You Are Witnesses of These Things

There I was looking up into the clouds wondering what it must have been like for the disciples on the day of our Lord’s ascension into Heaven.  He had just finished telling them, “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48).  I turned a page back in my Bible asking myself, “what things?” And so begins each disciples contemplation of the  Risen and Ascended Lord and his or her individual place in the story of Salvation. What things are we witnesses of?

The seasons of Lent and Easter are summarized nicely in these verses of Luke, 24:45-47:

Jesus said to them, “Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentence, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

This story is summarized in the heart of every Christian in the Eucharistic acclamation: Keep in mind that Jesus Christ has died for us and is risen from the dead. He is our saving Lord; he is joy for all ages.”

Christ has died. Lenten time of penance. Christ is Risen. Easter time of celebration. These two movements of the Christian reality, however, are often where we close the book, but the story doesn’t end there – and neither should our telling of it. The Gospel of Luke tells us Jesus was taken up into heaven. The Ascension of our Lord. Yes, Life conquers death with His resurrection, and is “seated at the right-hand of the Father” through his Ascension. This is recalled through the prayer of Psalm 110, prayed at Vespers every Sunday evening: “The Lord’s revelation to my master: “Sit at my right: your foes I will put beneath your feet.” Jesus our Lord now reigns from heaven, and does not leave us alone, but remains with us in particular ways to strengthen us against the things of this world which may try to make themselves first-place in our lives. Eucharist, and Holy Spirit.

Over the last 90 days – 40 Lenten days of penance and 50 days of Easter joy – we have immersed ourselves in the recollection of the Christian mystery, “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again!”  And with the ascension we are standing with the Disciples looking up at the clouds rejoicing, and yet asking, what next? What do we do with the mystery we have lived in a liturgical way through the last 90 days?

“You are witnesses of these things.”

We are witnesses. What does that mean? The greek word used, μάρτυρες (martoores), reminds us of the word martyr, a word that has come to mean in our modern use one who has testified to the death of their belief in something. Is this what Jesus had in mind for us? Are we called to become martyrs? The Latin text uses the word “testes”, from testimoniare : to prove, to give evidence, to witness. The Christian life is a combination of both these words: martyr and witness.

First, we are called to be martyrs through our being baptized into Christ, as St. Paul teaches (Romans 6:3-4,11):

Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as (being) dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.

However, our martyrdom is not, usually, a physical death, but a letting ourselves die to the ways the world tries to shape our thoughts, our ways of acting, and even more craftily, to desensitize us from thinking about the right things, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise” (Phil 4:8). This ‘martyrdom’ accepts that the world will hate us because we stand against the current, stirring up in the souls of others the Truth the exists in every human heart. In this thought, we begin to see where our second word becomes intertwined in our every day living.

Jesus told his disciples “you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The idea of witnessing – to give testimony to our faith – is not a by-product of the Christian faith; it is the central stage on which Christ is made known and thus, made loved. Our witness sometimes requires words, but always requires right act. And what is it that we are giving testimony to in our daily lives? Are we proclaiming Christ through our words and actions in a way that leaves those who encounter us to confirm in their hearts a goodness deeper than civility expects. Our testimony — if rooted in the Christ-love we contemplate on the Cross — touches others to see Christ through our loving them.

How do we combine these two necessary components of the Christian life? To die to ourselves so to give living testimony of God’s love?

There is the old saying, “you are what you eat”. What is the nourishment that carries us from Sunday to Sunday? What is it that our senses take in when we are not at Mass being refreshed by God’s Word and His very Body and Blood in the Sacrifice of the Eucharistic Celebration? My confessor and I were discussing the media of today as a real stumbling block for all of us – priests, religious, and laity alike. Images are often suggestive and violent, lyrics and words do not lift up our thoughts to God, and the worst part, our society that claims to be believers in God see nothing wrong, as though the human being can separate itself from that which it takes in through its senses.  We’ve heard the reasoning before: “It’s just a movie!” “The kids are just dancing!” “Abstinence isn’t a viable option.” All of these reasons try to justify a shift in moral norms. But do we have to listen to them?

What message do we send to those around us by the films we watch, the books we read, the music we listen to, the things we “like”. By our using media we morally might disagree with, we are choosing to support them – we create a market for them to thrive. It reaffirms the current trend that these are acceptable to us Christians. Our witness is lacking, in these small things, perhaps.

As we look up into the heavens at the Lord’s ascension, let us also reflect what made it possible. The Cross. Sacrifice. Obedience to the Father. Let us pray, that we too might follow the example of our Lord Jesus, that when our day to meet Him comes, He may not find us lacking.

The Definition of Christian Faith – the Cross

From the Passion of Christ

In the western hemisphere, we read the Gospel, and recount the passion of Christ’s journey from the Last Supper to his suffering and death on the Cross at Golgotha. Many times, the account of our redemption seems far removed, as though we are reading a fiction novel. It inspires, yes, and we claim with Peter, we say in our hearts, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” (Matthew 26:35). But, living in the western hemisphere where, Christians can publically worship, are we certain that if our faith was tested, would it be found solid?

We can learn the reality of the Christian life in reading the accounts of the Martyrs through the ages; those who, when threatened with their lives, made it perfectly clear where they stood; their place was firmly fixed at the foot of the Cross, willing and ready to die for their faith in Jesus Christ. But such is the reality of the Christian witness (from the Greek word μάρτυς, from which we get the word martyr).

Such men and women exist today, in countries where to openly profess to be Christian brings condemnation to oneself, and danger to his family. One such account is unfolding in Afghanistan, in the life of Christian, Said Musa. Matthew Archbold reports, “An Afghanistan Christian and father of six, is imprisoned and scheduled to die. His crime? He believes Christ is his Savior. And he is scheduled to die because of it. No defense lawyer will take his case for fear of retribution. And he has been told that if he renounces Christ things would go easier. But he doesn’t. He won’t. Musa wrote a public letter which I will excerpt here, courtesy of The Barnabus Fund. The English is rough but I think you’ll understand what he’s saying:

Said Musa

“To the international church of world and to the President Brother Barak Obama President of the United States and to the head of ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] in Afghanistan!

“My name is Said Musa 45 years old. I have been working since 15 years as a Physiotherapist in I-C-R-C [International Committee of the Red Cross] orthopaedic centre in Kabul, Afghanistan. About four and a half months before by security force of Afghanistan I [was] captured, due to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world.

…Since that time I am in jail. The authority and prisoners in jail did many bad behaviour with me about my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. For example, they did sexual things with me, beat me by wood, by hands, by legs, put some things on my head, mocked me ‘He’s Jesus Christ’, spat on me, nobody let me for sleep night and day. Every person spat on me and beat me. Also the prosecutor wrote something wrong against me. He told from himself something wrong against me on my file.

“He is stimulating every day the prisoners against me, ‘He is also in jail due to spy for Iran country’, to reveal the church in Kabul. I’m in a very and very bad condition in the jail.

“I agree with long imprisonment about my faith even for long life. Because I’m the sinnest person in the world. Because sometimes they treated for died I refuse my faith due to died. Sometimes I tolerate the persecution but immediately I acknowledge my sin before Lord Jesus Christ: ‘Don’t refuse me before your holy angels and before your Father.’ Because I am very very weak and sinful man…

“I am alone between 400 handlers of terrible values in the jail like a sheep. Please, please, for the sake of Lord Jesus Christ help me. Please send a person who should supervise my document and my file, what I said in it. My prosecutor has told something wrong to the judge because he asked [for] money but I refused his request. Please, please you should transfer me from this jail to a jail that supervises the believers. I also agree with died on cross of my pride. I also agree with the sacrifice [of] my life in public, I will tell the faith in Lord Jesus Christ son of God and other believers will take courage and be strong in their faith. Hundred percent I am stable to my word. I have family of seven – one wife, three daughters and three sons. My big son [is] about eight years old. One of my daughters can’t speak, she has some mental problems.

“This is a request from me to all over the world, people please help me. I could not have any person to help. For [the] sake [of] Lord Jesus Christ please pray and immediately help me and rescue me from this jail. Otherwise, they will kill me, because I know they’re very very very cruel and hard hearted!

“Your destitute brother in the world.

“Please my English writing is not enough good. If I did some mistake please forgive me! From Kabul Provincial jail.””

As I finished reading, I said to myself, “here is my brother Christian teaching  us all how to live our Faith in Jesus Christ!”  Our brother Said is living the passion of our Lord. I pray anew that I too might have such resolve in my daily choices, and I thank the Lord for him, for his testimony (μάρτυς) of faith, that others might believe, and all Christians might be strengthened.

We must support our brother and his family with our prayers, and do what we can in our own sphere of influence to get others to join our efforts to bring justice for Said, and all others who face religious persecution around the world.

It is a call, an echo of little Adam’s cry (the three-year-old Coptic Christian who was killed in Baghdad in December) to end the violence and hatred in the world: “Enough! Enough! Enough!”.

Said, my brother, my prayers are with you, begging that you may be strengthened throughout this unimaginable test of faith, for your perseverance, and for your deliverance. Lord, in your mercy, hear and answer us.


UPDATE: Said Musa was released from prison in February 21st, due to international pressure and human rights groups. Via Persecution.Org. Yet, another Christian convert is behind bars for giving another a Bible. The Christian testimony continues…

Related Posts:

Said Musa’s handwritten letter, posted by the Barnabas Fund

I am in Awe of Such Faith, Matthew Archbold