The attention which is given by the media to well-publicised criminal trials, and public inquiries, has shown just us how important witnesses are. The strategy of both the prosecution and defence teams largely depends on the credibility of those who swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Witnesses are so important that they can make or break a trial.
As we commemorate the Ascension of Our Lord into the glory of heaven, we are reminded that witnesses could have, and still can, make or break the whole Christian experience. Just how essential witnesses are becomes evident in the first reading when we hear Our Lord give his followers their mission: “You are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth.”
At first the disciples seem a bit flustered and uncertain about what this witnessing is all about. They keep “gazing up into the heavens,” we are told, standing there wide-eyed and open-mouthed, undoubtedly wondering, “What now?” Overcome by the sudden loss of their friend and their teacher, surprised and not a little disappointed that he seems to be leaving them now in the lurch, they seem to be looking for some sign that will give them their direction. Are they going to be lifted up just as Jesus was?
Not exactly. The direction they get is not to go UP but to go OUT. The gospel makes it clear when Our Lord says to them: “Go out into the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation.”
The agenda and mission of Our Lord’s first disciples remains the same 2,000 years later. Pope Paul VI wrote one of the most significant papal encyclicals of the last century, in it he reaffirmed that the responsibility, and indeed the privilege, of being a witness of Jesus Christ, belongs to all Christians. In his encyclical ‘On Evangelisation in the Modern World’, Pope Paul wrote:
The command to the Twelve to go out and proclaim the Good News is also valid for all Christians… Those who have received the Good News… can and must communicate and spread it… Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness… All Christians are called to this witness…
And so, when Our Lord says: “You are to be my witnesses,” he really means all of us. Our Lord is inviting, calling, urging, and expecting each one of us to be his personal witness; to tell and to show the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth of his Good News to a weary, confused and wounded world.
Some of you may have encountered the ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’. Sometimes when our doorbell rings it’s not the Avon Lady or the Tesco home delivery driver, but rather these spiritual salespersons peddling their own brand of the Bible’s message from door-to-door. Now if we take today’s Gospel and today’s Feast seriously, then it’s high time for us Catholics to become, not Jehovah’s Witnesses, but Jesus Witnesses.
Now, I’m not suggesting we each grab a Bible, hit the streets after Mass and start ringing doorbells. I would rather suggest that what goes on behind our doors, behind the doors of our homes, our schools, our shops, our businesses – what goes on behind these doors can be, should be and MUST BE a loud and clear witness to Jesus Christ and his Good News. Even though the Church still needs the heroic witness of martyrs and saints, the Church always and everywhere needs the ordinary, day-by-day witness of men, women and children who are doing their daily best to live by the principles and priorities of Christ. People like you and me, who have a job to do when we walk through those doors after Mass today.