20 April 2009

The weight of convincing truth

Look! A homily! Remember those. . .?

2nd Week of Easter (T): Acts 4.32-37; John 3.7-15
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

If I were to tell you that I witnessed the student protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, while teaching English in China, you might want to know how I felt and what I was thinking. If I were to tell you that I witnessed the end of WWII, the surrender of the Axis Powers to the Allies in 1945, you might begin to wonder a bit about my age. If I were to tell you that I witnessed Pontus Pilate abandon Christ to the brutal mercies of the crowd in first-century Jerusalem, you would smile sympathetically, pat me on the shoulder, and then tell your friends, “That Fr. Philip is a really nice guy, but sometimes he lies.” If then, I were to bear witness to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection from the dead, would you believe me? What is it that gives our witness the convincing weight of truth?

Nicodemus, Jewish political and religious leader, wealthy, upright citizen, approaches Jesus at night and poses several questions about the nature and necessity of being “born again.” In the dark of his night, Nicodemus seeks Christ’s light. Unfortunately, Jesus’ answers lead to more questions. Eventually, Jesus chastises Nicodemus, saying, “[…] we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” Jesus is putting the burden of belief on Nicodemus, chastising him for not accepting his witness to the truth of earthly things. But let’s look at it from Nicodemus’ view. What reason has Jesus given him to believe his testimony? What gives Jesus’ witness the convincing weight of truth?

Let’s bring this question home: why should anyone who does not believe the Church’s witness to Christ take our testimony about Christ as evidence for the truth of the gospel? Why should the non-believer believe you when you say, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!”? We have a hint in Acts: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind […] With great power the Apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus[…].” How did they bear this witness: “[…] no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common […] There was no needy person among them […].” In other words, the apostles and those with them lived the death and resurrection of Christ with one heart and mind, dying to selfish want and rising to a new life in the Body. Did this public witness prove the truth of the faith? Not to everyone. But living the witness we proclaim, and not merely proclaiming it, tilts the scale of credibility heavily in our favor.

If our witness is to one faith, one baptism, one Lord, and we live as if there were many faiths, lots of baptisms, and multiple lords—a limitless diversity of opinion and unlimited options—then no one should believe us. If we proclaim a gospel of one heart and one mind in Christ, and then live as if there are countless hearts and numerous minds in many different Christs, no one should believe us. And no one will. We must lift up the Son of Man, Christ Jesus, not only with our tongues but with our hands as well. No other way will give our witness the weight of convincing truth.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Father Philip,

    This is very good. "Living the witness we proclaim ... tilts the scale of credibility heavily in our favor."

    One problem for an individual listening to this homily, however, involves the problem of Christian unity. I can stop making my own contributions to Christian fragmentation, I can put an end to my boring stream of complaints, but I cannot personally reunite Christendom.

    Given that there is fragmentation and disunity, I must go on witnessing anyhow. Those who remain outside of Christianity -- as well as those clamoring to be de-baptized -- will need to find some effectiveness in our witnessing in spite of this backdrop of fragmentation, won't they? We can't fool them by papering things over with rosy imagery, nor can we frighten them into conversion. Somehow, we have to facilitate -- or at least get out of the way of -- the visibility of the eternally, invincibly True, in spite of all the jarring dissonances in the Church Militant. Hmmm...