IN A NUTSHELL
Being witnesses to the good news of Easter means being able and willing simply to share a bit of our story, to give testimony from our experience.
For those Catholics who were received into the church last Easter, the ensuing months brought opportunities to deepen their bourgeoning faith and live out their Christian call to witness.
The encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus prepares the two disciples to be Jesus' witnesses to the ends of the earth.
We are witnesses
By Marcellino D'Ambrosio | Catholic News Service
In the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and all the popes since, we hear over and over again that evangelization is the primary task of the church. In fact, in 1990, St. John Paul II declared, "I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the church's energies to a new evangelization."
What's more, we are also told that all of us, regardless of personality type or skill set, are called to be evangelizers. This generally makes Catholics squirm. Most of us feel unsuited, unprepared, incompetent. Can't we leave this to the clergy and the religious education professionals?
The universal call to be evangelizers is nothing new. It comes from Jesus himself and was issued that first Easter morning. He commands the women who are the first to discover the empty tomb to "go tell" the disciples what they have seen and experienced (Mt 28:10).
Then it's the turn of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who hasten back to Jerusalem to tell the apostles what happened to them (Lk 24). A few weeks later, the apostles are told by the Lord that they will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Like Moses, we protest that we are not eloquent enough. And we point out that we don't know theology well enough to refute all arguments and demonstrate the truth of the faith. And we certainly are not saints yet ... our moral imperfections are, in fact, most embarrassing.
Yet Jesus chose witnesses who were uneducated and highly imperfect. It is unlikely that either the apostles or Mary Magdalene had theology degrees from Jerusalem Rabbinical Academy. And, when it comes to sanctity, all but the mother of Jesus fall a bit short.
Mary Magdalene, just a year or two prior to the Resurrection, had been running around in the company of seven demons. Peter denied Jesus three times just a few days before Easter morning. And they all, save the beloved disciple, had abandoned Jesus as he was dragged from the garden and nailed to the cross.
Yet he nonetheless commissioned these highly flawed people to take the good news to all nations.
To explain why they were and we are capable of doing this, let's analyze the role of a witness in a law court.
A witness is not charged with making a coherent, comprehensive case for or against someone who is on trial. The witness is simply called upon to answer a series of questions of what he or she has seen or heard. The role of witnesses is simply to tell, when prompted, their experience.
Mary Magdalene and the apostles were eyewitnesses of the risen Christ. More than 500 disciples shared in this experience, according to Paul (1 Cor 15). They could bear witness to seeing him bodily. We today obviously cannot.
But the Gospel, the good news, is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all sin is forgiven. He, who will be the judge, died to acquit us all. People have only to accept this forgiveness to experience freedom and profound peace.
Peter, Thomas, Mary Magdalene and all of them knew the sweetness of his forgiveness in the face of the bitterness of their sin. And so do we.
Though the fullness of the risen life is yet to come for us, we have experienced being reborn through the resurrection of Jesus and his gift of the Holy Spirit, the down payment of the treasure reserved for us in heaven.
So how do we know the resurrection of Jesus is for real? Because we experience its effect in our lives now through the peace and joy brought by the Holy Spirit, our Easter gift.
The greeting of the Lord to the apostles gathered in the cenacle on Easter Sunday afternoon was "peace be with you." It's true that on Pentecost (Acts 2), it was Peter who gave the speech. But it was the uncontainable joy and excitement of the 120 disciples that had drawn the crowd (Acts 1).
We all have experienced something of the Lord's mercy, the power of his forgiveness, the movement of the Spirit. Each one of us has a story of the impact of Easter on our lives.
Being witnesses to the good news of Easter means being able and willing simply to share a bit of our story, to give testimony from our experience. People can argue with opinions and reasoning. But they really can't argue with someone's experience.
If you want your words to be credible, take a look at your life. It need not be perfect. If you are like anyone else, your life is full of unresolved problems, unanswered prayers and faults of various shapes and sizes.
But if there is a quiet peace beneath the chaos, if there is joy despite the trials, your words will get the attention of many.
And especially, if your face reflects the love of the Father ("For God so loved the world ..."), if people can feel from you the genuine interest and affection that the Father has for you and for them, then your testimony will have a great chance of touching hearts and inspiring faith.
D'Ambrosio, aka "Dr. Italy," writes from Texas. For more info about his resources and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, visit dritaly.com or connect with him on Twitter @DrItaly.
New members of the church reflect on the past year
By Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick | Catholic News Service
On average, over 100,000 people enter the Catholic Church every year in the U.S. For those who were received into the church last Easter, the ensuing months brought opportunities to deepen their bourgeoning faith and live out their Christian call to witness.
For Emilee Urichich, a junior at Thomas More College in Kentucky, her conversion has led her to acts of service. She regularly volunteers at Be Concerned, a ministry that provides groceries to the elderly and to the homeless, and a soup kitchen, both in Covington, Kentucky. The life of St. Teresa of Kolkata provides her with inspiration.
"Over the summer, I finished one of St. Mother Teresa's books. I really like how she connected with everyone and saw God in everyone, even if they were just covered in sores. She wanted to be a follower and disciple of Jesus and show that to the world. I thought that was something I could really learn from," she said.
Specifically, Mother Teresa has helped Urichich to see Christ in all those she encounters. "Mother Teresa was focused on seeing people as who they are in Christ, instead of seeing people for what they've done or what their situation is. She was interested in really helping Jesus. He's in the poor and sickly, and he needs a helping hand."
Urichich now sees her life through eyes of service, bolstered by continued growth in the faith, Mass and eucharistic adoration. "It really changed my career path. I've always wanted to focus on just learning as much as I can, but after my conversion, I've focused more on what I can do to help others."
Daniel Alvarado, from St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Oklahoma City, agreed that his life has been redirected. "Joining the church has given me focus where I didn't have one before. It has reoriented everything in my life to asking myself, 'What can I do with my life to serve Christ? What talents was I going to employ for myself that I can use for him?' These questions are always at the forefront of my mind."
The change in his life has been noticeable to family and friends. "It's been a 180 with what I have done with my life, what I believe, the way I think. My parents have noticed."
The simple witness of a person changed by faith is profound. "I've been steering my parents and my brother to join me in going to Mass. I bring up conversations where I know they are seeking something, and they can't find it somewhere else, even though they are difficult conversations to have."
Alvarado, who plans to join the parish choir, "hopes to become more of a help to the parish, in whatever way is put into my path."
Since being received into the church, Shawn Bailey has become more active in St. Thomas More Parish in Denver, which he was already attending with his wife and four children. Bailey assists with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and with Scouts, as well as making a point to attend parish events like Friday fish fries and adult education classes.
Bailey said his views on many social issues changed as he learned more about the church's view, notably his view on forgiveness. "Forgiveness is huge. Our culture tells us that you should hold grudges and be mad at people forever, and now I understand what a terrible poison that is. Obviously, it's still hard to do, but at least I understand what the right thing to do is and why," he said.
Joining the church has positively impacted Bailey's family life. Bailey and his wife convalidated their marriage on their 17th wedding anniversary last July.
"It's changed my family life a lot," he said. "We didn't pray too much before, but I pray at least with my two older boys every night. Mass together is much more meaningful. Hopefully, I'm being a decent example for my children, though I tell them I'm not perfect."
Scaperlanda Biddick is a freelance journalist.
Emmaus and the Scriptures
By Nancy de Flon |Catholic News Service
On the first Easter Sunday, two of Jesus' disciples, disillusioned by the events of the past three days, set out from Jerusalem for Emmaus, several miles away. En route they meet a stranger who appears totally unaware of what has transpired in Jerusalem.
Jesus, they tell the "stranger," was "a prophet mighty in deed and word," an earthly hero who, they hoped, would "redeem Israel," and they seem skeptical about the report of the empty tomb and the women's "vision of angels."
They invite the stranger to stay with them, because evening draws near. As they sit down to a meal, he takes, blesses and breaks the bread -- and "their eyes (are) opened" and they recognize Jesus.
Suddenly, he vanishes.
Despite the distance they have already traveled, they return immediately to Jerusalem to tell the others their amazing news.
When their eyes are opened it isn't merely a matter of recognition but of enlightenment.
When they recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread they see more than a mighty prophet: They see the risen Lord.
Once again Jesus has proven himself "mighty in deed and Word." The two disciples recognize him in the breaking of the bread -- the deed -- but they were prepared by his words as he "interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures."
Their journey has been both a physical journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus and a journey of spiritual enlightenment as they encounter the risen Lord. But this encounter isn't simply a happy reunion; it prepares them to be Jesus's witnesses to the ends of the earth. They had a journey to make -- now they have a story to tell.
The next stage of their journey takes them to the place of Jesus' ascension into heaven, and then to the upper room in Jerusalem, where the Holy Spirit will empower them to fulfill the Lord's command to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
This command extends to us as well. And we, too, need to have our eyes opened. Jesus' explanation of the prophecies presupposed the disciples' familiarity with the Scriptures. How do we get started?
Catholics are blessed to belong to a liturgical church, in which the daily and weekly readings are predetermined according to the feasts and seasons, so that over the course of a year the entire paschal mystery, explained and recounted by the New Testament and set into a wider context by the Old Testament, unfolds before us.
There is, as I've heard said, a "certain humility" in letting ourselves be thus guided in our reading of the Scriptures -- rather than picking a passage from the Bible at random and reading it independently of any context.
A variety of resources, in print and online, is available to help us read the day's Readings before the Mass, many of which have commentaries to further our understanding.
At the liturgy we are fed by the Word as well as at the eucharistic table. Reading and reflecting on the Word ensures that we get the most out of the banquet God sets before us.
De Flon is editor-at-large at Paulist Press and the author of "The Joy of Praying the Psalms."
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
St. Mary Magdalene is often called the "apostle to the apostles." She is the first to see the resurrected Lord on Easter morning, and Jesus commissions her to tell the other disciples what she has seen.
In John's Gospel, Jesus instructs her, "Go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'" (20:17).
She announces to the stunned disciples, "I have seen the Lord" (20:18).
In 2016, Pope Francis raised the July 22 memorial of Mary Magdalene to a feast on the liturgical calendar.
Mary Magdalene is "an evangelist who proclaims the central joyous message of Easter," Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary for the Congregation for Divine Worship, wrote in the Vatican newspaper.
Her feast day is a call for all Christians to "reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the new evangelization and the greatness of the mystery of divine mercy," he said.
"She announces to the apostles what they in turn will announce to all the world," the archbishop wrote. She is a "messenger who announces the good news of the resurrection of the Lord," he said.
Therefore, it is fitting and right that her liturgical celebration be given the same level as the Twelve Apostles, he said.
Mary Magdalene's witness is "an example and model to every woman in the church," Archbishop Roche concluded. [[In-content Ad]]