On The Power of Personal Witness in the Priestly Proclamation

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!

25 Replies to “On The Power of Personal Witness in the Priestly Proclamation”

  1. Aren’t the Neos a bunch of heretics and left wing cultists? What are they doing running a seminary?

    The Wikipedia page indicates that they are something out of a bad 1970s fever dream.

    How priests will be well-formed coming out of the environment I’ve read about is beyond me. They certainly can’t be expected to minister to the conservative younger faithful.

    1. The “Neos” are approved by the Vatican and have had their statues recently affirmed and approved. So what did you think of the article? And, by the way, have you ever met a Neocatechumenal priest? For the tone of your remark seems so fearful and even hateful (heretics? left wing? cultists?) Please you have no right to say this.

      I am not in the Neocatechumenal Way and have not been without concerns about the liturgical adaptions, but the Holy See has spoken on this matter. As for their theology, they are not liberal and of all the groups I have ever met, they are more on board with Humanae Vitae than most other groups I have ever encountered. Their moral theology is also very solid and the priests I have met from the NCW are good, solid men of the Church, obedient to the Bishop and preaching carefully the doctrine of the Church from the standpoint of personal witness. Which by the way, was the MAIN point of this article.

      In the end Ryan, you are not the Pope, you are not qualified to speak in this manner. You ought to apologize for such mean-spirited, uninformed remarks.

      Here is Pope Benedict meeting with the “Neos”

      And here is where Benedict calls the Movement a gift of the Holy Spirit:

      So, Ryan, make room in your heart for others in the Church. The world is bigger than you and what you like.

      1. Everything I have ever read about these people is that they are a cult who participate in liturgical abuses. The fact that the liturgical abuses are maintained in their constitutions, and that they have been ordered to at least go to a parish Mass once a month, is troubling.

        I don’t doubt their validity, but I am allowed to have a negative opinion about them. We all know certain cardinals and bishops have a negative opinion of Traditional Catholics, so it’s fair game.

        1. But you did doubt their validity by calling them cultist and heretics. And serving people up with judgements you have no right to make isn’t “fair game.” Sure, the NCW doesn’t have to be your cup of tea but that doesn’t permit the kinds of things you said, As for your concerns, it seems you ought to direct them to the Pope but it is not clearly demonstrable to me that they have refused corrections offered them, and evidently it isn’t obvious to the Pope who personally has yearly met with them and confirmed both their constitutions and their catechesis.

          1. I apologize for calling them heretics, which they clearly are not. They are, however, heterodox in liturgical practice.

  2. Amen, Father! When the Lord touches you and makes you whole, there is so much joy, you have to shout it out. Our family and friends are baffled because we are different people now (based on the choices we make) and even the acquaintances are curious about this transformation … and they want to know how to get that peace. We tell them.

    God bless the new priests! May they grow in holiness and love throughout their years.

  3. Our vocations Director has requested we build vocations into our homilies this weekend. Even being a Deacon, I get to preach this weekend. I almost felt I needed to defer to the pastor, but all along I thought that I have a story too! In my journey of faith and my formation as a Deacon, I have changed also. I have become a much more loving spouse than I probably would ever be, a much more prayerful father than I could ever have been if I had not encountered Christ in an intimate and personal way.

    Thank you for this blog and your homilies Msgr. You have given me a confidence and passion to proclaim not only the Gospel, but my witness as well.

    God bless you and have a great Good Shepherd weekend!

  4. “We preach with authority only if we have met the “Author”” I agree with this statement of yours, Msgr. Pope. One can always tell if the priest is one with the “Author” because his homily reflects the way Jesus went about delivering his message. In Jesus, the messenger and the message are one; you cannot “see” the message without the messenger or see the messenger without the message.

  5. I agree that priests should give testimony. Evangelization is based on testimony, not catechesis, as the Protestants remember and we forget. As for the neo-Cats, they were strongly disciplined by the Vatican, and ordered to cease several practices. I have read some testimony that they haven’t changed them.

  6. The counterattack on Ryan is worse than his original remarks, because more personal.

  7. If you want to give the facts, just the facts, ma’am, then hand them a book. But ours is not a faith of raw information, of abstract concepts of theology. Ours is a living faith. If it is not lived, if it does not actually, not only inform a person’s life, but vivifies and vitalizes him or her, then who needs it?

    Especially in proclaiming the Gospel to nonbelievers, or those still in the infancy of faith, in being a light to a dark world, the personal testimony of personal faith is crucial.

  8. Hi,

    I hope this does not violate any code of conduct among bloggers, but I’ve started a blog for Catholics and was wondering if some of you would check it out and give me some feedback. Thank you.

    God Bless

  9. It is with great joy that I testify to the power of the living risen Christ! Thank you Father Pope for your testimony and service to the people of God. It is a great blessing to hear the Author of Life speak through His humble shepherds! May the good Lord continue His mighty work in you. God Bless you. A faithful listener

  10. Mr. Pope and any other priest, you agree that missing mass is a mortal sin, you made a vow of poverty, chastity, etc., and you also offer prayers to St. Michael, no? You know the Scripture: “do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink (also look at 1 Tim 4:1-4), or regard to a religious festival (mortal sin if you don’t attend Sunday mass or a holy day of obligation),… Do not let anyone who delights in false humility (vow of poverty and chastity (also look at 1 Tim 4: 1-4)) and the worship of angels (prayers to St. Michael, guardian angels, etc.) disqualify you.” Now I know Col 2: 16-19 seems to be referring to Judaism leaders only. But since the worship of angels is unheard of in Judaism (sincerely and severely sola scriptura), there MUST be dualistic meaning and maybe even beyond that. Remember what is written: “If we or an angel of heaven preach a different gospel than what’s been preached, let him be eternally condemned”. Preached is past tense, no? By the time Paul penned preached, was there any command for “priests” to be celibate, encourage the worship of angels, etc.? You know the answer is no. “Yea, rather blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (What was said before that was quite resembling to the “Hail Mary”, no?)
    Lord of Salvation, in Yeshua’s name, open their ears that they may hear. AMEN and AMEN

    1. Except we don’t worship angels, and if any Catholic did so, his confessor would not give absolution until he was assured the individual would not do so again.

      Msgr. Pope, is as far as I know, a diocesan priest. That means he does not take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as priests belonging to religious orders do. He does make a promise of celibacy and obedience to his bishop, however, but both of these are biblical. St. Paul mentions bishops/overseers in his one of his personal letters (I believe either to Timothy or Titus), and our lord himself encouraged celibacy for clerics “For there are eunuchs, who were born so from their mothers womb: and there are eunuchs, who were made so by men: and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take, let him take it.” (Matthew 19:12). While not a doctrinal requirement for the Sacrament of Holy Orders (as is seen by Eastern Rite priests being able to marry), it is a laudable practice in the Western Church; though, the Pope at any time could remove the requirement.

      “Lord of Salvation, in Yeshua’s name, open their ears that they may hear. AMEN and AMEN”
      Yes. Absolutely. May Christ who has begun his work in you, bring it to fulfillment.

  11. If you don’t worship Mary, the angels, and saints, then why is there a definition of dulia and hyperdulia? Also, why hasn’t the western church taken the mandatory celibacy away? I’ll tell you. That way the Scripture concerning 1 Tim 4:1-4 is fulfilled. (Wait, it already has been fulfilled since it’s been a requirement for hundreds of years.) Oh, by the way, if eastern catholic and orthodox “priests” are able to marry and the west is not, then how is the faith handed down from the apostles if the schism produced this difference. I’ll tell you. The RCC always changes. (This is just one of many, many examples.) Henceforth, the handing down from the apostles is a no go as far as the RCC is concerned. Sorry Mr. Pope, since there obviously wasn’t any bucket made, then there can’t be an assist. (“Thanks for the assist here, Tony!”) I’ll tell you what Mr. Pope, may you and all “priests” accept my pass, swish it through, and say to me “Thanks for the assist here, Anonymous”.

    1. Kinda weird how this blog post has elicited the two negative comments, you “anonymous” have supplied. Not sure where all your trouble comes from, but, be of good cheer, The Roman Catholic Church (RCC as you call us) has been here a mighty long time and we have been witnessing to Jesus. You may choose to nit-pick but be of good cheer celibacy is really a minor point since it is a discipline, not a dogma. Nevertheless, there is strong evidence of it apostolic origin, many of the early Fathers mention it as the preferred norm and widespread practice of the early Centuries. The Eastern Churches do not require it of their priests, but their Bishops must be celibate as well as their monks and nuns. That is why most Orthodox Bishops end up being drawn from the ranks of their monks. So both Churches (Catholic and Orthodox) that go back to the time of the apostles really DO have a tradition of celibacy, only its scope is a little different.

      More significantly, Jesus surely commends celibacy for the sake of the kingdom (Matt 19) and Paul as well (1 Cor 7). As for priests not marrying, the Church requires this of her Western priests, but even here there are exceptions made. One of our bloggers, Fr. Hurd is married and has several children. There are two other married priests in this diocese. So lighten up a little.

      Indeed, as for you Anon, talk a little more about Jesus, and a little less about Catholic bashing. Jesus actually likes Catholics and died for them, just as he did for you.


      Mr. Pope

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