I have attended many gatherings of Protestant Christians wherein someone is invited to "give a witness" or to "testify". These people then speak, often with great passion, about an encounter with God or a way in which God touched their lives. Sometimes these witness talks contain questionable theology or dubious interpretations. Yet the overall effect is that the community is constantly being reminded of God’s presence and power in the world.
Where is the equivalent of this in the Catholic Church?
We hear scripture readings (provided we listen to them attentively) and they certainly testify to God. We hear homilies that hopefully help break open the Word and challenge us to see how it applies in our daily lives. But I can’t remember the last time I heard a Catholic person stand up in a gathering and witness to their faith if they weren’t the paid speaker for the event.
Quite to the contrary, Catholics I know are intensely reluctant to testify to their faith. We avoid the topic outside of the church building, and if someone else starts talking about faith, we quietly move away from that group.
I do not absolve myself. I constantly speak of my faith in public in the context of the missions, retreats, training sessions, and workshops I offer all over the country. Yet in a group of people where I am unsure of the religious affiliation or leanings, I am much more reluctant to open my mouth. At professional conferences that are not explicitly faith-based, I am guarded about my beliefs and religious affiliation.
Are we silent disciples missing something important? Where is the line between inappropriate or theologically shaky testimony, and honestly witnessing to the power of God and faith in our lives? How often have I too easily surrendered to the desire not to "offend" anyone or the fear of being labeled as a religious fanatic? How many people have remained untouched by God because I refused to allow God to work through me to reach them? If I don’t open my mouth, how can God’s healing and loving word be spoken in a world so desperately in need?
Jesus warned us that not everyone would listen, and even fewer would agree. He did not say this was an excuse to keep our mouths shut. Are we listening? Are we speaking?
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.