HOMILY Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time November 17, 2019
Anyone here ever give testimony in court? Anyone ever served as an expert witness? Or given a deposition under oath? Was it fun? Probably not.
In the Gospel today we are told that we will have to testify. Jesus tells us that there will be all sorts of upset and natural disasters and wars and civil unrest. “There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” And persecutions to boot!
And all this, Jesus tells us “will lead to your giving testimony.”
So all of us, according to Jesus, will give testimony. Not in a court of law. But rather in our daily life.
Each of us is testifying every day to the truth of our life. And what does our testimony say? Do our lives testify to the fact that we are Christian? That we are disciples of Jesus? Or is it like the old question, “¿if being a Christian was a crime, could any court find sufficient evidence to convict you?
Christianity grew because early Christians gave witness. They testified to their faith by how they lived. In 251 A.D. a great plague struck the Greco-Roman world. Memories were revived of a plague a century earlier in which more than a third of the population had died. Fear was everywhere. Those who could afford it fled to the countryside. Those who could not remained in the cities. When they went to the pagan temples they found them empty, because the pagan priests had fled. The streets were filled with those who had become infected, because their families were left with no option but to push them out the door.
Christian communities however took an entirely different approach. They saw it as their responsibility to love the sick and dying, so they took them into their homes and nursed them. This action meant that many people recovered who otherwise would have died. Historians suggest that elementary nursing could have reduced the mortality rate by as much as two thirds, but it also cost a number of Christians who cared for the victims their own lives.
In his book, , historian Henry Chadwick comments:
“The practical application of charity was probably the most potent single cause of Christian success. The pagan comment ‘see how these Christians love one another’ (reported by Tertullian) was not irony. Christian charity expressed itself in care for the poor, for widows and orphans, in visits to brethren in prison or condemned to the living death of labour in the mines, and social action in time of calamity like famine, earthquake, pestilence, or war.”
That was the effect of Christians giving testimony to their faith in Jesus.
I contend that the same is true today. Probably you have seen the news that many young people have no religious affiliation. And survey data suggests that the percentage of Americans who don’t affiliate with any specific religious tradition is now roughly the same as those who identify as evangelical or as Catholic.
I do not believe we can get people back to church by condemning modern life. I think we have to do it the way the early Christians did, by the testimony of our lives.
Like Fr Bruce Lewandowski, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Baltimore, who was featured on National Public Radio recently for his work with immigrant communities. Or like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development that we will take up next weekend. Or our annual Christmas Basket program we do here each year.
This calls for perseverance. It calls for stepping out of our comfort zones. It means putting into action what we preach. It means following Jesus more concretely and deliberately. It means giving testimony, not by words, but by actions, and acceptance, and charity, and forgiveness.
All of us are called, challenged, to be expert witnesses to Christianity. We have to live it is such a way that a life of following Jesus proves its own worth. Not because we will be materially rewarded. Not because we will feel all warm and fuzzy. Not because we will be self-actuated. But because we will be living examples of the love of Jesus. For everyone. Because Jesus’ love is universal.
We are called to testify. AMEN.