Courage to Witness

Courage to Witness

May 28, 2017 | N W | Courage, Discipleship, Evangelization, Guest Celebrants, Service, Strength

The Ascension of the Lord
May 28, 2017 – Year A
Readings: Acts 1:1-11 / Ps 47 / Eph 1:17-23 / Mt 28:16-20
by Rev. Paul O’Donnell Duggan, Guest Celebrant

Tomorrow is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of President John F. Kennedy.  To mark the occasion, the Post Office put out a beautiful stamp of Kennedy.  Of course, we all know his most famous statement.  If you ever visit Arlington National Cemetery, you’ll see the Eternal Flame and the words from his inaugural address in stone:  “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” 

We can change that around to “Ask not what your church can do for you but what you can do for your church.”  Our secretary asked me to say a word that we need volunteers for the office and the religious education program.

It was the second, the conclusion to the inaugural address, which I will, as best I can, put into my own words:  We begin the battle, the torch has been passed to a new generation, and what we are about here on earth is to do the works of God.  That’s how he concluded. We are here on earth to do the works of God.

One might say, what actually are the works of God?  That’s why we go to the last words of Jesus: Go and make disciples of all nations. There were no disciples at this stage other than the twelve apostles, or at that stage, the eleven. Make disciples of the world?  Sir, are you crazy?  There are only eleven of us here.  And yet, here we are two thousand years later:  1.2 billion Catholics alone from that wee group where the Word spread out by word and example. He said, “You be my witness; go and make disciples.”

Many people say that the reason they come back to the Catholic Church is because somebody asked them.  That’s why they come back.  99.9% of people who return to the Catholic Church do so because someone asked them.  So, as the beginning of making disciples, I want to encourage you to invite somebody to church.  What if they say no, Father Paul?  Well, they say no.  They might say yes, actually.  Probably will because when we speak and invite a person to come to worship God, that’s like a word of dynamite.  God will let it explode in the heart of the listener.  So, do invite.

This last week, I’ve been walking around Bedford.  Any church I see, whether it’s the Lutheran Church, Episcopal Church, Baptist Church, a Seventh Day Adventist Church, whatever it is, I give them all a blessing. “Lord, let us be united.  Lord, that the unity that you prayed for, the scandal of the division of the Christian churches, Lord, let them be one.”  That’s the prayer as I am walking around each day; that we do become one.

I was invited last week by a family for dinner, and I was delightfully stunned at the fact that “Father Paul, we begin our meal not with a prayer, but with a hymn.”  And so they sang Regina Coeli – which I thought am I in a monastery here – it was so beautiful.  It was really lovely.  It is so important to witness to our faith at home, but especially when we are outside.  Martin Luther King once said, “Love your enemy.”  We have no problem with that.  It is the second part of the statement that makes me very nervous and I wish he hadn’t said it, in a sense.  It is, “Love your enemy and make sure your enemy knows that.”  Thank you, Martin Luther King.

Two years ago, the Director of Evangelization, Barb, and I went after Mass to the IHOP restaurant for breakfast to strategize what to do this coming year in evangelization.  As we were leaving, I saw a father and son in prayer.  “Barbara, look at this.  I must go over there and say to them, “Thank you for such public witness, not just for saying the prayer but for saying it out loud.”  As I got closer to the table where they were, with their heads bowed (so I thought), suddenly I see thumbs working underneath the table!  God help us.  So I had to walk past them.

But the importance of not only praying in a restaurant but letting people hear you say the prayer, that’s powerful; use that to touch their hearts.  We have to try to realize that the words we say are full of dynamite and they’re meant to explode in those who are listening.  John Paul said it so many times, Benedict said it so often as well, people are hungry to hear the Word.  They are hungry to hear the Word.  You and I are so blessed to belong to the church that possesses the fullness of the truth.

There’s a Father Larry Richards who has a call-in show on the EWTN channel on Sirius satellite radio.  People say, “Hello, Father Larry, how are you?”  And what does he say?  He says, “I am blessed”.  Other people say, how are you doing?  OK, not bad.  He changes it and says, “I am blessed”.  You can imagine the millions of listeners all over the world to that radio show who hear what a wonderful response that is.  How are you doing, Father Larry?  I am blessed.  He would often say to the listener, how are you today?  And they’ll catch the word and say, I, too, Father Larry, am blessed.

I mentioned last week that wonderful cashier at CVS.  I always say when I’m at the store, at the supermarket, wherever I am, I will say in recognition of the work they do, “Thank you and God bless you.” Out of the blue she says, “He always does, He always does.”  Wow, that did something in my heart to hear someone proclaim to be a witness for the Lord.  God asks us to be His witness not just silently but asks us to be a witness publicly.

I know it takes a lot of courage. Today, as we come to the table of the Lord, let’s ask, Lord, give us the courage.  It takes courage.

When they see me giving the blessing over the Lutheran Church, over the Baptist Church, or whatever church it is: “What’s he doing? What’s the matter with him? That looks like blessing.”  Yes, it is a blessing, praying that we will all one day be united, one day see that we are all God’s children.  The prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper was:  “Father, may they be one as we are one.”

So ask the Lord in communion, Lord, help me to be a witness at home in the prayer before meals.  Help me, Lord, to be a witness when we go to eat a restaurant – to publicly pray and Lord, in the supermarket, help me to be a witness by saying thank you and God bless you.

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