A Simple Guide for Testifying to the Truth
Read November 17, 2013 (Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time) Mass readings at USCCB.org.
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“It will lead to your giving testimony” (Luke 21:13).
What do we think of when we hear the word testimony? We might think of a witness testifying under oath in a court of law. Attorneys representing both parties in a lawsuit or a criminal trial may ask the witnesses questions, and, based upon the witnesses’ testimony, a jury will determine what is true.
However, it’s not always so cut-and-dried. Sometimes multiple witnesses’ testimony conflicts with one another, points to different conclusions. What then? How can we decide what is true? We have to determine whose testimony can be believed, who is telling the truth?
Often, we look at the character of each witness. Who is credible and who is not? Do any of them have a conflict of interest in telling the truth? Do any of them have a history of lying? We sort of pick them apart to assess potential motives. We look at their lives. What have they done (or not done) to suggest that we should believe them?
So, that’s what it comes down to, not so much what the witnesses say as much as what they have done, that establishes their credibility and ultimately our perception of what is true. I invite you to ponder that for a moment. People tend to believe what we say only if it squares with who they know we are. And they know who we are from what we have done. What are the implications of that for the Christian?
We live most our lives in the world, outside of the Church. Nourished by the grace of the Eucharist each Sunday, or perhaps even daily, we are sent forth from the Mass to bring Jesus to the rest of the world. How do we do that? There’s much that could be said here, but I offer three suggestions.
- Know that eternal salvation is a team sport. Just about everything we do in the Church has some sort of communal dimension. We are all part of the Body of Christ, which means that we’re interconnected. We need each other. On any given day, each of us can influence many others: our spouse, our children, our neighbors, our colleagues, the cashier at the grocery store…it goes on and on. As St. Paul reminded us in the second reading, a Christian should be a positive, visible role model for others. If others imitate what they see of us, our testimony, where will it lead them?
- Let’s be honest about our struggles. While it is important to be joyful, we also need to be authentic. After all, Jesus didn’t promise us an easy ride. Rather, in today’s gospel He did promise us persecution, so we should expect struggles, tests, and trials. Seriously, why would anyone who is struggling trust that we have anything to offer if they thought we never had to overcome any challenges ourselves? If we have the courage to be vulnerable, to lead from our weaknesses, we can meet people in theirs and make a real human connection. That’s the singular power of witnessing, of testimony, to reach people’s hearts and effect conversion. In a recent interview, when asked who he was, Pope Francis responded simply, “I am a sinner.” We would do well to follow his example.
- Be a lover, not a hater. Would you be attracted to someone who is always complaining about how the world is a rotting cesspool of moral decay, someone with whom every conversation is a litany of what’s wrong with the world? Yes, there is evil in the world, and we should be willing to call it out by name when we see it. Allowing others to persist unchallenged in destructive behaviors and lifestyles is not love. But, we can’t just admonish and move on. Rather, let’s affirm goodness wherever we find it, especially in those with whom we might disagree. Again from our Holy Father, “In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.” Who do people see when they see us? The testimony of our lives should lead others to encounter Jesus.
Let’s revisit the initial question. What do we think of when we hear the word testimony? I suggest: communal, authentic, personal. These three things can make our Christian witness, the testimony of our lives, so compelling to reach people, touch their hearts, and lead them to Jesus, who is the Truth.