WE ARE WITNESSES – ASCENSION OF THE LORD Homily given by Deacon Michael Madison
Rabbi Abraham Heschel, an American Jewish theologian invited to be part of the Second Vatican Council, and the author of the book Man is not Alone, once said “There are no proofs of the existence of God, there are only witnesses.” Thank God there are witnesses! I use the present tense because we are those witnesses today. It is through our faith that we have “eyes of the heart” as St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians. We stand on the shoulders of the Apostles and early disciples who shared the stories, the Good News, of Jesus Christ. Those witnesses are the foundation of our beliefs of who Jesus is.
One of those witnesses is the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the book Acts of the Apostles. Today our Gospel is the conclusion of Luke and our first reading is the very first chapter from the Acts of the Apostles. We heard both the beginning and the end. The end of Jesus’ natural presence on earth and the beginning of Jesus’ supernatural presence with us. In the Gospel of Luke, we have a witness account of Jesus teaching and healing, his passion, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. In the Acts of the Apostles we have a witness account of the early Church beginning with Jesus’ return to the Father, the sending of the Holy Spirit, Peter as the leader of the community, the selection of deacons and presbyters, the addition of Paul to the mission of the Gentiles, ending with Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. As writer of both books, Luke uses the word witness in our readings today. The disciples were sent to carry on the mission of Jesus. We are disciples of Christ so that mission of witness is for us too.
But what are we witnesses to? What is it we see through our “eyes of the heart,” our faith? Why is it important to share this good news? I’ll get back to those questions in a moment.
I was trying to gather my answer to those questions this week but had not completed my thoughts before attending the annual Diaconate Convocation yesterday. The keynote speaker was one of our new bishops ordained last year, Bishop Bartosic. He witnessed some of his personal story dating back to the earliest days of his priesthood to about 300 deacons and wives. It centered around what Christians believe, how Catholics embrace God’s presence sacramentally, what the saints can teach us and what we have learned from the earliest witnesses of Jesus. I am enriched for hearing his witness, letting me into who he is as a person of faith, important to me as he is one of our leaders.
I also recently celebrated the First Communion of my granddaughter Katey in Ft. Irwin, California, located in the Mohave Desert. My daughter requested prayers or scripture which have personal meaning to be sent from relatives and important people in Katey’s life. These were placed into a prayer box and presented to Katey as a gift after Mass. It was amazing to witness Katey’s reaction as she read each prayer, some with a note of affirmation or congratulation on receiving Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time. It was a clever idea to bring people from far away into that Sacramental celebration in such a remote place. There is a video from a couple nights later of Katey reading some of the prayers to her sister at bedtime. She is already a witness of Jesus to others!
Our teenagers in our youth ministry will be witnesses when they participate in the July Mission trip. They will encounter others as they offer themselves in service to those in need, modeling what Jesus modeled for them with preferential treatment of the poor. They will share their own stories of faith as they travel, then reflect and share upon each day’s work.
I have heard witness talks on retreats such as Christ Renews His Parish or Welcome, as it is now called, where a person shares the story of their personal encounter with Jesus. I have shared my own witness to Christ in my life on retreats and in small groups. These are powerful moments when we share the intimacy of Christ engaged in our lives. It is a look into the heart of the person sharing. The power of witness is transformative for the teller and listener. It reaffirms or deepens our faith when shared. Hopefully you have experienced this too. Recall your own encounters with Christ and share it with someone.
What is important to us, what we value, what we hope for, should be shared. It reinforces our own values when we share them, and it develops a community of similar values. It helps our hopes to be realized. That is why we share our stories. As parents, we know how important it is to share our values with our children, not only in words, but in how we live, in what we do. We are the witnesses to our children of all things important.
What is it we are witnesses to? We are witnesses to the life of Jesus the Christ, our Savior; to God made man, the Word incarnate, consubstantial with the Father. We are witnesses to the witnesses from the scriptures, the Word of God. We are witnesses to the risen presence of Jesus in the breaking of the bread and in the wine as his Body and Blood. When we encounter Christ, we are different than we were before. We are different than those who have not encountered Christ. In a moment we will profess what we believe. It is not enough to just recite our creed, we must live it, witness it to others. We are called by our baptism to be more than worshipers of God. We are called to be his witnesses.