We know that in every court case witnesses play a crucial role. Without the presence of at least one credible witness, the case will surely be lost. The task of the witness is simple. The person is to supply evidence that supports the claims being made. A witness needs many qualities, but the most important ones are courage and truthfulness.
Christ said that he, too, needs witnesses. Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. Before returning to the right hand of his Father, Jesus told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses.” The task of witnessing to Jesus has been handed down through the ages. The need for witnesses is just as crucial today as it was more than 2,000 years ago. After all, what good is the Word of God if we don’t have living examples who witness to it? How can we lead people to Jesus Christ, if they don’t see people living what Christ has taught?
Before leaving his apostles, Jesus promised that they would receive power from on high to help them to be bold and courageous witnesses. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost the apostles experienced a radical transformation. They burst out of the Upper Room in Jerusalem, and, by word and deed, bore incredible witness to the Lord Jesus. Nothing could stop them. They were on fire for Jesus and the Gospel.
Now the mission has been entrusted to us. We have received the same power from on high to help us burn with zeal for Christ and the Gospel. It is an awesome privilege but a daunting task in an age when the values of the world are promoted as the norms for happiness over the values of the Kingdom of God. So, how are we to witness?
First, there is the witness of words. We witness by professing our faith, what we believe, to be bold in sharing with others what Jesus taught. To have the courage to both explain and defend the Word of God, which is sharper than any two-edged sword. To remind others that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching.”
Second, there is the witness of one’s life. The most eloquent sermon is the silent sermon of example. People need to see the Gospel in action. The witness of a Christian life is more powerful than any argument. There are those whose lives bear radiant witness to the transforming power of faith. In their lives the flame of faith is a flame burning brightly. The person who lives a simple life, taking Christ as their model, is a sign of God and of transcendent realities.
The evangelical witness the world finds most appealing is that of concern for people and of charity towards the poor, the weak, those who suffer, those on the margins of society. The generosity underlying this attitude and these actions stand in stark contrast to human selfishness and self-centeredness. A commitment to peace, to justice, and to human rights, is a witness to the Gospel.
Every Sunday we gather around the Table of the Lord and celebrate the Eucharist. In this awesome Mystery we are challenged by the Word of God to see how well we are doing in our mission of witnessing to Jesus Christ. We are nourished with the very Body and Blood of the Risen Christ, which gives us the strength and courage we need to be faithful witnesses. We are sent forth to make Jesus known and loved in that part of the vineyard that has been entrusted to each one of us.
-Father Dennis, Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord