The World Needs You:
To have Christian hope means to know about evil and yet to go to meet the future with confidence. The core of faith rests upon accepting being loved by God, and therefore to believe is to say Yes, not only to him, but to creation, to creatures, above all, to men, to try to see the image of God in each person and thereby to become a lover. That’s not easy, but the basic Yes, the conviction that God has created men, that he stands behind them, that they aren’t simply negative, gives love a reference point that enables it to ground hope on the basis of faith. – Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth
The Blessed Mother Shows Us the Way:
Mary is the supreme example of living that yes to God because with her yes, the Word became flesh. We too are called to incarnate Christ in the world.
The Idea of Witness:
Witnesses (the word martyr means witness) keep hope alive by testifying to the truth in love with their very lives.
Testifying can mean dying for the faith like St. Maximilian Kolbe or it can mean giving everything completely during your life, like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Both ways are extremely powerful (but not easy)!
Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been killed because he is a Christian: for that would be solely to mourn. We do not think of him simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the Saints: for that would be simply to rejoice: and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world’s is. A Christian martyrdom is no accident. Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man’s will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. Ambition fortifies the will of man to become ruler over other men: it operates with deception, cajolery, and violence, it is the action of impurity upon impurity. Not so in Heaven. A martyr, a saint, is always made by the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God. The martyr no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom. So thus as on earth the Church mourns and rejoices at once, in a fashion that the world cannot understand; so in Heaven the Saints are most high, having made themselves most low, seeing themselves not as we see them, but in the light of the Godhead from which they draw their being. – T.S. Eliot, from the Archbishop’s Sermon on Christmas Morning, Murder in the Cathedral
The fidelity of the baptized is a primordial condition for the proclamation of the Gospel and for the Church’s mission in the world. In order that the message of salvation can show the power of its truth and radiance before men, it must be authenticated by the witness of the life of Christians. ‘The witness of a Christian life and good works done in a supernatural spirit have great power to draw men to the faith and to God.’
Because they are members of the Body whose Head is Christ, Christians contribute to building up the Church by the constancy of their convictions and their moral lives. The Church increases, grows, and develops through the holiness of her faithful, until ‘we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.’
– The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2044-2045
What Witness Doesn’t Mean:
Something I find helpful in better understanding the concept of witness is to contrast it with how we sometimes think of being an example to others.
|What “Witness” Really Is
||What We Often Call “An Example”
Be true. No agendas. We don’t want to trick our way into doing good in the world. Find the good that others are ready for. Be Christ in the World.
It’s not an easy thing to stick your neck out (in any direction) and let yourself be seen as a Christian, as a person of hope, as a person who believes in goodness and truth and beauty and love, or even as a person who loves children and being a mother (or father) and really “has her hands full”. Sometimes it seems like you will ruffle feathers and make people uncomfortable wherever you go and whatever you do. I like Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s take on this:
True followers of Christ were meant to be at odds with the world: The pure of heart will be laughed at by the Freudians; the meek will be scorned by the Marxists; the humble will be walked on by the go-getters; the liberal Sadducees will call them reactionaries; the reactionary Pharisees will call them liberals.
Witnessing as a Family:
…the future of evangelization depends in great part on the Church of the home. This apostolic mission of the family is rooted in Baptism and receives from the grace of the sacrament of marriage new strength to transmit the faith, to sanctify and transform our present society according to God’s plan.
Particularly today, the Christian family has a special vocation to witness to the paschal covenant of Christ by constantly radiating the joy of love and the certainty of hope for which it must give an account: ‘The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the Kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come.’ – St. John Paul the Great, Familiaris Consortio, #52
We witness first to our children and then to others. How we witness to others is an integral part of witnessing to our children.
The very existence of families is itself a very powerful witness in our culture today. I know that in our small town, having a bunch of kids really gets us noticed, even outside of church. One time, a number of years ago, we had a Jehovah’s Witness come to our day. In the course of conversation she mentioned, that one of the other ladies (in her car-pool) “knew” who we were and called us “The Waltons”. 😉
Large families are also particularly susceptible to getting comments from strangers in public. I find it helpful to realize that these can be great, and very simple, opportunities for evangelization.
The family, like the Church, ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates. In a family which is conscious of this mission, all the members evangelize and are evangelized. The parents not only communicate the Gospel to their children, but from their children they can themselves receive the same Gospel as deeply lived by them. And such a family becomes the evangelizer of many other families, and of the neighborhood of which it forms a part. – Blessed Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi
Talking to People in Public Places About Having Children:
Mothers of small children have a very special role in evangelizing our culture. The ten year or so span between the time I was pregnant (and showing) with my second child and when I had children old enough to babysit was especially overflowing with opportunities to evangelize in small ways about my beliefs regarding marriage and family. That doesn’t mean that I went out and preached on the street corners. It was much quieter than that.
Here are a few of my own stories to illustrate what I’m trying to say.
In those early days, with a cute little girl toddling behind me and a great round belly, I was asked countless times in public places if I “knew what I was having”. I generally shared that I was having a boy. Most of the responses after that were along the lines of “Oh, how perfect. One boy and one girl and then you’re done!” I would give some sort of response in the negative, that we love children or that we were open to God’s will or whatever. And then generally the conversation ended.
The thing that surprised me was how many of the conversations really weren’t about my children but about the other person’s experience and thoughts on having children. Some of them were so desperate, and at times pathetically so, to talk to someone that they would bring it up in the parking lot or the post office or whatever to a complete stranger. This really stirred me. I heard sad stories, along the lines of women who wanted more children, but couldn’t talk their husbands into it; and of women just feeling overwhelmed by two and not sure if they could handle more.
As the years went by, my brood grew, and sometimes we made quite a spectacle, with a hand-holding trail of kids noisily weaving its way behind the shopping cart.
Once many years later, after I was able to leave the younger ones home with an older sibling (or three!) I was in a Target store looking for shoes for one of the munchkins, all of whom were at home. I called home on the cell and was talking to my oldest daughter, getting information on the size of a particular pair of shoes at home in order to figure out what size to buy. After a fashion, I noticed that a lady in the next aisle over was paying attention. After I was done with the call, she tossed a comment through the slats in the shelving, “I’m so jealous of you right now!” I was slightly startled by this response, but as I moved to the end of the aisle, we met up with each other and she repeated her comment. She ended up explaining that she had always wanted a large family, but was completely overwhelmed at the moment with her two. I explained that I had six at home and that it doesn’t get mathematically harder with each one. In fact, the dynamics keep changing because of the variety of ages, interests, and abilities. And, of course by that time the kids included some babysitters! We had a nice little chat and I think she left a little more encouraged. She at least didn’t seem to think that I was a complete mad woman. Of course I don’t know what happened with her after that. You very seldom get to hear the rest of the story. But I was glad to be there for her in that small way. I believe that God facilitates those little interactions for a reason.
The Church, therefore, does not accomplish this discernment only through the Pastors, who teach in the name and with the power of Christ, but also through the laity: Christ ‘made them His witnesses and gave them understanding of the faith and the grace of speech (cf. Acts 2:17-18; Rv. 19:10), so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and family life.’ The laity, moreover, by reason of their particular vocation have the specific role of interpreting the history of the world in the light of Christ, in as much as they are called to illuminate and organize temporal realities according to the plan of God, Creator and Redeemer.
– St. John Paul the Great, Familiaris Consortio #5