In the readings for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, God commands each of us to be a spokesperson for His saving truth.
In the first reading, God tells Ezekiel, "You I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me...."
About 45 years ago, I was at a prayer meeting, and I got the inner urge to share this very passage from Ezekiel, but chose not to for fear of turning off a seminarian, who was present for the first time.
Within five minutes the priest sitting next to me, who knew nothing of my thinking, read that same passage with great fervor. That got my attention!
Within five more minutes, one of the men got the urge to read the passage from 2 Timothy 4:2-3, which states, "Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths."
Another blockbuster scriptural passage! Unfortunately, this man chose not to read it for the same reasons I had. However, his wife, who knew nothing of what was going on in his heart, read the passage, again with great fervor. That really woke me up! There was something very special going on.
Within a few minutes, a lady walked in who was not in prayer at all. She simply interrupted the prayer meeting by telling us that she was "being led by the Holy Spirit to be baptized in the Mormon Church, but they would't accept her because she had the so-called 'gift of prophecy.'" It was obvious that she was deeply involved in the occult. We immediately took her outside and tried for three hours to change her heart, but she refused to listen.
Five years later, she walked into the prayer meeting smiling, to tell us that sometime after she left us, she was on the verge of suicide when another Christian group told her the same thing we had told her. She renounced the occult and came into deep freedom and happiness. She simply returned to thank us.
Thank God that two other people were bold enough to proclaim God's word and were not hampered by a false sense of prudence, as I was. Again and again I have found that proclaiming the truth, whether comfortable or uncomfortable, produces wonderful results.
In St. Paul's letter to the Romans, he tells us that we should "owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another." When we love, we proclaim the truth, and when we proclaim the truth, we love.
In the Gospel, Jesus also calls us to witness to the truth, to help someone who has offended us be reconciled with God. I think it's important that if someone sins against us, we first need to make certain that we forgive this individual from the bottom of our hearts, otherwise our witness has no chance of bearing fruit.
If I approach my offending brother with anger, experienced as a result of his sin, I will be of no help at all. On another occasion, Jesus told us to get the plank out of our own eyes before we try to remove a splinter from our brother's eyes.
Jesus persistently tells us that if the offending brother doesn't listen, we must take others with us to witness the same thing. If he refuses to listen to these others, then we should turn him over to the Church. If he refuses to listen to the Church, then we should treat him as a Gentile or a tax collector. However, that doesn't mean we should wash our hands of him. We still need to intercede for him.
To witness the truth to someone who offends us isn't pleasant, but we must decide that we would rather see that person in heaven someday than avoid the discomfort in helping that person get there. Eternity is a never-ending experience, and it's worth discomfort to help someone get there.
As I am writing this, I am suddenly aware that I have an obligation to witness to some of those aldermen who voted to make St. Louis City a sanctuary for abortion, and I now no longer have an excuse for not doing so. I will do it.
If every Catholic witnessed to a fellow Catholic who has gone astray in church attendance or belief, think of what a difference this would make for all eternity for our friends, even if they don't listen. Our job is not to convince them but to witness to them and allow God's grace to use our witness to change their hearts. We can't change hearts, but we can and we must witness.
Witnessing to grown children who have strayed from the faith is a special case. We must make certain that we spend more time in intercessory prayer than in witnessing by speech. Remember St. Monica. When she was devastated with fear that her son Augustine would spend eternity in hell, St. Ambrose told her, "Woman, it is impossible for the son of a mother who has prayed as much as you have prayed, and wept as much as you have wept, to be lost."
With that she backed off, and within one year it was her son's idea to become a Catholic. When our witness turns vertical, God's witness takes over.