What does it mean to be a witness? In modern culture, we think of a person testifying in court. In a way, every soul faces a personal judgment to make. What to make of Jesus. How to accept a believer as a person of truth or as a liar. It begins with how Christians live their lives. Pope John Paul II cites Vatican II, and the document sections he cites are all relevant:
The first form of witness is the very life of the missionary, of the Christian family, and of the ecclesial community, which reveal a new way of living. The missionary who, despite all his or her human limitations and defects, lives a simple life, taking Christ as the model, is a sign of God and of transcendent realities. But everyone in the Church, striving to imitate the Divine Master, can and must bear this kind of witness;(Cf. Lumen Gentium 28, 35, 38; Gaudium et Spes 43; Ad Gentes 11-12) in many cases it is the only possible way of being a missionary.
In his 1967 encyclical letter, Pope Paul VI also had an important observation:
The evangelical witness which the world finds most appealing is that of concern for people, and of charity toward the poor, the weak and those who suffer. The complete generosity underlying this attitude and these actions stands in marked contrast to human selfishness. It raises precise questions which lead to God and to the Gospel. A commitment to peace, justice, human rights and human promotion is also a witness to the Gospel when it is a sign of concern for persons and is directed toward integral human development.(Cf. Populorum Progressio 21, 42)
In my experience as a parish minister and parent, I find that young people in particular are extremely observant when regarding a witness. What a person says is measured carefully against what a person does. When the two are misaligned, the witness is dismissed. This is why reputation is so important. Appearances are vital not because of the surface they present in terms of beauty, youth, and success as corporate advertisements present. It goes beneath the surface. The effort of Christians to give witness must be taken seriously.
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