Appleton, WI

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

I received a blessing from the Lord as a new college freshman on the campus of the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1973. I encountered a group of young people who were members of the evangelical national group called The Navigators. These were young people who were on fire with a love for Jesus and were bold in being witnesses for Jesus. As a young Catholic man, I had never experienced such devoted energy for the Lord. From the Navigators, I learned how important the Word of God is in the life of a friend and follower of Jesus. Like Saint Jerome once said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of the Lord.” I learned about the power of giving personal testimony. These young disciples of Jesus were not timid about telling their Jesus stories – knocking on dorm doors and just hoping to tell others what difference Jesus had made in their lives. Many of these young Christians had a conversion story to share – how they came to hand over their lives to the Lord. They talked about that specific moment when they gave their lives to Jesus.

I was so impressed and their witness – their testimonies – got me thinking and helped me to draw nearer to the Lord.

One of the first witnesses to Jesus and to the difference Jesus can make in our lives was John the Baptist.

“John the Baptist testified further, saying, I saw the Spirit come down as a dove from heaven and remain upon Jesus…I have seen and testified that Jesus is the Son of God.” (John 1.32,34)

Pope Francis reminds us that “anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.” (Joy of the Gospel).

While John was yet in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth, he experienced the Lord’s love. When Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visited Elizabeth, John leaped for joy in his mother’s womb. Tradition tells us that John, distracted with all the busy-ness of life in the city, withdrew to the desert with his companions so that they could better experience the Lord’s love for them. John’s whole purpose for living was to be a pointer to Jesus. John once declared, “Jesus must increase and I must decrease!” John prepared the way for Jesus. John encouraged his disciples to leave his side and to follow Jesus – to give their lives to Jesus. John was a witness to Jesus.

Saint Pope Paul VI once said, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (The New Evangelization)

Like those Navigators from my college days, you and I are invited to be witnesses to Jesus. You and I are invited to tell others about the difference that Jesus has made in our lives. I have said this over and over again: Faith is so much more than knowledge about Jesus or giving assent to an ethical or moral framework of belief. Faith is an encounter with Jesus, who is a real, living person.

Once we have such an encounter – once we experience the love of Jesus – we need to find a way to point out Jesus to others – not just by our actions but by our words. And by these words, I mean specifically, telling others in story form about our experiences of the Lord.

Every story we might tell of our friendship with Jesus might include something about one of five truths. Very quickly, let me outline these truths for you.

    1. God loves me unconditionally and has created me for relationship with Him. Name a moment in your life when you clearly felt God’s love for you. Tell somebody about that moment.
    2. I have broken my relationship with the Lord by my sin. Describe a time in your life that was a great trial for you – maybe it was an ache or hurt you couldn’t overcome on your own. What was something you had to let go of in order to follow Jesus? Tell somebody about your burden.
    3. Jesus restores my relationship with God through his life, death and resurrection. Was there a time when Jesus took a pain or hurt from you? Tell somebody about this experience.
    4. Jesus invites me to trust him, to turn from sin, and to give my life to him. How have you experienced Jesus renewing you? Tell somebody your story.
    5. Jesus has poured the Holy Spirit in my heart to bring me to new life in His Church and to send me on mission so others can experience that new life. How has the celebration of the Mass or Confession or Anointing of the Sick or Confirmation made a difference in your life? What gift has the Holy Spirit given uniquely to you that helps you to bring others to Jesus? How have others experienced new life through you? Tell your story.

Let me wrap this up with an image that may stick with you. I have yet to see the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” The movie is based on the true story of the friendship between Mr Fred Rogers and Tom Junod, a journalist. At one point in their relationship, Mr Junod prays with Mr Rogers, at Roger’s invitation. Mr Junod writes this, “My heart felt like a spike, and then, in that room, it opened and felt like an umbrella.” The journalist recounts that just being around Mr Rogers was enough to make him see the world differently, and then, to be loved by Mr Rogers, was enough to make him…a completely different kind of person. (from the article “This Tom Hanks Story Will Help You Feel Less Bad” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Nov 21, 2019)

Certainly telling our love story with Jesus may have a similar effect upon the life and heart of another person, so longing for something more and someone more!

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