If you are ever tempted to doubt the good impact one person can make on the world, you should think of St. Paul the Apostle or St. Luke the Evangelist, whose feast we celebrate today. Paul’s letters written in the middle of the first century reflect the turbulent but exciting period of first evangelization carried on by Paul and other missionaries. St. Luke left us his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, which give us insight into the second generation of Christians. These first missionaries were carrying out the commission given by the risen Christ to those gathered in the Upper Room before Pentecost. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
You and I have come to faith in Christ because those early Christians, one by one, witnessed to their faith. Many were ready to leave home and family, to cross-rivers, mountains and even continents, to share their faith. Without their generosity and zeal, how would we have met Christ ourselves?
Now that Pope Benedict has inaugurated the Year of Faith, our Bishops have reminded us that we too are “called to be witnesses.” We might underestimate the importance of our personal witness and think that responsibility is entrusted solely to some official Church ministers. But the same Holy Spirit who enabled the early Christians to draw their unbelieving neighbors to life-giving faith in Christ has been given to us. They faced many obstacles, particularly in the culture of the times.
We too face daunting challenges, more so because many of our fellow Catholics feel that they have known the faith and now find it lacking. It does not meet their modern expectations. I suppose trudging over mountains to bring the faith to a new town was never really easy, but trying to help a non-practicing Catholic relative to understand why you still participate in the Church can also be challenging. Courage! You are only one person but so were Paul and Luke.
“Loving God, our Father, strengthen us to become witnesses to the saving grace of your Son, Jesus, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
(Father Paul Zilonka, C.P. is a Member of the Passionist Preaching Team of St. Paul of the Cross Province).