13th October 2019
18th Sunday after Pentecost
The Obligation to Bear Witness
"Are you a King?", Pontius Pilate asks Jesus. Jesus does not deny that He is a king, but He wants to make clear that He is a king in quite a different way than Pilate had in mind. "For this was I born, and for this I came into the world, to testify the truth".
If the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ was to testify to the truth, that must surely be the mission of His disciples. They are to testify to the truth. Of Himself, the Lord Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life". If the mission of the Lord's disciples is to testify to the Truth, and Jesus is the Truth, then the mission of His disciples is to testify to the Lord Jesus. We are forbidden to be silent about Him. Like St. Paul in chapter 24 of Acts of the Apostles, brought by the jealous and fearful Sadducees before the Procurator Felix, we are to keep "a clear conscience toward God and towards men". Keeping a clear conscience before men means telling no falsehood and keeping a clear conscience before God means bearing witness to the ultimate truths of God, of the human condition, of the Son of God Who entered that human condition in order to transform it, and of the transformation, now and in eternity, that is offered through our Lord Jesus Christ.
A Christian has a positive obligation to bear witness to Jesus Christ, and to the way of life that Jesus teaches. Every Christian is a missionary.
There is such a thing as social justice. One ought to not be afraid of the phrase. Social justice means ensuring every member of society has those things that are truly essential. There are several things that are essential for this life, and it is a debt of justice to make sure that all in our society are able to have them. There are two things that are essential to eternal life, namely Faith in Jesus Christ and doing the Good Works that flow from that Faith. It is a debt of justice of make sure that all in our society are able to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to participate in the good works of the Church. To prevent the preaching of the Gospel, and the charitable deeds and worship of the Church, is commit the worst social injustice. Some theorists contend that regimes which deliberately and consistently deny the essentials of life to some of their subjects may, for their gross violations of justice, rightly be overthrown. I am unsure of this, but I am sure that they should be denounced and shamed. Since the worst injustice is to try and prevent the preaching and living of the Gospel, various theorists down through the centuries have suggested that regimes may forcibly be compelled to permit the preaching and living of the Gospel. I am quite unsure of this; but I am quite certain that such regimes should be named and shamed, whether they be Muslim and poor like Pakistan, Communist and poor like North Korea, Muslim and rich like Saudi Arabia, or Communist and rich like China. To allow the preaching and living of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is simple justice.
Whatever the world's various regimes may do, we ourselves have a debt of justice to engage, in one way or another, in the proclamation of the Gospel. As the Second Vatican Council put it in its decree on the missionary life of the Church, "All Christians, by the example of their lives and the witness of their words, wherever they live, have an obligation to manifest the new man which they have put on in Baptism, and to reveal the power of the Holy Spirit by Whom they were strengthened in Confirmation"
To engage in any way in the proclamation of the Gospel requires that we be strengthened. It might be said that Baptism gives us the potential to bear witness to Jesus, but proper growth, nutrition, and training are required for this potential to be realized. I know someone who was a scrawny kid all through high school and college. After college, for various reasons, he got interested in fitness, strength, and ju-jitsu. Within only two years, he became genuinely formidable, not huge, but very fit, compactly powerful, and emphatically not to be messed with. He had inherited, it became evident, considerable athletic potential. That potential was not realized until he hit his delayed growth spurt in college and then, after college, got serious about nutrition and training. Similarly, most Christians - and, yes, I do think that we have to say most - are what Pope Benedict XVI once called the "merely baptized". The Baptism is real, but its potential has never been realized. Many of them have not had the spiritual growth spurt of receiving the fullness of the Spirit's gifts, what we call Confirmation. Many of those who have had the growth spurt do not receive the right nutrition, above all the life-giving Eucharistic Food that is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, according to His words "My Flesh is real Food and My Blood is real Drink". And many of those who receive Most Holy Communion have never undergone any kind of serious spiritual training, and simply have no idea how to bear witness to the reality of their Lord Jesus in their lives. The potential to be great saints and witnesses is never realized. However, those who have received the growth spurt of the Holy Spirit's gifts and are nourished with the life of the Risen Lord, and who receive some spiritual training, become great saints and mighty witnesses.
The mightiest witnesses are the Martyrs. They have borne witness to Christ to their deaths. By dying rather than deny their faith in Christ, the Martyrs bore witness that He is alive, and is able to give them Eternal Life. By dying rather than deny the holy love, the Charity, that binds them to Christ, they are bore witness that His Charity is stronger than death itself. By having the courage to die rather than deny their Lord and Savior, they are bore witness that God exists, and that He gives His faithful supernatural courage. As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Roman Church, shortly before he was fed to wild beasts in Rome's ghastly Coliseum, "Let me become the food of wild beasts, through whom it will be given me to reach God"
The Church has always carefully gathered and preserved the accounts of the Martyrs' deaths. These "Acts of the Martyrs" are, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully, "Archives of Truth written in letters of blood".
In all the Church’s Archives of Truth, there is no passage of Christian witness more beautiful than the prayer written by St. Polycarp of Smyrna shortly before he was burned alive:
"I bless You for having judged me worthy from this day and this hour to be counted among Your martyrs. . . You have kept Your promise, God of faithfulness and truth. For this reason, and for everything, I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son. Through Him, Who is with You and the Holy Spirit, may glory be given to You, now and in the ages to come.