Monthly Archives: April 2019

Being a Witness for Jesus

“You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:48) These are the words of Jesus to the disciples after appearing to them following his resurrection.  After showing them his hands and feet, eating a piece of broiled fish and demonstrating that he was indeed physically alive, he opened their minds to understand all that was written about him in the Scriptures.  He then instructed them to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name.

While very few of us will ever be preachers, we can still be a witness to Jesus in how we conduct ourselves and live our lives.  Sometimes we may have an opportunity to witness with words, but most of the time we demonstrate our belief and faith in Jesus with our conduct – treating people with respect and kindness, being honest and acting with integrity, and being open to care for others as the need arises.

In fact, if our witness is comprised of only words before we establish our standing or credibility with our conduct, the words may have little effect and even accomplish the opposite of our intended purpose. 

We once had an administrative assistant in the legal department of the company where I worked who liked to talk a lot about Jesus and her church.  While she may have thought she was being a witness for Jesus, her job performance in assisting three attorneys with their administrative needs was lacking. When I attempted to review her performance with her and mentioned that she was not serving her assigned attorneys well, she interrupted me to declare, “I serve no one but God.”  Because of her poor performance, we eventually had to terminate her employment.  The irony was that contrary to her declaration, she was not serving God well either.

There are times, however, when Jesus expects us to witness to his presence in our lives, particularly with family and friends with whom we have an established relationship.  They should know that our Christian faith is important to us and that we strive to live by that faith. 

After experiencing the presence of Jesus in a renewed way, I shared my experience with a colleague I had worked with for several years.  He in turn shared it with one of our senior executives who I knew but would not likely have ever had the opportunity to share directly with him.  As a result my witness was able to go beyond what I was able to do myself.  God loves to multiply our witness.

A few years later this same colleague was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  He called me one day and asked if I would come to his office because he had something he wanted to tell me.  He was very distraught and worried not only about his cancer, but also about his family and how he was feeling guilty because he had let his work take too much of his time away from his wife and two daughters.  We talked.  I listened, and offered to pray with him.  We prayed that God would bless him with a special peace and give him an opportunity to draw closer to his wife and daughters during his time remaining.  He died a few months later.

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Encountering the Risen Jesus

“I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18)

These were the words of Mary Magdalene to Jesus’ disciples after she encountered the risen Jesus outside the tomb where he had been placed two days earlier.  At first she did not recognize Jesus, thinking him to be the gardener.  Not until he said her name, “Mary,” did she realize it was Jesus.

She cried out “Teacher!” and apparently tried to hug him, for he said, “’Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.  Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)

As we read these verses from John’s gospel, it is easy to gloss over how surprising and shocking this encounter had to be for Mary Magdalene.  She had no doubt witnessed the crowd shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him.”   She may have seen the Roman soldiers nail Jesus to the cross.  John’s Gospel reports that she was present at the foot of the cross with Mary, the mother of Jesus, as they watched him die.

Now Jesus was alive in the flesh, no longer dead!  She touched him.  He spoke to her.  He said her name with the same distinct manner as before.  He gave her a message to take to the disciples.  It may be hard for us to imagine the emotions she must have felt – going from total sadness and despair to utter and unbelievable joy in a single moment – a moment indelibly fixed in her memory and lasting forever.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we too, may encounter the risen Jesus.  It may not have the same physical character as Mary Magdalene’s experience, but it can have the same spiritual, emotional and life-giving character.   

I volunteer in a Catholic outreach to a local jail ministry.  This past weekend, several women inmates made posters on what Easter meant to them.  While I wasn’t present, the priest who celebrated the mass with the women shared some of the posters they had made.  One of the posters showed a cross with a big red heart in the middle with a caption, “God is love.”

In another poster a brilliant yellow sun was shining over the mountains with two blossoming cherry trees on either side with the caption, “I’m Forgiven.”   It appears that both of these women have had an encounter with the risen Jesus to be able to express what Easter and the resurrection of Jesus Christ means to them.

Many years ago I was at a healing mass and the priest celebrating the mass asked us to kneel down, close our eyes and imagine that we were all alone with Jesus.  He instructed us to give to Jesus whatever need we might have.  I did as the priest suggested and asked Jesus if he would take something that was distracting me from my relationship with God and my wife and family.  He did!  The encounter was very real to me.  Forty years later, I can still describe every detail – where we stood, the surroundings, how Jesus looked to me, the love and joy I experienced when I realized he was answering my request.  It was a watershed moment.  All my priorities began to change.

The risen Jesus is available for all of us to encounter, particularly when we feel most alienated from him.  He says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.”  (Rev. 3:20)

He Wept Bitterly

maxresdefault“And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:75)

We all know the story.  Jesus and the disciples are gathered together to celebrate the Passover meal.    Jesus predicts that that very night all of the disciples will fall away on account of him.

Peter protests that he will never fall away and then proclaims, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”  Then Jesus answered, “I tell you Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:33-34)

Later Jesus is arrested and taken to the house of the High Priest.  Peter “follows at a distance” and warms himself by a fire in the courtyard.  He is recognized as being one of the disciples, but he denies that he knows Jesus, not once, but three times.  Luke reports that just as Peter was making the third denial, the rooster crowed and “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.”  Then Peter, remembering the word the Lord had spoken, went outside and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:61-62)

We can only imagine the extreme remorse and shame Peter must have felt.  In spite of all his prideful bluster about how he would never fall away and go to jail or even to death with Jesus, he was intimidated by a servant girl and two others and denied three times that he ever knew Jesus.

Lest we become even slightly judgmental of Peter, we must stop and call to mind all of the times that our conduct has denied Jesus or his presence in us.  The examples are numerous and varied -– anger, unforgiveness, and resentment; self-indulgence, drunkenness and sexual immorality; failures of integrity in deceit and gossip; failures of kindness, mercy and love; and sloth, laziness and apathy; to name only a few.

St. Paul says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

I can certainly recall examples in my life that encompass several of these categories.  While I have repented of these occasions and accept God’s forgiveness and mercy, I still regret them and have remorse for some of them.  The good news is that God says, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)  God not only forgives, but he forgets.  His data base on our sins is wiped clean every time we repent.  What a glorious promise this is for us!

As we proceed through this Holy Week and commemorate the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ with his terrible suffering and death, let us praise and thank God for his plan for reconciliation and salvation.  By God’s immeasurable love for us, he became one of us in all aspects of our human existence, was willing to suffer and die for us, and gives us the promise of life forever with him through the power of his resurrection.

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

A Promise for Today

“If anyone loves me he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)

Jesus makes this promise to the disciples in his last conversation with them before his arrest later that evening.  This is not like the promise of heaven that we cannot experience until we die.  This is a promise for today, for right now!

If we love Jesus and live by his teaching, he and the Father, the God of all creation, will take up residence in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus goes on to say that this promise is not just his but the Father’s as well.  “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (v. 24)

If Jesus and the Father make their home with us, they take up residence with us and we become as St. Paul says, “the temple of the living God.”  (1 Co. 6:16)

Think of it! Jesus and the Father are in us, present to us, available to us at every moment.  Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, they are available to guide our conduct and help us make the daily choices in our lives.

St. Paul eloquently captures the essence of this when he declares, “The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations is now disclosed to the saints…which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:26-27)  Our hope is in Christ and Christ in us!

Why is it that so many of us do not always experience the reality of Christ residing in us?  The answer may be found in the individual choices we make that determine whether God is buried alive or made alive in each of us.  Do we bury God’s presence in us, hiding him – or do we let him be seen, heard and experienced?

In my early adult years I lived my life in a way that mostly buried God’s presence in me rather than allowing that presence to be manifested.  I believed in God and attended church regularly.  Yet my Christian faith had become secondary to other so-called priorities, namely my career.  I seldom thought about God’s presence in me, and so that presence wasn’t visible to others either.

Fortunately, through God’s grace that changed one October evening when I was faced with the opportunity to turn over my mixed priorities to Jesus.  It was a watershed moment.  I am still capable of forgetting that Jesus is present to me in how I respond to an unsolicited phone call, or a possible offense from a family member or friend, or when I wrestle with a request to help or serve another.

The good news is that we can repent of these times and bring our selves back into God’s presence.  We can then call on his gifts of wisdom, discernment, and courage to make daily choices consistent with Jesus’ teaching and partner with him in building his kingdom on earth in our time.

William A. Barry, SJ, in his book, A Friendship Like No Other, says, “God offers friendship to each human being not only as a path for his or her salvation but also as a means for the salvation of the world.”  The furtherance of God’s kingdom on this earth is dependent upon our letting God dwell in us so that we can cooperate with him in fulfilling his will for us and becoming, “partners in the family business.”

Good Intentions Unfulfilled

“Peter said, ‘Lord why can’t I follow you now?  I will lay down my life for you.”  (John 13:33)

We are familiar with the story.  Jesus is trying to tell the disciples what will soon take place; that he would be with them only a little longer and where he was going they could not follow.  Peter protests, pledging his loyalty and that he will follow Jesus anywhere, even if it meant giving up his life.

Peter was no doubt sincere in his intention.  Then the unexpected happened.  Interrupting the disciples’ sleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, temple guards came in the dark of night with torches, clubs and swords to arrest Jesus.   In the chaos of the moment, the disciples flee and Peter “follows from a distance.” Later in the courtyard of the high priest, he denies that he knows Jesus three separate times.

How often have our good intentions been laid aside when faced with challenging circumstances or just the procrastination from our own sloth?   We tell God or someone we are going to do something and then we don’t do it.  The examples are numerous.

Our greatest failure with good intentions likely manifests itself with the sin in our life.  Many of our sins are recurring.  We confess them or commit not to do them again, and then do so.

Good intentions are also negated when we fail to keep our word.  We commit to our family that we will be home for the family evening meal, and then we let a work demand get in the way, not just once in a while, but on a regular basis.   We say to a friend we have not seen for a while, “Let’s have lunch.”  Then, we never follow-up to schedule it.  We commit to attend one of our children’s or grandchildren’s sporting events, and then let an intervening circumstance take precedence.  We commit to have a prayer time before breakfast, and then fail to get out of bed in time.

Good intentions and love are similar.  They both require action to become fulfilled. 

As we know, Peter later became a bold spokesman for the early church.  Tradition tells us that he was martyred by being crucified upside down.  What made the difference?  The Holy Spirit!  After his resurrection, Jesus told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the gift God had promised: “In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4, 8)

The Good News is that this same Holy Spirit is available to us just as it was to Peter and the disciples.  With the gifts of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace, we too, can see our good intentions become a reality.

As Jesus said, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ “No.’” (Mt. 5:37)