Since John Paul II coined the phrase, the call to the “New Evangelization” has resounded across the Church universal. Every single Catholic, declared Vatican II, is called to evangelize.
Many find this more than a little intimidating. So must we go door to door with Bible in one hand and rosary in the other? Must we become expert theologians, demonstrating from reason, scripture and history why Catholic doctrine is true?
If these were the requirements, the call to evangelize could not possibly be a universal one. But if we examine the Scriptures, we don’t find the Lord telling us “you will be my theologians.” Instead he says “you will be my witnesses.” (Acts 1:8)
Many Catholics, hearing this, are immediately relieved. “That’s right. I’ll be a silent witness. That’s more my style. People will just see my actions and learn about my faith that way.”
Not so fast. A witness is called to the stand to give testimony. And that means to speak. Of course, the attorney who calls up the witness will try to demonstrate that the witness is honest, competent, and credible. If the judge and jury don’t believe in the integrity of the witness, they won’t put much stock in his or her testimony. But it is verbal testimony that is crucial to the case.
Note this, however. The essence of testimony is a sincere sharing of personal experience – something that the witness has seen or heard that is pertinent to the case.
We may or may not have academic knowledge of theology. But one thing we all have is our own experience of God’s action in our lives. How has faith made a difference in your life? How has God touched you? What has been your experience of God’s Fatherhood, Mary’s motherhood, the inspiration of the saints, intimacy with Christ in the Eucharist? These are the things to share at the right time with the right person. Who is the right person? The person in need. When is the right moment? The moment that a person, in response to a need, is asking honest questions.
Being a witness in action is, of course, of the utmost importance. The ultimate testimony is the laying down of one’s life for Christ in martyrdom. In fact “martyr” is nothing but the Greek work for “witness.”
Few of us will be called to shed our blood for Christ. But the daily laying down of our lives in sacrificial service to others is “white martyrdom.” I will argue, however, that the silent witness of a virtuous life is still not sufficient. If we have joy in our hearts even amidst tragedy or have a solid marriage despite our casual-sex culture, people need to know that it is not because of particularly good genes, a sanguine temperament, or happy pills, but because Christ is the foundation of our lives.
But how will they know unless we tell them?