There are some people you just want to be around. There is something about their spirit, their attitude or energy that inspires and encourages.
On All Saints Day, I recalled a former pastor of mine who had this quality of presence that I wanted to be close to. It wasn’t anything in particular he said, but it was the way he lived and what he noticed that captured my imagination. Being around him brought out the best in me. I’m sure he inspired my call to ministry.
I saw the same thing happen this fall on my son’s fourth-grade football team. I had helped coach neighborhood sports before, but this time something was different. Our head coach brought a desire, a love of the game and a presence that spoke louder than words. I saw how the boys wanted to hover around him before and after practice.
They caught his spirit just by being in his presence. And, so did I! It was more like an apprenticeship than a class. I saw how some of the deepest lessons of life are not learned in a book, but are witnessed to beyond words.
I think this captures the spirit of how Christian faith is shared and handed on. Vatican II’s Decree on the Church’s missionary activity says that handing on faith “is not a mere expounding of doctrines and precepts, but a training period for the whole Christian life. It is an apprenticeship of appropriate length, during which disciples are joined to Christ their teacher” (Ad Gentes, 14).
We learn by watching and living Christian faith. Pope Paul VI reinforced this message when, speaking about evangelization, he said, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
During this time of year, we remember in a special way and give thanks for the saints in our lives. As the letter to Hebrews says, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses , let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us.” (Hebrews 12:1). These are the ordinary holy men and women who may not be part of the official list, but magnify the Lord in their living and loving and teaching through example and daily witness.
I recall a story about saints told by Bishop Robert Morneau. He says, “A third-grader got it right. ‘A saint is someone that the light shines through.’ She was looking at a stained glass window — the one St. Francis inhabits. Every morning the light comes and Francis lets the light pass through. Saints are bearers of the light and love and life. Just ask a third-grader.”
Martyrs bear witness
Christian witness comes from the same word as “martyr.” A martyr is one who gives witness to Christ with their life. Some martyrs physically give up their life. Most of us can be a martyr (a witness) by offering our life to be an instrument for Christ.
We can be light-bearers as parents and grandparents; teachers and coaches; pastors and ministers; friends, classmates and co-workers. We can share faith and hand it on to others. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Proclaim the Gospel at all times; if necessary use words.”
In this age of multi-media outlets, Internet, 24/7 talk radio and television, the cacophony of monologues, blogs, tweets and tabloids, we are surrounded by words, words and more words. And yet, words without witness ring hollow and don’t have the lasting power to inspire and transform others.
Jesus said to his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
At every Eucharist we receive the real presence of Christ and, in turn, are sent forth to witness to the real presence of Christ in our world. We are witnesses to the mystery of faith that we receive.
We can let the light pass through us like the saints who have come before us. Just ask a third-grader.
Deacon Mickey Friesen is director of the archdiocesan Center for Mission.
Category: Mission Link