(Editor’s note: The following is the text of Bishop Barry C. Knestout’s address to participants in the ministry leaders’ convocation, Wednesday, May 16, in Glen Allen.)

 

  1. “We have seen the Lord!” – These were the words of the disciples in the upper room to Saint Thomas. He refused to believe and it took the Lord confronting Thomas with his physical appearance and asking him to probe the wounds in his hands and side to overcome his un-belief.

 

  1. “We have seen the Lord!” is a statement of fact. With their own eyes, with their five senses, they encountered the resurrected, physical presence of the Lord in a way that was totally unexpected.

 

  1. This is a statement of shock and excitement – it is a statement that expresses an experience that was so much beyond what any of them imagined, or expected could be possible, that it was seared into their memory and consciousness.

 

  1. After seeing the brutal and harsh scourging and crucifixion of the Lord, witness his death, and the shedding of every drop of his blood, after seeing him placed in the tomb and being there from Friday night until Sunday morning, they knew that he really, truly had died. How could this be that he was now really, truly alive!

 

  1. “We have seen the Lord!” is the sharing of a real and surprising encounter with the Lord. It is not the teaching of a commandment, or instruction in right living, it is not an academic treatise on a topic of philosophy or theology. It is not a scientific description of matter and motion – it is rather the proclamation of a personal encounter.

 

  1. From this encounter the disciples are impelled by the excitement associated with the news, and by the real inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to speak and act in such a way that this news must be shared with others.

 

  1. When any of us encounter an extraordinary event, whether it is a triumph or tragedy and impacts us personally, we recall every detail of where we were, and what we did, and what we saw. The event is seared in our memory and experience and we easily and regularly share that event with others.

 

  1. For example, I remember vividly the details and events associated with my own ordination day, just as many remember their own wedding day or the birth of a children.
    1. It seems at times to have just occurred yesterday, so vivid are the recollections, from the heat and humidity of the late June day, the coolness of the floor during the litany and prostration, the smell of the sacred chrism as my hands were anointed, the ill-fitting vestments after the anointing, the whirlwind and exhaustion of the first blessings and reception and first Mass, all come to my memory with ease and immediacy.

 

  1. In a time of tragedy, many of us can recall clearly where we were at and in what detail things unfolded.

 

  1. With any vivid encounter in our minds, we try to help others know today what that encounter was like back then, in the fullness of its details as well as all the emotions surrounding it.

 

  1. We each have stories of how we came to believe and accept our faith in the Lord. We remember in what ways we have “Seen the Lord!”.

 

  1. For some it was a very gradual process. The building of faith and formative experience over many days, months or even years.

 

  1. For others it was some dramatic experience that changed the way we look at ourselves, our lives and our relationships with those around us. It was something that was profoundly formative and transformative for us in the faith and all our actions and choices since then have been affected.

 

  1. We each have stories to tell of how we first came to know the Lord, as well as how he reveals himself in new and vibrant ways regularly after knowing him.

 

  1. We have seen him in many ways, usually in a vocations story or in a personal challenge that was overcome with the aid of faith or the spiritual insights of others who love us. We have seen him in the ordinary, and we have seen him in the extraordinary.

 

  1. We all have these sorts of experiences, and from these experiences comes a driving desire and longing, a zeal, to share what we have seen.

 

  1. When we share these experiences, we are not just conveying information or knowledge or teaching, we are sharing a personal encounter and an experience that has affected our entire person, it has affected our understanding, our outlook on life, the decisions we make and the people to whom we relate.

 

  1. We see in these experiences the important distinction. It is the difference between being a teacher and being a witness.

 

  1. When our attention and fascination is captured by a story that is interesting and expresses with truth, time seems to fly by and we are engrossed by and immersed in the story.

 

  1. When we are listening to someone sharing simply “information” without “experience”, it is like watching the slides of someone else’s vacation experience, the time drags on. We only recall and remember what was shared with great effort.

 

  1. This is the difference between bringing information and bringing experience to another person, between teaching and witnessing.

 

  1. All this is to remind us that although we are all teachers, and teaching is an important and significant part of what we are called to do, if we want the information we share to have a resonance and impact and authority to those we are teaching, it must be authentic and therefore it must also be a witness to what we have experienced and believe. We are called to be teachers, but first we must be witnesses.

 

  1. Evangelii nuntiandi, published by Blessed Paul VI on 8 December 1975 said this:—

 

  1. “The importance of the witness of life, before any word is spoken by mouth. Only witness makes one credible, touches the mind and heart, unsettles”

 

  1. (to use a word dear to Paul VI. Here he inserts in an official document a well-chosen expression that he had used in a, so to speak, private form.)

 

  1. “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses”. It is the Christian witness of solidarity, of goodness, of consistency that prompts in others the profound questions which only the Gospel can answer. Even when one is not involved in pastoral ministry or culture and does not know how to speak, every Christian evangelizes if he bears witness to what he believes.”

 

  1. Saint John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio on December 7, 1990 said this: The First Form of Evangelization Is Witness

 

  1. “42. People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers,69 in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories. The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission: Christ, whose mission we continue, is the “witness” par excellence (Rv 1:5; 3:14) and the model of all Christian witness. The Holy Spirit accompanies the Church along her way and associates her with the witness he gives to Christ (cf. Jn 15:26-27).”

 

  1. In the USCCB’s resource for Evangelization published in 2017, entitled “Living as missionary disciples” – called us to the New Evangelization which means personal experience that involves 1) encounter, 2) accompaniment, 3) community and 4) sending.

 

  1. First: Encounter: The purpose of evangelization is to lead others to encounter Christ, not just to know about him.

 

  1. This encounter occurs in the context of our most personal relationships, of Family, Friends and Church.

 

  1. Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, says this: “127. Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound missionary renewal, there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbors or complete strangers. This is the informal preaching which takes place in the middle of a conversation, something along the lines of what a missionary does when visiting a home.”

 

  1. “Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.”

 

  1. “128. In this preaching, which is always respectful and gentle, the first step is personal dialogue, when the other person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs.”

 

  1. “Only afterwards is it possible to bring up God’s word, perhaps by reading a Bible verse or relating a story, but always keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship.”

 

  1. Second: To Accompany: The response to the encounter with Christ is accompaniment:

 

  1. In Evangelii Gaudium #46. Pope Francis says this: “A Church which “goes forth” is a Church whose doors are open. Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world.

 

  1. Initially evangelizing is about being “with” someone, not in opposition to them or in dominance over them. This is not about winning or loosing. It is about walking together on the road to Emmaus. (It is not a competition where we need to conquer the others errors or views.)

 

  • Evangelization is effective if they (the person we are encountering) see in us a recognition of their dignity and worth. It is a respect for their present experience, even if that experience is broken or lacking in some way.

 

  1. Being with another and accompanying them without an interest to effect or change through the building of trust leads to the occasion of witness, teaching and convincing of the truth of the teaching.

 

  1. Third: connect with Community: Effective Evangelization invites people into the life of the Church, into the Body of Christ. It is only when one is grafted to the vine that the life of the Holy Spirit can start to flow through one’s life.

 

  1. It is in the sacraments of initiation where the effects of the encounter and accompaniment bear fruit. When the liturgy of the church especially weekly Mass is celebrated well, with faith and life and music and well-prepared readings and homilies, then not only is the community built up, but those who come struggling with faith and discerning faith are also helped.

 

  1. Invitation, Welcome and Hospitality, are practical keys to strengthening the body of Christ, not only of those who are already a part of the community, but also of those hesitant and looking on from a distance.

 

  1. Fourth: Sending out to the margins: Evangelization leads us to accept God’s call to go out on mission. At the World Youth Day in July of 2013, in his Homily, Pope Francis said this to young people: These words are applicable today for this conference:

 

  1. “Go and make disciples of all nations”. With these words, Jesus is speaking to each one of us, saying: “It was wonderful to take part in (World Youth Day)(this conference), to live the faith together with young people from the four corners of the earth, but now you must go, now you must pass on this experience to others.” Jesus is calling you to be a disciple with a mission! Today, in the light of the word of God that we have heard, what is the Lord saying to us? What is the Lord saying to us? Three simple ideas: Go, do not be afraid, and serve.

 

  1. Careful, though! Jesus did not say: “go, if you would like to, if you have the time”, but he said: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Sharing the experience of faith, bearing witness to the faith, proclaiming the Gospel: this is a command that the Lord entrusts to the whole Church, and that includes you; but it is a command that is born not from a desire for domination, from the desire for power, but from the force of love, from the fact that Jesus first came into our midst and did not give us just a part of himself, but he gave us the whole of himself, he gave his life in order to save us and to show us the love and mercy of God. Jesus does not treat us as slaves, but as people who are free, as friends, as brothers and sisters; and he not only sends us, he accompanies us, he is always beside us in our mission of love.

 

  1. In Evangelii Gaudium #120 Pope Francis says this: “120. In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients.

 

  1. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.

 

  1. If we are not convinced, let us look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: “We have found the Messiah!” (Jn 1:41). The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans come to believe in him “because of the woman’s testimony” (Jn 4:39). So too, Saint Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, “immediately proclaimed Jesus” (Acts 9:20; cf. 22:6-21). So what are we waiting for?