met him that day, I have no memory of it. But indeed, he did establish a powerful relationship with me at that moment. I say this because my earliest memory is of talking with Jesus. I have a few memories from early childhood but my clearest and oldest memories were of how Jesus spoke to me.

I think I was approximately five years old. There was a Sacred Heart statue in my room. It was unique because the Lord’s robes were not red, but blue. And in my room I could go, and the Lord spoke to me, tenderly, and in the way a five-year-old could understand. I do not say that the statue talked, it did not, but it did signal the Lord’s presence,  and I always knew that I could go to my room and there experience the Lord’s presence and talk with him.

I also want to be clear, Jesus was not just some “imaginary friend.” I had those as a child, and I knew the difference. Jesus was real, and He spoke to me in a different way. I knew I was not making it up, that he was initiating it. With my imaginary friends, I ran both sides of the conversation. But Jesus was no imaginary friend, he was someone who was quite real, who loved me, and spoke tenderly to me.

Yes, these are my earliest memories. At the dawning of my life, my first memories are that Jesus was already there in a relationship with me,  simple, intimate, and very reassuring.

II. Dormition – I do not know when or why exactly, but this connection ended. I have a sad memory, though vague, of speaking to an adult in my life, (probably my mother) and explaining that Jesus had gone. I remember even offering some sort of explanation, that perhaps he had to go help other people who need his help more.

This was a time in my life where I began to discover there was a very big world out there, and there were some very awful things happening there. Perhaps my clinging to Jesus seemed selfish. But I attributed his disappearance to the fact that others “needed his help more.”

My awakening in regard to the worse sufferings of others happened when I heard that my father had to go to a far away place called Vietnam, where people were killing each other. Things were very sad there, and there were many orphans and much sorrow.

I was seven years old when my daddy left for the war. And I don’t know if there’s a direct connection, but it was at that time that mysteriously I stopped experiencing Jesus so personally. Yes, I figured he had to go help someone else. I knew Jesus was up in heaven, and I knew he knew and cared about me still, but I no longer heard his voice.

III. Deepening Darkness – At this point, my spiritual life and relationship with the Lord went into remission. I went through the motions: First Confession, First Communion.  I knew I was receiving Jesus, but my relationship was less personal, more theoretical, more intellectual.

My father came back from the war, a changed man somehow,  sadder and with more anger. My family was uprooted from my boyhood home in North Chicago, as my father’s next duty assignment was down in Florida.

My spiritual dormition (sleep) deepened, and soon enough became a great darkness. At age 10, (1971) as a result of several family crises, I began having my first panic attacks and I remember once saying to my mother that I understood what older people meant when they said that life was hard. I did not think at that time I wanted to live long, and hoped to die young.

As I edged towards my teenage years, I went from being a fretful child, to a teenager often plagued by bouts of severe anxiety and phobias: I feared fire, home invasion, and domestic violence. My parents sent me to a counsellor, and I was placed on psychotropic meds for the first time.

I prayed little in these years and though required to attend Mass, I was uninspired by it, and almost never thought of God or had any interest in things spiritual. My spiritual sleep was all but complete, and the darkness of my anxiety also began to manifest as well as intense anger. Loud and angry rock music connected with my soul and gave voice to my anger and the rebellious spirit of my early high school years.

I developed hostility to things religious, to the Church, to the Bible, and  I did not like being told what to do. In a sense, this was typical teenage rebelliousness, but I was about as far as I could be from those early tender years when Jesus used to speak to me quietly in my room.

IV. Dawning – And then Jesus called! I didn’t know it at first, but it was him, I know it now.

Among the “curses” in my life at that time was having to go to Mass on Sunday. And then one day, a high school choir formed at the Church that I attended, and I noticed there were very pretty girls in the choir. I could not sing at all, and did not like to sing, but I accepted an invitation to join the choir to meet the girls.

And I did meet them, and dated two of them seriously, and several of them more casually over the 4 to 5 years that followed. Strangely, I actually began to like the music, and was impressed with the sound of the mighty pipe organ.

I was not praying yet, I was still not spiritual, but through the goodness, truth and beauty of the music (and yes, the girls) The Lord was calling. The darkness had not passed, but light was on the horizon.

V. Development – I cannot fully develop every step which took place, but in varying stages in late high School and early College, I became cantor, the Church choir director,  and an organist.  That led to liturgy planning, studies of God’s Word, and entering more deeply into the life of the Church.

A strange and uncomfortable yearning began to develop within me,  for though while completing my computer science degree and already working for the Army Corps of Engineers, and while dating a girl I intended to marry, a strange desire for the priesthood began to dawn on me. And it was strange.  I was not really praying all that much, and I was working for a pastor in Virginia I did not respect. But in your twenties, sometimes you think you can make a difference, and somehow the priesthood seemed that sort of path for me: something I could do to make a difference.

My college sweetheart, for various reasons, mostly my fault, turned cool on me, and one day, I received my walking papers. One door closed, but I sensed another door still stood open: priesthood. I contacted the Archdiocese of Washington. Within two years, I was walking through the doors of the seminary.

I will not tell you that I had met the Lord again. Not yet, that was still to come. But I entered with pride really, thinking I could make a difference. Yet still, despite my sinful pride, the Lord was still calling.

He reached my mind first. I had entered the seminary poorly catechized, emerging from the “silly 70s” with “butterfly theology” at best. Yet in the seminary, despite dreadful dogmatics, and certain dubious scriptural classes, there were some very wonderful teachers and classes: Liturgy, Patristics, Church history, and Moral Theology were all solid.  And that lit up my mind with joy. I supplemented the shortcomings of some of the scripture classes, and the dreadful dogmatics with wonderful books like Ralph Martin’s Crisis of Truth,  and Fr. James O’Conner’s The Father’s Son, and The Hidden Manna etc.

Suddenly the beauty of Catholic truth entered the vacuum of my silly 70s mind, and I could hear the voice of Jesus speaking through Scripture and Tradition. I was thrilled with this wisdom, and the great deposit of faith. I was hungry and spent long hours in study. I graduated at the top of my class at Mount St. Mary’s.

But I still cannot say I had yet met Him again. Surely I heard his voice mediated through Scripture and Tradition but it was still not the same as that young boy at five years of age who knew Jesus very personally, that was still yet to come. In Seminary years I prayed an hour each day, but it was a struggle to really experience God at all during those times of prayer.

The Lord reached my heart in my deacon year. It was my canonical retreat, prior to ordination to the priesthood, and Fr. Francis Martin came to the seminary and set forth for us a powerful and cogent proclamation, that through the Word of God and the Sacraments, The Lord Jesus revealed himself to us, and invited us into a relationship that could and would totally change our lives, wherein we would see sins put to death and every virtue come alive.

And so, my heart was on fire and in every liturgy, every proclamation of the Word I began to hear the Lord Jesus, and experience His powerful ministry. My life to begin to change, I saw many sins put to death, and many graces come alive.

But still, I will not tell you, though having a new mind and heart, I had met him again. I knew him through his Word, and through the effects of his sacraments in my life. I knew by faith he existed, but I had not yet met him again. But he had my mind and my heart, and I was well along the path of what the mystics call “the purgative way.”

One final, and painful stage awaited me before I met him again.

VI. Distress – My early years of priesthood, were not without struggles, but they were largely pleasant and productive. Yet, my long history of anxiety and my tendency to fret continued to plague me.

An early promotion to the pastorate, seemingly a great compliment, plunged me into a period of great distress. Panic attacks, and unremitting anxiety robbed me of sleep for weeks, then into months. Demons found an easy doorway and added to my crisis, such that I became despondent. A dark presence enveloped my room, tormenting me and further robbing me of sleep.

It was clear I could not take up my pastoral duties, and I found myself to St. Luke’s Hospital for a week of mental evaluation. And yet, in this great crisis, through this great distress, there seemed to come some purification.

VII. Deliverance – Shortly thereafter, one morning in my holy hour I was praying,… and there he was! It was November of 1994, I was 33 years old.

I cannot describe to you his glory, for it is beyond words, analogies or pictures. Words like spaciousness, openness, wideness, glorious light, and deep serenity come to mind, but they are wholly inadequate. But there he was.

I said nothing, and He said nothing, yet everything was communicated. Words were not necessary at all. It was Cor ad cor loquitur (Heart speaking to heart). Here was what the mystics call “contemplative prayer,” or at least the first murmurings of it. Beyond words or images, not the devoid of them, but beyond them.

Yes there He was and I with him. I had met him again, whom my heart sought, and my mind delighted in. He was here and I with him.

Over the years, my experience of him in prayer has deepened. It has also become more gentle. Some days his presence is deeper than others, some days I struggle to see him at all. But quite consistently and faithfully throughout the years I have known his presence.

And as his presence in my prayers has deepened and become more contemplative, it has overflowed into my daily life. Increasingly, I have become a mystic on the move. Throughout the day, I see his presence beautifully displayed his creation, and in so many people I have come to know and love.

I remain startled at those say there is no evidence of God’s existence. His whole creation shouts “I am designed and it is he who holds me in existence.” I am powerfully aware of his presence in my prayer, and throughout the day, also in the liturgy, and in the glory of his Word and Sacraments.

And yet, I cannot forget those years when I knew him not. I am in no way unsympathetic to those who struggle to see him, but thanks be to God, I can say I know him, I have met him (again), and he is very, very real in my life.  I feel his presence now, and a moved to tears as I write this.

He has been good to me, and I am so grateful, so very very grateful, that he looked beyond my fault and saw my need.

An old song says “Within our darkest night, you kindle fire that never dies away!” And that is my story, a fire he kindled that never died away, by his grace.

And I’m also grateful, for those who prayed for me in my darkest hours, especially my grandmother and my mother and so many parishioners who saw me through and witnessed to me of the glory of God in their life.

Yes, Jesus is real, I have met him, and speak to him each day in prayer. He kindled a fire in me when I was baptized. I knew it at age five, and strangely lost sight of it. But the fire he kindled never died away. And He, by the fire of his presence is changing my life. I am not what I want to be, but I am not what I used to be.

For all this I am grateful, so very grateful.

Some questions and truths at the heart of the”New”Evangelization

I am gathered with over 200 brother priests from the Archdiocese for a convocation on the New Evangelization. And we are blessed to have Dr. Ralph Martin as our Keynote speaker.

Of course some wonder at the title “new” in the New Evangelization. On the one hand it is new in the sense that we are having now to reach back to once Christian cultures and people and repropose the gospel. The is a “new” (and unfortunate) development that is in a way harder than opening new “virginal” territory for the Kingdom. The ancient Western world was as a virgin awaiting her husband. But the modern West is more an angry divorcee. And this requires new approaches rooted in healing past hurts and overcoming a kind of spiritual boredom and sloth that has overtaken the modern West.

There are also many new modes of communication that make evangelization new in the sense that we must retool, and enter whole new realms of instant and global settings. But one of the most central aspects of evangelization that must be newly emphasized (as it was in the early Church) is to become a personal and firsthand witness of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is to be able to say how I met him, and what he’s doing in my life.

Doctrine and Scripture are essential and help us to verify whether our experiences of God, are in conformity with the truth of who God is as he has revealed himself. But one of the dangers is that we become content to quote the doctrine, to quote Scripture, but not really come to know the One, who reveals them. We run the risk of becoming content to know about the Lord, rather than  to know the Lord, personally and intimately.

And thus, there comes a time, and the moment for us to ask the critical questions, Do I know the Lord? Or do I just know about him. Have I met him? How? When? And what is my relationship with him doing in my life?

Sadly, we Catholics are collectively terrible at reflecting on and learning to give witness to the Lord in our life. Frankly, many of us were never taught to give personal testimony, and even worse many have never been taught even to expect a personal encounter with the Lord.

This needs to change, especially in a culture such as ours, where the argument from authority no longer holds much sway. If it was ever true that we could hand on the faith without personal testimony, it certainly is not true today. People rightfully and reasonably expect an authenticity wherein our proclaimed faith, matches with our life, both as publicly lived an experienced.

We may get to a moment with someone where we are able to announce that Jesus Christ can save them from sin and set them free from all bondage. And then comes the question from them, “That sounds like good news, but how do I know it’s true?” And here is where you have to be able to say, “Look at me.” and begin to describe how it is in fact true in your life, that since meeting the Lord, you are seeing sins put to death, and many graces come alive.

Yes, we have to be able to tell our story, to say, briefly, how we met the Lord, and what our  relationship with him is doing to change our life.

Critical though it is, all the apologetics in the world, may founder if we cannot authentically and authoritatively answer the question “How do I know it’s true?” by saying, authentically,

“Look at me. ” In other words to be able to say, “This word, this teaching, is true, because in the laboratory of my own life, I have tested it, and found it to be true, and here’s how. And Jesus is real, because I have met him and here’s when, and here is how. And here is how I’m experiencing him today in my life. Yes, when I pray, I am heard. The Lord speaks in the depths of my heart, sometimes in wordless contemplation, at other times vividly through his proclaimed word, and in my mind, and in the experiences and interactions of my day. I see him, I know him, and I experience his presence, and this is changing my life.”

  • Can you authentically speak like this?
  • Have you met the Lord,?
  • How, when?
  • Do you know him?
  • And how is your relationship with him changing your life?
  • What has your walk with him done?
  • Have you encountered him in his word, and in the sacraments celebrated?
  • How, when, and what has this liturgical experience of the Lord done for you?
  • How is it changing you?

These are essential questions and truths to ponder to be able to answer briefly and articulately if we are going to personally evangelize others today.

Ask the Holy Spirit to anoint you to know the answers to these sorts of questions, and to be able to access the memories of how the Lord is living, working and relating with you in your life. Ask God the Holy Spirit to help you form a testimony, so as to become a first-hand witness to the power of the Lord in your life!

It is increasingly clear to me, that God’s people expect me as priest pastor, preacher, an evangelist not just to know the facts, but to know the Lord. Our  people, whether they know it or not, are desperate to hear from us that we who announce the truth, know in a very personal and deep way He who is the Truth. The people of God, need first-hand witnesses, witnesses who know the Lord, and know by experience the truth of his Word. Our preaching cannot simply be technical and a mechanistic it must be personal and proclaimed by someone who knows what and of Whom he speaks.

And if this is true of priest, it is also true parents who must become more comfortable with giving true witness to their children of the faith, of the personal relationship and walk with the Lord, and of the power of God’s Word and Sacraments to change their lives.

Both priests and parents need to learn what it means to preach and teach with authority. The Greek word for authority is “exousia” which means to literally to speak out of one’s own substance and experience.  This is is what made Jesus such an authoritative preacher: he Knew the Father and spoke out of his own substance and experience. And we too, empowered by him must experience   his power, love, life, joy and truth and speak  out that experience and relationship. Nothing less will be very effective today Dr. Ralph Martin, in his new book The Urgency of the New Evangelization, a book which I want to review more thoroughly next week, has the following insight

Now at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit at the beginning of every class I have one of the students give his testimony. …. I ask seminarians and priests not to tell how they discerning a calling to the priesthood, but how they came to discover the reality of God in their lives. This is a struggle for some, but eventually almost everyone reaches the point where they can briefly give an account of how God became real in their lives in such a way that unbelievers could relate to it.

Thus, what is new about the new Evangelization is essentially very old, very apostolic. It is to give personal witness and testimony to the revealed faith based on what we have seen, heard and are experiencing. St. Paul couldn’t look it up and quote it, he had to experience it and write it. And while we are not evangelists like the apostles, we  are called to speak to the truth of the faith they revealed out of our own substance, life and experience.

More on this tomorrow wherein I would like to share more directly how and when I met the Lord and what he is doing in my life.

Love Lifted Me. A Consideration of a Profound insight from Origen

082813Back in Seminary days we would often study the question of authorship when it came to books of the Bible. Especially in modern times there are extensive debates about such things. I remember being annoyed at the question in most cases since I didn’t really care who the Holy Spirit gave the text to, in the end, God was the author.

I was also annoyed at some of the premises used to reject authorship. For example, it was widely held by modern scholars that St. Paul couldn’t possibly be the author of the the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) since the description of the Church was “far too developed” to have been written prior to 65 AD. Never mind that the Acts of the Apostles describes many of the “dubious” hierarchal elements (presbyters (e.5. Acts 14:23), deacons (e.g. acts 6:3), and apostles (bishops). Never mind any of that, for us moderns there is the tendency to consider as “primitive” early eras. So Paul’s authorship was questioned by many in those days.

John’s gospel too was considered far too lofty by modern scholars to have been written by a “simple fisherman.” Where could this “unlettered man” have gotten such profound and mystical insights? Again, never mind that he may have been as old as 90 when he authored the gospel, and may have pondered it for some 60 years. Never mind that he lived for at least part of that time with the sinless Virgin Mary, who knew her son as no one knew him and saw him with sinless eyes. No, never mind the power of grace and infused vision. No, it was too much for many modern and rationalistic scholars to accept that a simple fisherman could pull it off. It must have been by some other more lettered man like “John the Elder,” or it must have been other smarter types in the Johanine community, or school that authored this.

Here too I was just a simple 25 year old seminarian but it seemed to me that far too many modern interpreters stressed only the human dimension of Revelation. Something more mystical was missing from their view. That God could somehow give a profound vision to the early Apostles, and an infused mysticism was almost wholly absent in their analysis. Even as a 25 year old I knew better than to exclude that. I was young, but had already experienced aspects of the charismatic movement where inspiration and gifts were to be sought and expected.

And had not Jesus himself said to the Apostles, But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you (Jn 14:26).

I recently came across a quote from Origen, the early 3rd Century Father, whose insight into John struck me as profound and telling, deeply faithful and challenging for every Christian. Pondering himself, where John “got all this” Origen says,

We may therefore make bold to say that the Gospels are the first fruits of all the Scriptures, but that of the Gospels that of John is the first fruits. No one can apprehend the meaning of it except he that has lain on Jesus’ breast and received from Jesus, Mary to be his mother also. (Origen, Commentary on John, 6)

There it was, the lynchpin, the truest answer. John had mystical vision and saw the Lord in the loftiest way because he knew and experienced the heart of the Lord, and had Mary for his Mother. John was a brilliant theologian and possessed of deep insight, less because he knew books, and more because he knew the Lord, heart to heart.

And how surely and truly Mary’s role in this cannot be overlooked. Think of the conversations she and John must have had, the mystical prayer she must have enjoyed, and shared with John, the memories and the things that only the heart of a sinless mother could see and know. How John must have marveled at the gift of her. And how he too, who had known the heart of the Lord, and rested at his heart, at the Last Supper must have been able to pray and converse with her.

Speculation you say? Perhaps. But a vision I share with the great theologian Origen. It was love that gave John insight, it was relationship with Jesus, and with Mother Mary, by Jesus own gift, that his mystical gospel took flight.

And what of you and me? How will we gain insight into the Lord, and the truth of his Gospel? Books and learning? Studying Greek? Reading commentaries? Sure, all well and good. But these things are best at telling you what the text is saying. But it takes a deep relationship with the Lord to see Scripture’s mystical meaning.

Study? Sure. But don’t forget to pray! Scripture comes from the heart of the Lord and it is only there, by entering the heart of the Lord, and living there through prayer that Scripture’s truest meaning will ever be grasped.

Having trouble getting there? No one loves and understands Jesus like his Mother Mary. Ask her intercession and help, she will show you the heart of her Son.

Jesus gave John two gifts: the gift of his heart, and the gift of his mother. And John soared to such places that people could ask, “How did he get all this?” But you know how.

He offers you and me the same. Do you want vision, do you want to appreciate the depths of scripture and all God’s truth? Do you want the eyes of your heart opened to new mysteries and mystical experience? Accept the gifts Jesus offers: the gift of his heart, the gift of his mother.

Consider well the admonition of one of the most learned men who ever lived:No one can apprehend the meaning of it except he that has lain on Jesus’ breast and received from Jesus Mary to be his mother also.

Here is Fr. Thomas Luis de Victoria at his most mystical: O Magnum Mysterium (O Great mystery and wondrous sacrament, that animals would witness the birth of Christ. O Blessed Virgin whose womb merited to carry the Lord Jesus Christ, Alleluia!)

Seven Habits of Divinely Inspired Evangelizers

In the  Gospel today the Lord shows forth that his plan for Evangelization is not just some sort of haphazard, shoot from the hip program where he wanders about aimlessly. Rather he had a plan to visit specific cities at specific times. And, in order to prepare for his visit, he sent an entourage ahead of him to prepare the town for his visit and also to arrange for the necessary preliminaries. The texts says quite clearly: At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.  (Luke 10:1).

Now these lead teams, these evangelizers,  received seven basic instructions from the Lord on how to effectively evangelize. These seven basic habits are also for us who have receive the mandate to evangelize (cf Matt 28: 19). Let’s look at them briefly:

1. Supplication – Jesus said, The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Hence before any effective evangelizing takes place there must be prayer. In my own parish we are preparing to go out two by two in the Fall. Prior to this we have prayed for over a year, holding Eucharistic holy hours, praying at Mass and Bible study for a fruitful team of laborers sent, not by man, but by God. On Pentecost Sunday 50 people signed up to walk door to door. They are the fruit of prayer. So step one for effective evangelization is to have a praying community asking for laborers. When we go door to door fifty others have signed up to stay in Church and pray as we walk. Habit one: Pray!

2: Sobriety. The Lord tells them Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3) We do have to be sober about the fact that we are in world that is both critical of and hostile to our faith. We are bound to experience persecution, ridicule, anger, being ignored,  misunderstanding, misinterpretation, misrepresentations and just plain missiles. That we experience the world’s hatred or anger does not mean we have done anything wrong. The Lord was clear that the hatred of the world was a sign of true discipleship: If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. (John 15:18-20). Too many Christians today want the world to like them and think that holiness is about winning a popularity contest and being nice. Well the fact is that Jesus did not end up on the cross by winning a popularity contest and just being nice. He had enemies and so do we. We are not to hate them. We are to love them but we have to be sober about accepting some degree of hatred from the world. And to those who have won the popularity contest and have no enemies Jesus warns: Woe to you when all men speak well of you,  for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets (Luke 6:26). The true disciple and true evangelizer will experience some degree of hatred, anger and scorn. We must be sober about this. We do not look for a fight, but hatred will come. An old spiritual says, “I been ‘buked and I been scorned. I been talked ’bout sures yo’ born…..” Habit 2 is sobriety

3. Simplicity – The Lord tells us to travel light: Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way (Lk 10:4) We are to bring nothing along that will weigh us down or hinder our task. The fact is we all have a lot of baggage in this life that hinders us from the more important work of Evangelizing our family and others. Too many parents barely know their kids because they work long hours at jobs to pay for a life style that is too expensive. On top of this we add endless projects and pursuits that keep us running all over God’s green acre. Perhaps good in themselves, they become too much of a good thing and we end up barely knowing the first people we are to evangelize, our children. The Lord says, lighten up, less, is more, simplify and do with less. Do what is more important first: God, family, parish and community. Learn to prioritize and say “no” when necessary. Bottom line is that we have too much baggage, too many distractions and the Gospel goes unlived and unpreached. The unusual instruction “Greet no one along the way” means that we ought not allow any relationship to hinder us either. There are folks who can sidetrack us hinder our progress and we ought to limit such contacts charitably.

4.  Serenity – The Lord says, Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household’ (Luke 10: 5) Though the world may be hostile at times, the Lord tells us, upon entering into any place to say “Peace to the his household.” We do not go forth with hostility but with a serene joy and love. We must love those to whom we announce the Gospel. We are to radiate a serene confidence, joy and peace. We are not picking a fight or trying to win an argument. If we need to clarify a misunderstanding someone has we ought to do so peacefully and with serene confidence.  Because we are confident in the truth we are serene in it. Shalom, peace is at our core, not hostility or aggressiveness.

5.  Stability– The Lord instructs us Stay in the same house…..Do not move about from one house to another. (Luke 10:7) Thus the Lord tells us to find our place and stay there. In the end, the best evangelization takes place where there are deeper relationships. But deep relationships cannot exist when we are running all over the place and relating to others only superficially. We ought to stay put more with family, parish and community and have deep roots. Too many people barely know their own family. No wonder the faith is not passed on in the diffuse, rushed and sporadic climate of the family. Find home and stay there routinely. Build deep relationships.

6. Sensitivity – the Lord says Eat and drink what is offered to you,…..cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’  In other words the Lord counsels simple human kindness where we do not criticize about unnecessary things like the quality of food, or matters of preference. Further he counsels that we have a charge to bring healing and help to others. We may cure the sick by physical cures but the kind of healing necessary is often more emotional and spiritual. We ought to manifest care for others. Even the simple act of listening to someone can bring great healing. Without simple human kindness, declaring that the Kingdom of God is at hand can not only be empty but it can make the kingdom seem odious. The say to others that the Kingdom of God is at hand means that they can start living a whole new life. We ought then to manifest kindness, bring forth cures by helping people find wholeness and healing from the many blows this world inflicts. The Kingdom of God is not only about doctrine, it is about healing, holiness, and the wholeness that comes from both as well as from true doctrine.

7. Soulful Joy– The disciples returned with great joy and the Lord celebrates with them and helps to deepen their joy. There is nothing worse than a sour-faced saint or a bored believer. In the end, the greatest evangelization is to manifest a joy at what God is doing in our lives. This joy is not a sentimental emotional joy necessarily but a deeper serene joy rooted in confidence, hope and love. Do people see you in this way? If they do the ground is fertile for evangelization. St. Peter says, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15). Now of course giving an answer presupposes that someone notices the hope and joy in us and noticing this they ask. Does anyone notice this about you?

So then here are seven habits of divinely inspired evangelizers as taught by the Lord himself.