Can I Get a Witness? [Podcast #005]
What do Archbishop José Gómez, Pope Benedict, and Jesus Christ all have in common? They are all challenging us to live our Christian call to be witnesses.
Three Problems in the Church
1. Catholic Leaving the Church
Catholics are leaving in large numbers. Their losing their faith. Their giving up on God. Their turning away from Christ. And it reminds me of that passage in the Gospel of John, chapter 6, when Jesus finishes telling the disciples that His flesh is true food, His blood is true drink, and that we have no life in us unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, and they can’t handle it. It’s too difficult for them to understand and they turn away. They leave and they walk out on Jesus. It’s a very sad scene and what’s even more sad is that we’re continuing to go through that today.
The interesting part about that passage is that when those people leave it’s in verse 66 and it’s chapter 6 of John. We have 666 and so you see there the devil. 666 the sign of the beast. The devil is always trying to separate us from God. That’s what sin is. That’s what hell is, separation from God. So I think we have to remember how important it is for us to stay close to God and to help others to come to know and love Him.
2. Catholics are Lukewarm in the Faith
The other problem that the Church is facing is that many Catholics are lukewarm in their faith. There are 77 million Catholics in America and 70% of them don’t even go to Church on Sunday. And of those 30% of us who do, there is a large number of us who are lukewarm in our faith. We know the basic teachings of the Church, we go to Mass on Sundays, but God is not the center of our lives. He’s kinda on the back burner. He’s their when we need Him, but we don’t know Him, we don’t love Him. It’s interesting because if we look to the Gospel, what does Jesus say to those who are lukewarm in their faith? He says you are neither hot nor cold, so I spit you out of my mouth! (Rev 3:16) That’s not the kind of relationship I want to have with Jesus. I don’t know about you.
3. Catholics are Setting a Bad Example
And the last problem that we have is that Catholics are setting a very bad example for the world. It’s sad. It’s unfortunate. It’s a disappointment. It’s a disgrace. Because we are called to be the light of the world, but we’re not giving that example (Mt 5:14). We’re not taking what we learn, we’re not taking what we receive from God and bringing that into the world. And that’s our task, that’s our goal, that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Because what I’m thinking is “Can I get a witness!?”
The Pope’s Answer to Our Problems
Thank God for Pope Benedict XVI! Because he sees the same problems that we see, these problems that we just finished talking about. He sees and acknowledges and recognizes that something has to be done. And so he’s called us to a renewal, a renewal of the Church as a whole, but also an individual renewal of the faith for each of us. And that’s why he’s called this Year of Faith. I’m sure you’ve probably heard about the Year of Faith. We’re about four months into it and it’s going to continue on for another eight months. We need to take advantage of this time in this Year of Faith and really challenge ourselves to live up to what the Holy Father has called us to.
1. Build a Relationship with God
The first goal of this Year of Faith has to be to renew our personal relationship with God. Our entire faith, our entire practice of the faith, the Church, everything revolves around God. And so without a relationship with Him we’re dead in our tracks, we can go no further. We’re going through the motions. There is no meaning to it. We have to come to know God if we haven’t already. And we have to rekindle that relationship if we’ve lost touch. And we have to remember, just like that Prodigal Son, God is always welcoming us back with open arms. He wants to reconcile us to Himself. He wants us to be in relationship with Him. He’s inviting you to know Him and to love Him. And so during this Year of Faith take advantage of that time to get to know God. Whether that means going on a retreat, dedicating more time to prayer, and reading the Bible—whatever you need to do to get to know God and to live that relationship to the fullest.
2. Deepen Your Knowledge of the Faith
Secondly, we have to get to know our faith. A lot of Catholics have a very elementary understanding of the faith. Whatever they learned in catechism in preparation for their first communion, or whatever they learned from their parents, they continue on with that same level of understanding of their faith, which is unfortunate because in our education we continue to grow, we continue to explore, we continue to dive deeper into our studies. But when it comes to our faith, when it comes to religion, to the Church, to the Catholic faith, we feel like all we have to know is whatever we learned as children, but that’s not the case.
Pope Benedict is calling us to get to know our faith, not just what we believe, but why we believe it, not just what the Church teaches, but why the Church teaches it. There are a lot of teachings out there that people disagree with, that people don’t fully understand, and they find it difficult to profess the faith in those teachings, because the world, our society, our modern culture here in America is so against what the Church teaches. It speaks in such stark contrast to what the Church teaches, to the Gospel truth. And so, it can be difficult, but getting to know the faith—what we believe and why we believe it—will help us to better know our faith and better proclaim that faith in the world.
3. Become a Witness
And lastly, to set an example for others. We are called to be the light of the world. Jesus Christ says “you are the light of the world”, “you are the salt of the earth” (Mt 5:13-14). And so we have to be able to set an example for others. People have to be able to see us and our example has to attract them to God, attract them to get to know God and enter into relationship with Him, in His love, His mercy, His peace, all by your example.
Here’s what the Pope says:
“The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers: by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us.”
He’s thinking “Can I get a witness!?”
The Archbishop’s Answer to Our Problems
Because he sees the same problems that we’re talking about, the same problems that Pope Benedict has recognized. And he wrote a letter last year entitled “Witness to the New World of Faith.” He wants us to learn our faith, to live our faith, and to share our faith. Which is what our purpose is here at leadersthatfollow.com and it’s what our primary focus should be as Catholics, as Christians. The Archbishop is saying “Can I get a witness!?”
Witness, witness, witness! Jesus says “Can I get a witness!?” Pope Benedict says “Can I get a witness!?” Archbishop Gomez is saying “Can I get a witness!?” We’re going to talk about witness today—what is a witness, why do we need witnesses, and how we can we become those witnesses.
What Is a Witness?
A witness is someone who has seen, heard, or experience an event. Usually we think of crime, but in this case it’s any event. They are living proof that that event took place. But in our case, we’re not just witnesses to an event, we’re witnesses to a person, Jesus Christ. And if we look back to the early Church, the apostles, the disciples were witnesses of Jesus’ preaching, His teachings, the miracles that He performed. But more importantly, to His resurrection. Because that’s where everything changed.
If you look at the disciples—the Twelve specifically—as Jesus is going about His ministry they don’t get it. They don’t understand what He’s doing. They don’t understand what He’s talking about when He’s sharing these parables. But after the resurrection, after they’ve seen Him, after He’s risen from the dead and He’s presented Himself to them, He’s given them a mission and He’s sent down the Holy Spirit, all of a sudden they get it and they go out and they transform the world. They are witnesses to Jesus Christ.
And since then, for the past almost 2000 years, more witnesses have been risen up here and there whose lives have not only inspired us, but have changed the world. We call those people the saints. We’re called to be like those saints. At the end of Mass the priest or the deacon will say “Go forth and proclaim the Lord by your lives” and we say “Thanks be to God.” But what does that mean? It means that by our lives, by our example we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, we’re proclaiming the love of God, the mercy of God. It’s a powerful statement, but it’s not just a statement, it’s a challenge, it’s a command being issued to us to go out and proclaim the Lord by our lives. That’s what it means to be a witness. So essentially that priest or that deacon is saying “Can I get a witness!?”
Why Do We Need Witnesses?
Pope Benedict says:
“What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.”
He is saying “Can I get a witness!?” The world is crying out “Can I get a witness!?” The world is starving for truth, for love, for peace and happiness, but they’re tired. They don’t want to hear about love, they want to fall deep into it. They don’t want to hear about peace, they want to see it. They don’t want to talk about happiness, they want to experience it. They’re looking for truth, but the truth is not an idea. The truth is a person. And we claim that that person is Jesus Christ, “the way, the truth, and the life.” Only Jesus brings everlasting peace and eternal salvation. The world is crying out “Can I get a witness!?” The world is crying out “Don’t tell me, show me!”
The sad part is that it’s our job to show them and we have failed. Jesus founded the Catholic Church and gave it one mission: the salvation of souls. He said:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
To think that Jesus gave us one mission as a Church, and we are failing at it, is depressing. One thing He has tasked us with and we can’t even do that. And to top it off, He’s guaranteed us His help. He’s promised us that He wouldn’t leave us and we’re still failing at it. We need to turn around. We need to recognize our mission. We need to remember our purpose. And we need to trust in God to guide us. Jesus is saying “Can I get a witness!?”
Pope Benedict wants to wake up the Church. Matthew Kelly calls us a “sleeping giant.” We 77 million Catholics in America, the Pope wants to wake us up. In his letter on the Year of Faith he uses the word “witness” 13 times in only 15 paragraphs. He wants you and me to be witnesses. He wants you and me to wake up and to get to work—to go out and proclaim Jesus Christ to the world, through our words and our actions. He wants us to really get this Christianity thing right. He’s tired of seeing people go through the motions. I’m tired of it. I’m sure you’re tired of it as well. We need to be renewed in faith and we need to be witnesses to the God who is love. Pope Benedict is calling from that little window in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican and he’s saying “Can I get a witness!?”
Our Archbishop here in Los Angeles, Jose Gomez, he wants us to remember our mission. He’s given us a challenge as well. He says:
“Our world will return to God, but not by way of words or programs—no matter how eloquent or well-conceived. Our world will return to God only by way of witnesses, by way of men and women who testify by the example of their lives that Jesus Christ is real and that His Gospel is the path to true happiness.”
He’s right. We don’t have to complicate things. The Gospel is simple. He’s screaming, he’s calling out, and he’s saying “Can I get a witness!?”
How Can You Be a Witness?
Catherine of Sienna said “If you are what you should be you will set the world ablaze.” I’d say that what she means is that God has set out a plan for you and for me and for the Church, for all of us. That’s who we should be, who God created us to be. And when we live up to that plan, that purpose, we become who we were created to be, we become the best-version-of-ourselves, we become saints, we become witnesses.
You can be a witness! People should be able to know that you are Catholic, not by the mistakes that you’ve made, but by the radical, counter-cultural way that you live your life and the authentic Christian witness you provide to our starved society. Jesus preached, He taught, but it was His witness—the way that He lived His faith—that had the power in it. If you look at Him, He didn’t just tell people about how much God loved them. He didn’t just talk about God’s mercy. He showed it. And that’s where the power was. That’s where the power is.
In his new book Matthew Kelly talks about how we all acknowledge that the world is in bad shape, that it needs help. And we complain and bicker, but we always blame it on someone else. And we expect somebody else to fix it. We’re not holding ourselves accountable. We’re not willing to take personal responsibility for the state of the world. And it’s sad because as Catholics it’s our mission to change the world, and to inspire other people to do the same. But we have to remember that we can’t do any of this without God. Jesus promised us that He would give us His help, He would be with us, He would send us the Holy Spirit. So Jesus has got our back. We’re not doing this on our own. And God has given us the great gift of faith. Pope Benedict says:
“Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness.”
Faith is a gift. Love is a gift. God has given those gifts to us freely. And as God’s love pours into our hearts it should overflow out to those around us, into the world, to transform the world. We are vessels of God’s love. And secondly, joy. Because when we do that, when we evangelize, when we share our faith with other, when we become true witnesses, we do it with joy—with a smile on our faces and joy in our hearts. Because joy is a side effect of an authentic Christian life, of authentic relationship with God. So if we’re going through the motions and just doing Christianity instead of being a Christian, people will be able to see that lack of joy, that lack of peace. If we’re just doing it to do it there is no joy in it. The joy we receive is the gift of being able to see God work through us in the world.
And again, it’s essential that we realize that we cannot be a witness to Christ if we don’t know Him, if we have not experienced Him. How can we expect to introduce other people to Him if we don’t know Him ourselves? And so we have to rekindle that romance with Jesus Christ, to enter into that relationship with God. Because God gives us all we need to live the Gospel. It’s so simple. The Gospel is simple. Call it Gospel simplicity if you want. When they asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment He gave them a simple answer. He said to love God with all that you are and to love your neighbor—to love others—as you love yourself (Mt 22:36-40). Simple. That’s a simple as it gets. There were ten commandments. There were 613 laws in the Law of Moses. Jesus gives us the greatest commandment. He tells us love God and love your neighbor and you will fulfill all of those laws, all of those commandments. How simple is that? Yet, how difficult we make it, how complicated we make it. We have to remember how simple our task is.
Archbishop Gomez says that “through our love for others we bear witness to the reality of our God who is love.” That’s the truth! Through our love for others we bear witness to God. And God is love. What it means to be a witness is that others can see God in you, that you are a reflection of God’s love. By the way you talk, by the way you live, they should see a reflection of God in you.
You are being challenged. Will you accept it? Jesus has called you. He says “Can I get a witness!?” The Pope has called you. He says “Can I get a witness!?” The Archbishop has called you. He’s saying “Can I get a witness!?” The world is crying out, saying “Can I get a witness!?” Let us pray that we can all answer “Here I am Lord.”
*Statistics taken from Matthew Kelly’s book “The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic“. Theme song “Captive” performed by “Espíritu” and used by permission.