Witness for Christ

Feast of Saint Stephen, Protomartyr

December 26, 2019

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stephenJPG

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate St. Stephen, the first martyr for the Christian Faith. Martyrdom is a somber distance from the comforting angels and kindly stars of Christmas. But I think there’s a reason our liturgy places its hard reality here.

 The story surrounding Stephen’s death reveals his beautiful soul. These are some of words describing Stephen:

  • filled with grace and power
  • working great wonders and signs
  • speaking with wisdom and spirit
  • filled with the Holy Spirit

Why would anyone want to kill such a man!

It is a question which resounds down the centuries following Stephen.

Why is innocence persecuted?
Why is faith opposed?
Why is goodness crushed?
Why is freedom strangled?
Why is love for neighbor so frightening?

Our reading from Acts exposes an “infuriated” crowd, burning with anger at Stephen. Why? How had he injured them?


 

lock web

 

The human heart can become so fixed in its securities, can’t it? Sometimes we build walled worlds where we are always right, first, best, strongest, and smartest. Smarter than anybody!

These oppressive little worlds are places where for me to be right, you must be wrong. For me to be first, you must be at least second, if not last. For me to be strong, you must be weak. If we live in such a crippling world, a challenge to listen and change is earth-shattering to our fearful, manufactured security.

 

 


Christ came to free us all from needing such worlds. Omnipotent Mercy chose to be born in utter vulnerability and poverty. Christmas was our first lesson on how to live in a world secured only by Grace. Stephen’s story, following so close upon Christmas, drives home the consequences of such a faith-filled life.

Rather than right, first, best, strongest and smartest, the invitation of Christ is to be open, humble, generous, courageous, wise. Stephen’s debaters didn’t like that invitation. His faithful conviction was so true that they could offer no argument against it to defend their walled-in lives. So they killed him.


broken doll

All over our planet, we see innocent life crushed by war, trafficking, economic subjugation, prejudice, divisiveness, irrational hatred, and soulless indifference. We see both small and large tyrannies enacted on the global political stage, in business, in the Church, in schools and in families.

The witness of Stephen, first martyr, inspires us to live a life so open to the Holy Spirit that we may stand up strong and, like him, “see the glory of God and Jesus” even through the shadows of a sinful world.

Music: I Will Stand As a Witness for Christ – Sally DeFord

Don’t Let Him Just Pass By!

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

November 18, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our first reading sets the stage for the story of the Maccabees, a story whose drama we read about just last Sunday. 

Today’s passage reveals the political maneuvering by which King Antiochus Epiphanes sought to coöpt and dominate the Jewish people. The intricacies of the Maccabean Revolt are complex, but for our purposes, we look to the unwavering Jewish faithfulness to their covenant with God.

Throughout this week, we will see the story unfold in stark, dramatic tones. In between those tones, we find the prophetic witness of Eleazar, a martyred mother and her seven martyred sons, and the leadership of Mattathias and his offspring.

All of these witnesses called the Jewish people to see that a reality other than their domination was possible. As Brueggemann says:

“The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish,
and evoke a consciousness and perception
alternative to the consciousness and perception
of the dominant culture around us.”
~ Prophetic Imagination 


Such witness was the whole point of Christ’s ministry on earth. It is the whole point of our continuing participation in the Paschal Mystery.

Lk18_35 blindJPG

We may or may not be called to the intense witness of the Maccabee story. But we are called to see, and to help others see, Jesus present in our world and all around us. He will be disguised in a thousand different ways – the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the elderly, the young, the vulnerable. But also your next door neighbor, your mother-in-law, your most challenging student and your bossy supervisor.

Today’s Gospel encourages us to listen under appearances, and – like the blind man – to hear his continual approach to our hearts, to ask Him to let us see the amazing Truth all around us and to respond to it with the expectation of being transformed!

Music:  Oh It Is Jesus Passing By – Soweto Choir – Lyrics below

(Click here to learn more about Soweto Choir)

oh it is Jesus
yes it is Jesus
it’s Jesus in my soul;
for I have touched the hem of His garment,
and His blood has made me whole.
oh it is Jesus
yes it is Jesus
it is Jesus in my soul
for I have touched a hem of his garment,
and his blood has made me whole.
oh it is Jesus
yes it is Jesus
it’s Jesus in my soul;
for I have touched the hem of His garment,
and His blood has made me whole.
I’ve tried
oh seems like nothing did me any good
then I heard Jesus, he was passing by
and I decided to give him a try
oh it is Jesus
yes it is Jesus
it’s Jesus in my soul;
for I have touched the hem of His garment,
and His blood has made me whole.

Cast a Merciful Shadow

Second Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  our readings continue to show us the rising power of Christ after the Resurrection.

Acts5_15 shadow

Acts demonstrates how powerfully He lives in his disciples, and in the faith of the emerging Church.

… the people esteemed them.
Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord,
great numbers of men and women, were added to them.
Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets
and laid them on cots and mats
so that when Peter came by,
at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them.

Our Gospel recounts two Post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus where He bolsters that faith for these still fledgling followers. They were gathered in the Upper Room, doors locked and fearful. When Jesus appears, the first thing he says is, “Peace”, because that is what his little flock most needs.

In the course of the reading, we discover Thomas’s adamant doubt unless he can see and touch evidence of the Christ he once knew in the flesh. His doubt is so strong that his faith, when it comes, overwhelms him.

My Lord, and my God!

In these first sainted founders of the faith, we can find a mirror image of our own call to witness Christ. We are delegated to be his presence in the world, to cast a shadow that bears his blessing in the midst of suffering and confusion.

But in the locked room of our hearts, we may still be afraid. We may feel, like Thomas, that we were absent when the affirmation and courage were distributed!

Knowing our own weaknesses – and captured in the maze of their little dramas – we may be skeptical that Christ desires to rise in us, to preach by our lives.

What Jesus said to these very fragile witnesses, he says to us

Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me,
so I send you.

Let us look around today in awareness of those who fall in the shadow of our faith: our children and families, our religious communities, our elders, our neighbors, our friends and co-workers. As we pass through life together, does our presence bless them with a trace of God?

As we pray today, let us place our doubts, fears, weaknesses and self-concerns into Christ’s sacred wounds. Let us leave them there in confidence as we humbly choose to be his Presence and Mercy for others by the simple, selfless choices of our lives.

Music: My Lord, My God  – Vineyard Music

Witnesses

Easter Saturday, April 27, 2010

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Acts4_20 witness

Today, in Mercy, in our reading from Acts, we see how the courage and inspiration of the disciples amazed to surrounding community.

The disciples had been known as ordinary women and men, but the power of their new-found witness was stunning:

The leaders, elders, and scribes were amazed,
and they recognized them as the companions of Jesus.
Then when they saw the man who had been cured
standing there with them,

they could say nothing in reply.

This powerful witness in the disciples was not a showy, self-promoting swagger. 

Rather, they had been radically transformed by their faith in Jesus Christ. The power poured out of them, like light from a Star.

What would it be like if the witness of our faith were so vibrant that we moved the world to wonder! What if our lives could not help but speak through our actions of mercy, justice, truth and peace?

Music:  I Will Stand as a Witness of Christ
(Please see note below song. Thanks.)

On Friday night, my religious community shares the joy of celebrating the lives of such witnesses, our Sisters marking 25, 50, 60, 70, 75, 80 and 85 years of faithful, merciful service. In an additional post, I will list their names with two poems I used while praying for them this morning.

Please join us in grateful prayer for these dear Sisters today.

Heaven on Earth

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071218.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we read about Jesus’ first mission to the Twelve. 

In the first six chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, these disciples have witnessed and entrusted their faith in the divinity of Christ. They have been transformed by what they have received. Jesus tells them now to go give that amazing insight to others through their faith and witness.

In this passage, for the first and only time, Matthew calls these disciples “Apostles”, a word which means “sent forth”. They are commissioned now to “go out” and to “preach”.

Mt10_8 generosity

This is to be their preaching: “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” In other words, we are not simply preparing for some celestial afterlife. God is with us NOW, and NOW is the time to open ourselves to the fullness of God’s life. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we already are living heaven on earth.

We believers are given the same commission. If we have been given the immeasurable gift of faith, we must live a life that witnesses and shares this gift. Jesus tells us to do this filled with confidence and hope, and above all with the same generosity God has shown us.

Will we stand on soapboxes blasting the Gospel through bullhorns? Hopefully not! This apostolic witness is not about what we say or shout. It is about how we live – in honesty, peace, inclusivity, forgiveness, kindness, mercy – in all the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. 

A life like this “goes out” beyond its comfortable boundaries to embrace those Jesus has named as first in the Kingdom: the poor, wounded, humble and marginalized. A life like this draws people to God, and shows us all what heaven on earth looks like.

It looks like a kitchen table where friends share a cup of coffee and talk gratefully about the blessings of their lives. It looks like their emerging idea to volunteer at a homeless shelter or a hospital. It looks like their decision to invite a new neighbor for lunch or to visit an elderly one. It looks like the encouragement one gives the other to navigate a sorrow, or to make a hard, life-salvaging decision. It looks like selfless love in everyday clothes.

Something today will call forth the witness of our faith. The practice of “heaven on earth” is waiting for every one of us. Let’s go out and give it as generously as we have received it.

Music: I Will Stand As A Witness of Christ