Are you a witness to the risen Christ? A messenger?

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2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A: May 1, 2011
Acts 2:42-47; Ps 118; 1 Pet 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

For 8 days now, since last Sunday, we have been celebrating the fact that Christ is risen from the dead!—a fact that was first discovered when St. Mary Magdalene and other women went to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. There was no dead body; only the burial cloths remained. And there were angels, who they saw there and who told them the good news.

Now the word for angel in the original Greek of the New Testament is angelos, which literally means “messenger.” And how fitting that these powerful, immortal creatures should be called messengers, since this is one of the most important jobs they fulfill for the Lord. [CCC 328, 330] And that is why they were at the empty tomb: to tell the women, “He is not here, for he has been raised.” [Matt 28:6] And also to commission the women as messengers: “Go quickly and tell his disciples…” Which they did. And so a whole chain of message-carrying begins with the angels. One person after another received the message, the really good message, the euangelion; and one person after another was sent to proclaim that good message, to euangelizamai—that is, to “evangelize.”

The Resurrection of Christ, and the angels present at the empty tomb, began a chain reaction of evangelizing, of delivering the good news of the Gospel, that has never stopped.

This morning our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, was declared “Blessed”—the last stage before one day, God willing, being declared a “Saint.” And we know that John Paul was tireless in his proclamation of the Gospel throughout his pontificate. How many countries did he visit? How many times did he circle the globe? How many world leaders did he face up to? How many ordinary people did he touch? How many encyclicals did he write?—all to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ? And to urge us to do it too.

About 13 years ago, the late Jesuit Father John Hardon wrote of him:

The Pope foresees the 21st century as the dawn of the greatest renaissance in Christian history, on one condition. Believing Catholics must be aroused from their stupor and inspired to proclaim Jesus Christ and His Kingdom as has not been done since the dawn of Christianity.

Whoa! Now there’s a splash of cold water. “Stupor”? Who are you calling asleep, Fr. Hardon? Are you saying that we don’t actually evangelize? That we don’t actually pass on the message, the good news, that we’ve been given?

Last September, Cardinal Wuerl released his Pastoral Letter on the New Evangelization. He wrote, in part:

The Holy Spirit invites us to speak about our Catholic faith, to have the courageous, and sometimes awkward, conversation. He even wants us to reach out and invite others by name, with a smile and a friendly welcome. … to invite our neighbor to come to Mass, to encourage them to come to Bible Study or a small faith group, to ask them to consider discussing what might keep them away.

And he reminded us that this can happen “in the workplace … in the grocery line, at the bus stop … on the Metro … as we go about our daily and weekly errands.”

So. It’s been 8 months; 35 weeks. Let’s say we imagine sharing the Good News once a week. Pretty light, pretty reasonable, right? So, have you shared the Good News of Christ 35 times since the Cardinal’s Pastoral Letter came out? Have you?

If you have, good job! That’s awesome! Praise the Lord!

If you haven’t—why not? Why haven’t you shared the Good News—that Christ has conquered death; and that he offers us salvation, a share in his own divine life and glory? Why haven’t you shared this Good News? Even just once a week, since our bishop gave us such strong pastoral encouragement to do so? Honestly: why not?

Now, there are surely many answers to this question. So let us focus today on one that is raised by our Gospel reading. For we heard about how Jesus came and stood in the midst of the disciples, although the doors were locked. And he showed them his hands and his side. And they rejoiced. Of course! They rejoiced!

But Thomas was not with them. So the other disciples told him. But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

I wonder: did Thomas really think that the other disciples were lying or imagining things? I wonder if, instead, he didn’t want to put himself fully on the line, heart and soul, everything that he had—when he had only heard a message. Because that wasn’t enough for him. He didn’t want to head out proclaiming a message that he had only heard. He wanted to see and touch Jesus. He wanted to know him. He wanted to experience him. He wanted to be a witness himself.

Earlier in the second chapter of Acts, from which our first reading comes, St. Peter had proclaimed to the crowd: “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses.” [Acts 2:32] And the fact that Peter was a witness gave his words a power and an energy that we can still hear 2000 years later. We hear it in his speeches in Acts. And we hear it in his letters, such as we heard today in the second reading. Listen to his words:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading…

And on it goes. Peter was a witness; and so was Thomas, after the appearance on the second Sunday. They hadn’t just heard a message. They had seen the Lord. They had seen him, and heard him, and touched him, this Victor over death, this Savior; and they were ready to spend all the rest of their lives bringing this good news to others.

They were witnesses. Are you a witness? I’m not asking how many times you’ve attended Mass. I’m not asking whether you were taught the truths of the faith many years ago. I’m not asking if you try to do what is right and good, what the Lord has commanded, what his Church has instructed. I’m asking: Have you seen him? Have you touched him? Do you know him, like Peter and Thomas knew him? Are you a witness?

But can we see him? Doesn’t St. Peter say, in the second reading: Although you have not seen him you love him? Doesn’t Christ say in the Gospel: Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed? It is quite true that we will not see the risen Christ the way that the disciples saw him during those 40 days before his Ascension: we will not meet him walking along a road or appearing inside a locked room, with the normal appearance of his own risen body. That kind of encounter is not available to us during this time before his Second Coming.

But we can encounter him personally, vividly, experientially—in prayer, in Eucharistic adoration, in receiving Holy Communion, in confession and the other sacraments; in so many other ways. He will meet you; in a different way than Peter and Thomas did, you will see his face; you will touch his wounds; you will receive his peace; you will know him; and you will be his witness.

About 12 years ago, I was a Protestant in my 20s, searching for the truth, searching to really encounter Christ. And a faithful Catholic woman my own age was able to speak to me as a witness. She had met Christ, really present in the Eucharist; and for her to tell me this was as natural and obvious for her as speaking of the tree growing in the front yard. She would invite me, even try to entice me, to go pray in front of the tabernacle. “Would you like to go now? We can go right now to talk to him!” That’s what a witness is like! And how grateful I am to her for allowing her real experience of the risen Christ to be seen—so that I can touch him too.

If you have not yet experienced Christ in the way that Peter and Thomas and my friend have; if, up to now, it is just a message you have heard; then I urge you to meet him.

  • If you have questions or doubts like Thomas did, then please ask those questions, so that you can receive the answer that you need.
  • Ask Christ to reveal himself to you. Ask him in prayer, directly and persistently. Don’t give up! Ask him to give you to that experiential knowledge that he is real and risen.
  • And be sure to make time to hear his response; to receive it. He probably will not answer at the time you want or in the way you want; but I believe he will answer. Make space for him to walk into your life.

And if you are already a witness; if you already know Christ in this way—then what are you waiting for? People all around you are desperate to know the One that you know! As Cardinal Wuerl has told us, the Holy Spirit is already at work in their hearts, providing us openings. He is preparing the conversation, if only we will be brave enough to initiate it. Think of how grateful I am for my friend’s courage! Why not help your friends to know the peace and joy, indescribable and glorious, in which you already rejoice? Why not share this life?

Cardinal Wuerl reassures us: As God was with those who first accepted the challenge, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8), so God is with us as we accept the summons to be witnesses today in all that we say and do.

As Blessed John Paul II told us, so many years ago: “Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors to Christ!”

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