the Good News
First Reading (Acts 1:1-11):
The Ascension of our Lord
“Thus it is written that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Lk 24: 46-48)
We often hear the word 'witness' in church circles. We say Christians must witness to what they believe, or they must witness to Christ, must witness to Christ's resurrection, or they must witness to their faith, etc.
So what actually is the specific meaning of 'to be a witness'? What kind of a person is a witness? Are those who stand around on the street or even go into people's homes to continuously urge them to believe in the Lord - are they the Lord's witnesses? Priests, religious Sisters, catechists, who regularly teach religion classes or who organize catechism classes - are they not also witnesses?
Perhaps we can get some enlightenment on what a witness is by studying Jesus' attitude towards religion, his heavenly Father, the spiritual world. He once said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He did not say 'I will introduce you to a way' 'I will tell you about truth', 'I will lead you to see life.' He said, I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life.' In me and in my life, you will see what is meant by the way, the truth and the life.
Jesus did not talk about illusory things or abstract theories. He talked about himself. He talked so people could hear and lived so people could observe. He talked about theories and also gave good example so that his listeners could understand how they could transform those theories into actual life.
Confucius held that a great teacher should be someone who “acts before he speaks and afterwards speaks according to his actions.” That is to say, he should put into practice what he intends to teach before he teaches it. That is the method Jesus used when he washed the disciples' feet at the Last Supper.
He first washed the feet of the disciples. Afterwards he said to them, “Do you know what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord - and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (Jn 13: 12 – 15).
To a certain degree, we Christians must BE faith, BE the truth, the life and the resurrection. We must also be like Confucius and like Jesus, “act before we speak, and afterwards speak according to our actions.”
In the ordination rite for priests, part of an important admonition the bishop addresses to those being ordained is this: 'You must preach what you believe and live what you preach.' The priest cannot be just a 'tape recorder' only repeating over and over the words of Christ while his actual life is far removed from the teachings of Christ.
St. Augustine thought there are only two types of people qualified to be evangelizers. The first of course are those who ‘live what they believe before they preach about it.' These are people who already have faith and live it and only then 'preach' to others. The second group are those who 'cry because they cannot yet carry out in their own lives what they preach.' Such people also are qualified to evangelise.
It is very difficult for us to always be able to 'live out what we believe before we preach about it.' But we must continue to try until we can do it, and cry when we fail to respond to the demands of the gospel we preach. Actually all who preach must evangelise themselves first and make demands on themselves to live out their faith.
Christ's gospel is not abstract 'doctrine,' nor is it intellectual truth or the result of academic research. Rather, it is the quintessence of life experience and the fruit of a life lived in faith. The church and the faithful possess actual life experience and from that draw up a set of theories that relate to life. Guided by this theoretical framework, they further develop and deepen their own lives. That is theology, Christians' theology. The concrete content of this theology stems from the church putting in order its reflections on its own faith-life.
Today's reading tells us that what Christians must first witness to is Christ's resurrection. This 'resurrection' consists of a twofold meaning: first, belief in the miracle of a person 'rising from the dead' two thousand years ago; secondly, belief and affirmation that Jesus, the one who rose from the dead, lives until the present, in the hearts of those who believe in him and in the lives of his followers.
Precisely because Jesus is present in the lives of his followers, his goodness has permeated their lives. They have been converted and reborn, and because they have received forgiveness of their sins, they are liberated from the shackles of death.
This is the message his followers must proclaim and to which they must witness. They must let people see, feel wonder, and become aware of the Risen Lord in their lives. And because they possess the Risen Lord within themselves, they experience in their own lives the reality of repentance, forgiveness of sin and re-birth.
Perhaps the world is short of great preachers, but it is even more short of witnesses to Christ. The church should not be concerned that people hear Christ's teachings, but rather that people can observe his presence, in the faithful, within the church. It is this living Christ, still alive today who, through his followers and through the church, continues the task he began but has not yet completed.