The Gift of: Being a Witness

caravaggio_-_the_incredulity_of_saint_thomas

This past Sunday we celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday. And the Gospel was the story of St. Thomas and how he doubted that Jesus was risen from the dead.

So this got me thinking “What do mercy and the story of St. Thomas have in common?”

What I came up with was this: We have to show mercy to those who doubt us. Those who doubt our faith. Those who doubt the existence of Jesus, they doubt His love. They doubt not only His existence…they doubt His existence within us.

That’s probably why we take it personally (okay I take it personally, speaking for myself) when people say they are skeptics or doubters or unbelievers. It’s like they are saying they don’t believe in us. And we are sitting right in front of them and talking to them yet they say “I don’t believe.”

I’m actually quite hurt by four simple words – “I don’t believe you.”

It’s one thing for people to say they don’t believe in God. Okay, I get it. Well, actually I don’t get it but I’ll accept that you believe that.

But what I’ve noticed is that when you try to explain to a non-believer how God has shaped and completely changed your life only to hear them say they still don’t believe – that’s crushing and really devastating.

If I may be completely honest, this is what causes me sleepless nights. I know there’s doubters among us. And some of them I’m very close to. But they doubt any existence of God, causing a huge (and unspoken) rift in our friendship.

But then we come back to mercy. How would I begin to try to help untwist their “unbelief” while still showing them mercy?

I would need the same kind of reaction Jesus got from Thomas. I would need my Thomas’ to take notice and say, “Wow, this person went through something. This person lived through something. I might not relate to it directly but I believe they experienced something profound.”

There’s a name for this. It’s called being a witness.

We can all be a witness, actually.  One way to is through the spoken word, usually the most common and most popular, in my opinion.


 

I never heard a witness talk until 3 years ago on a young adult retreat. I hadn’t even been on a retreat since maybe 8th grade. I was long overdue.

The first witness speaker on this particular retreat had quite the story. She told an incredible story that although it wasn’t directly relate-able to my life, it was a human experience that all of us in that room found very moving. It was incredibly sad and touching and left not a dry eye among us after it was over.

I have since been on numerous retreats and made Renewal at my parish where I heard more witness talks. And just last fall I had the privilege of being one of those witness speakers.

I cannot even begin to tell you how healing it is to share your journey with others. With total strangers! It was scary at first, but I was SO ready to get back up and share it all over again as soon as I was finished. Ever since, I have felt a calling of sorts to speak my story.

I have gone back and forth with myself if I should share my story here but it really truly is best HEARD and not READ. (Reminds me of my Spiritual Director who gives such great homilies but was hesitant to share them on his blog for the same reason. “Homilies are meant to be heard, to be proclaimed, not read.”)

Another priest mentioned in a homily recently on the same topic of witness talks:

“I couldn’t help but think what a different place the world would be if each of us had the opportunity, the desire, the incentive to tell and share these stories of faith or be attentive to other’s stories. How God’s presence would be irrefutable, overwhelming and certain for those who don’t believe or struggle to see God near…This is the message we are called to live – with our words and in our actions – so that others who say, “Show me” will be able to exclaim, “We have seen the Lord!”


 

So the challenge is how can I, how can anyone for that matter, share their witness with others who are open to hearing it? We can’t just blurt it out. We can’t just tell people our messy problems and expect them to understand us better than ourselves. But what we can do is invite them in to our mess.  And they can see how Jesus cleans it up!

Because, you know, Jesus didn’t force Thomas to touch Him. He invited Thomas to touch His wounds. So…wouldn’t that suggest to us that we invite people into our mess?  Our brokenness? Our struggles?

I’m gonna go out on a limb and answer yep! (Finally after years of going to mass I think I’m finally getting this whole “applying the Gospel to your life” thing).

So consider this your formal invitation into my broken world.

Hopefully, if you ever have the chance to hear my witness story, you can say “Truly, the Lord has been at work in this woman’s life!”

From there, maybe you can find Him at work in your life too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Truth Does Not Change

I wish I knew where this reflection on this Sunday’s gospel came from in order to give credit to whomever wrote it. I’m going to assume, since I found it in my church’s bulletin, that it came from the USCCB. I felt compelled to share it, particularly because of this line: “Our world is growing more and more hostile to the message of the Gospel.” 

Was it always this hostile or is it just me? Maybe it’s an age thing. Maybe I’m feeling the hostility because I’m interacting with more people? No idea. Perhaps the world was always this angry but because we are all communicating and sharing more than ever, it’s just becoming more and more apparent that the hostility was always there – we just didn’t see it.

For reference, the reading is Luke 4:21-30

“When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury.” Why were these folks furious? Because they didn’t like what Jesus told them. They took offense at his teaching that “no prophet is accepted in his own native place.” Jesus was implying that his fellow Nazarenes in the synagogue were blind to who he really was. And this made them mad. They didn’t like being told that they were wrong. But Jesus told them anyway. He knew that these people needed to hear the truth, even if it mean that he would be unpopular. In fact, he spoke the truth even at risk of his own life. “They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.”

It can be tempting to confuse Jesus’ kindness and goodness with passivity, mistakenly imagining him as a person who would never ruffle any feathers because he was so concerned about being “nice.” This one-sided image of Jesus can lead us to excuse our own passivity about the falsehood and evil that surrounds us.

We can justify our silence or inaction by convincing ourselves that we shouldn’t upset anyone. But the fact is that Jesus upset people on a regular basis. That wasn’t his goal, of course, but he was willing to deal with resistance for the sake of truth and justice. And we should be willing to do the same.

Our world is growing more and more hostile to the message of the Gospel. When we simply live our faith authentically, it makes some people angry. But we should not recoil from this reality. Jesus’ witness made people furious too. But when they got mad, he didn’t cave in.

Whether people like it or not, the truth does not change.

Fill Yourself with Good Things

Luke 1:53

“He has filled the hungry with good things.”

Such a short sentence to reflect on today! You might think it doesn’t mean too much other than God provides us with good things. But I think you can read and reflect on this in a number of ways.

My first observation was on the word “hungry.” This is mainly because as of now, it’s time for me to eat being almost lunch time. Also, I’m currently dieting for a fitness competition so food is on my mind a lot these days.

But did you ever think about how we feed our souls and our minds?

I think about this a lot; we feed on what we see and hear everyday. Something as simple as a movie or a song that we hear or watch. We feed on the words of our friends and co-workers. We feed on what we hear and see and look at everyday.

This is why it’s very important to our faith that we “consume” as much of the Word as we can each day. It leaves little room for the rest of the “anti-Word” to enter our minds and bodies.

You can think of the Word as all the good things God provides to us; good healthy nourishing food of course, but scripture and God’s loving words are good for the soul. What else can we feed on that’s “good?”

  • Uplifting songs on the radio and on our ipod’s
  • Volunteering/stewardship for organizations and causes that need help
  • Positive images in magazines and in advertisements (or simply trashing the trashy ones)
  • Motivational videos on social media and TV
  • Following and reading blogs and organizations that have a “good” theme

How can we avoid or abstain from the “anti-Word” things? (This doesn’t mean REPRESSING our feelings or even AVOIDANCE but it does mean making an effort to surround yourself with “Good” things)

  • When shopping, only purchase what you budget for
  • Avoid the candy/junk food aisle if you know that you can easily be swayed and “cheat”
  • Change the channel on the radio/tv when you know something is coming on that you have no desire to watch/that might make you feel depressed or angry
  • Read books (besides the Bible) that explore theology or are faith based; books that might help you learn instead of escape

Fit In Your Faith Today: What do you “consume” that you know isn’t provided by God? Do you purposely seek out these “anti-Word” items? How can you seek out the “Good” in an effort to become less tempted to consume the “anti-Word” messages/items?

This is probably not an overnight process. This will be a journey for most that might take a long time.

Here are some authors/books that I have found particularly helpful:

Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst

Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing by Christopher West

What Are You Hungry For? By Deepak Chopra

The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose by Matthew Kelly

 

And the Spirit is Truth

1 John 5:1-6

Beloved:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God,
and everyone who loves the Father
loves also the one begotten by him.
In this way we know that we love the children of God
when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this,
that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome,
for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and blood.
The Spirit is the one that testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.

I had the privilege of reading this passage from the first letter of Saint John yesterday at Divine Mercy Sunday mass. It stuck with me most of the day as I thought about these beautiful words. Each line is so important and so inspiring. You can reflect easily on just one sentence to take with you throughout your day.

One line in particular is interesting to me because I heard it spoken by Catholic Speaker Patty Schneier in her talk, “Prove it, God!…He did!” 

She laments over the line “And his commandments are not burdensome…” In fact, she did think that some of his commandments were burdensome and thus, struggled to find herself thinking otherwise. But after a few weeks of prayerful reflection every morning and encountering the book “Good News about Sex and Marriage” by Christopher West, she concluded that his commandments are not burdensome. (She was speaking specifically about the sin of contraception). She was just looking at them through a stubborn lens. After reading more about the Catholic Church and the Catechesis, she discovered a whole other world and changed her mind completely about particular commandments that she had found once to be “old fashioned” and “silly.” So when I read that line I pictured and heard Patty’s voice coming through and I was so glad she had changed her mind about this.

But the conclusion is also very poignant. “The Spirit is truth.”

Yes, the Spirit is the one that testifies, that speaks the truth. Jesus Christ is this truth. I think it’s easy to forget this in our secular life. We go searching for the truth when it’s been right in front of us all along. We might be stubborn, we might feel set in our ways, we might not want to know the truth. But there it is:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” John 14:6

Fit in Your Faith Today: What “truth” are you struggling to believe? What commandments do you find burdensome? How can you look at the commandments or seek the truth through a different “lens?”

Divine Mercy Sunday

The Sunday after Easter has been declared as Divine Mercy Sunday, based on Saint Faustina Kowalska reported as part of her encounter with Jesus. But what exactly is mercy?

We certainly read the word mercy in the Bible over and over. Here’s a small sample from part of Psalm 118.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

his mercy endures forever.

Let Israel say:

his mercy endures forever.

Let the house of Aaron say,

his mercy endures forever.

Let those who fear the LORD say,

his mercy endures forever.

Mercy, according to definition is a suffering of the heart. God’s mercy in the Psalm above can be interpreted as “I suffer with.” A deep loving identification with people in their suffering. Because as we know, God is love.

Pope Francis keeps stressing the divine mercy and just announced a year-long Jubilee of Mercy. According to America Magazine: For Pope Francis, mercy is the interpretative key to the Gospel of Jesus. Francis had his first profound experience of God’s mercy at age 17, when he went to confession and felt the call to the priesthood. Throughout his priestly ministry, he has sought to give concrete expression to God’s mercy by word and deed because he believes, as he wrote recently: “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude; it is the very substance of the Gospel message.” He wants to bring the whole church, starting with the cardinals, bishops, priests and consecrated persons, to open themselves to God’s mercy and to find concrete, creative ways to put mercy into practice in their areas of ministry.

How did Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel show mercy? As he entered the room where his disciples were hiding in fear, he said, “Peace be with you.” Even after He showed them his hands and his side, he again said “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” This is when he breathed on them so they could receive the Holy Spirit and forgive the sins of people everywhere, as He had forgiven theirs.

What a gift these men received! And what a relief to them. Jesus didn’t appear to them to inflict revenge for what had happened to Him on the cross. No, he showed them mercy and then instructed them to show mercy to others.

Fit In Your Faith Today: As Pope Francis declares a Jubilee of Mercy, so too should we show mercy to others. But we can start off on the right foot by using a sacrament that has gone into “disuse” according to Father Robert Barron in recent years: Reconciliation. Even our Pope has gone to confession and describes himself as a sinner. What better way to “celebrate” this special day than to repent and be healed by His powerful mercy.

 

 

The Woman at the Well: Thirsty for Truth

Today’s reflection comes from “Today’s Christian Woman” website. I found it to be one of the best commentaries on the story from John 4:1-42 of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman.

You can read the reflection in full HERE.

Instead of pasting the entire passage here, I’m highlighting the main points of the story.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”  “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

Fit In Your Faith Today:

My own personal reflections that might be of interest to some of my readers are the following:

  • Do I see that Jesus is evangelizing to this Samaritan woman as I myself should evangelize to others?
  • She sought to quench her thirst. But it was so much more – She had taken that thirst to all kinds of relationships that didn’t satisfy her. (She was married to 5 men and the man she has now is not her husband) How can this relationship be applied to my personal life? Who or what do the husbands in this passage symbolize in my life?
  • What/Whom/Where do I go to quench my thirst when I need to seek the gift that Jesus gives instead?
  • How can I learn to redirect my desires according to God’s design?

Your Son Will Live

John 4:46-54

Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum.
When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea,
he went to him and asked him to come down
and heal his son, who was near death.
Jesus said to him,
“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
The royal official said to him,
“Sir, come down before my child dies.”
Jesus said to him, “You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.
While the man was on his way back,
his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live.
He asked them when he began to recover.
They told him,
“The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon.”
The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him,
“Your son will live,”
and he and his whole household came to believe.
Now this was the second sign Jesus did
when he came to Galilee from Judea.

The royal official traveled a good distance to seek out Christ’s help. At least 20 miles! Think about the determination this man had to find Jesus to help cure his sick son. When Jesus tells him bluntly, “Your son will live,” the soldier has faith that He is right. Reflect on that for a moment – This man traveled a great distance to be told that his son is going to live. Jesus didn’t even need to see this young boy to cure him, He just told the father directly that he was cured. That must have meant this father had a large amount of faith that his boy was going to be okay.

Another great nugget of this story is that his faith GREW over this short period of time and it spread! First when he traveled to find Jesus, then when Jesus told him to go home and that his son was going to live, then when the slaves met him and told him his son was without fever, and then his entire household came to believe as well.

That’s how we can grow in our faith as well – by telling others about answered prayers and the good graces that God bestows upon us.

Fit In Your Faith Today: Think of a time when Jesus answered one of your prayers with a simple, “Go, your prayers are answered,” response to your requests. You may not have realized it at the time, but God hears our prayers and responds to all of them. It might not be in the way we had imagined, maybe it’s not immediate, but it’s there. Small miracles of faith. They occur everyday if you look hard enough.