In his gospel, St. Luke tells us that, when Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, he explained to them how his passion, death and resurrection all took place in fulfillment of the Father’s plan for the salvation of the world. In referring to his suffering and rising on the third day, Jesus told them, “you are witnesses of these things.” Giving witness to the truths of our faith is still a challenge of discipleship today. It isn’t always easy. And it is not always clear how this is to be carried out in our daily lives.
During Holy Week our Catholic schools superintendent received this email message from a frustrated parent: “As Good Friday approaches I am a loss again to find a meaningful way to spend the day for my daughter. When I attended Catholic school, we had school on Good Friday and ended with a reverent noon service. When I was in college the chapel was open between 12:00 and 3:00 with musical reflections. None of this is available now. The services are in the evening and the kids feel like the day is a holiday. Please provide me with examples of activities I can do with my middle school daughter during the day on Good Friday.”
It seems that this parent is not the only one with minimal understanding about the sacredness of our Easter Triduum and meaningful ways in which a Catholic family could spend those days and give witness to faith. Given the admonition of the Lord to his disciples after that first Easter about witnessing to the truths of our faith, we all need to remember that this task is still on the table for today’s disciples of the Lord, namely, those of us who are baptized believers, particularly in the Catholic Christian tradition. Time and time again we are reminded that parents are the first teachers in the ways of the faith for their children. I was saddened by this mother’s message because obviously she had little awareness of the sacredness of the Easter Triduum, from Holy Thursday evening through Easter Sunday evening, and little assistance from parish and school about how a family might observe these holy days, both at church and at home. We must do a better job ourselves to help our people be “witnesses of these things,” as Jesus asked.
After our superintendent responded to this mother, she sent another message in which she further expressed some of her personal frustrations with this situation. She finds it difficult to provide a reflective environment for her daughter at home and went on to point out how many parents find it difficult to pull kids from the temptations of the computer, television and the mall. She also felt that we should do a better job of helping principals and pastors teach more clearly about the sacredness of a day like Good Friday. I had presumed that principals and pastors didn’t need to turn to me for such advice. It seems that I was wrong.
When I was in the Holy Land on the Archdiocesan Lenten pilgrimage in early March, I was amazed how quiet and peaceful Jerusalem was on the Sabbath. From sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, Jewish families who are faithful to the covenant of the Lord spend their time primarily together at home. The incredibly light traffic on the main streets of Jerusalem that Saturday morning gave testimony to their commitment to the Sabbath observance. They were either at home or in the synagogue. How they taught their children about the importance of the Sabbath within the four walls of the home remains a mystery to me. But it is clear that is where they were. It was not “business as usual” in Jerusalem on the Sabbath. It should not be “business as usual” within Catholic families and institutions on our holy days.
In days gone by, Sunday Mass, abstinence on Friday, tipping hats when passing a Catholic Church, bowing our heads at the mention of the name of Jesus, wearing medals and religious symbols in public, outdoor processions in honor of the Blessed Sacrament or the Blessed Mother, and many other customs were popular ways of giving witness to our faith and letting the world know that, for us, our faith truly made a difference in our lives. The early Christians had an even better way of giving witness to their faith because many of the non-believers would say about them, “see how these Christians love one another.” True charity, not merely tolerant civility, was the foundation for relationships among friends of Jesus.
Right now we all have a splendid opportunity to give witness to the importance of our faith in our daily lives. Lately our government seems to be inclined to limit the rights of believers. “Freedom of worship” is gradually being restricted to activities that take place among believers within church walls. When we believers become fully engaged in the public life of our nation, then we find ourselves becoming less and less free.
Within the past year, the Catholic Church’s grant to combat human trafficking, by far the best program available in the nation, was revoked because Catholics don’t refer rape victims to abortion clinics. The government attempted to restrict religious groups in the matter of hiring and firing their own religious ministers. Fortunately this effort was overruled by our Supreme Court. Then in January of this year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services decided that all Catholic employers must cover contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization in their health care plans.
Some promoters of these initiatives find comfort in the fact that not all Catholics agree about these matters. Catholics have abortions and practice birth control. Catholics, like all people, are sinners. I am. You are. We teach what we teach not because it reflects the behavior of Catholics but rather because these are truths that come from God as they have been revealed to us in the Scriptures and by the wisdom of Catholic teachers over the centuries. The truth is not always easy. But we must give witness to the truth, as Jesus did, even if it involves some inconvenience, even suffering and death.
At one time or another you must have heard the children’s gospel song “This Little Light of Mine” written by Harry Dixon Loes about the year 1920. This “little light,” of course, is our faith. In the final verse of that delightful tune we hear the words, “Don’t let the Satan blow it out – I’m going to let it shine. Let it shine/all the time/let it shine/ oh yeah!”
Yes, my friends, together, let it shine!