Still, we can choose to just live our lives quietly, privately trying our best to get to Heaven. Personal, isolated Christianity is just fine.
Well, not really. Christianity in isolation is a contradiction.
Near the end of the Latin Mass (which so many in my generation heard every day as school children) the Priest said “Ite, missa est.”The response then, as it is today, was Deo Gratias, thanks be to God. “Ite, missa est” is literally translated “Go, the sending forth is” or “Go, the dismissal is made.”
This is not an announcement like the “The End” at the end of a play or a movie so you can leave a theater.
Missa is from the Latin verb mittere, which means to send or to dispatch, as in sending on a mission. The word “Mass” itself is derived from this ancient Latin word missa. Christ, speaking through His Priest acting in persona Christi, is not simply saying Mass is over.
He is saying to you, “Go out from here because this mission is now yours.” He is commissioning each person present to go forth and tell the world about the good news of the gospel embodied in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Jesus gave everyone this commission after His resurrection. Each of us is to be both witness and proclaimer of the gospel. Unless you are a hermit, a cloistered nun, or a contemplative anchoress, part of your job as a Catholic Christian is to evangelize all nations:
“Then He said to them: Go all of you into the whole world, and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)
Over and over again Holy Scripture teems with instances in which people did not merely speak. They spoke out, publicly, often putting their very lives in jeopardy.
Of course the primary example of speaking out is the bold word of Jesus himself, speaking out again and again. It literally put Him on the Cross. Angels, shepherds, a centurion, persons cured of all sorts of diseases, even demons speak out about the Son of God and the gospel good news. God the Father himself speaks out about His Son in whom He is “well pleased.”
Three particularly pertinent examples for us today are John the Baptist, Apostles Peter and John, and Dismas, the good thief.
John the Baptist publicly called Pharisees and Sadducees “vipers.” He stood outside the walls of Herod’s palace, in public, and spoke truth to power about the sanctity of marriage. He spoke out about Herod’s sinful actions. For this “political incorrectness” he was beheaded after Herod made a drunken promise to a dancing girl.
Peter and John, after Pentecost, began preaching in Jerusalem. Following Peter’s cure of a lame beggar at the Temple, the Jewish leaders had Peter and John arrested. “And summoning them, they charged them not to speak or to teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:18)
The apostles’ defiant response resonates today when the powerful seek to silence those who practice their religion publicly by speaking out. “Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, decide for yourselves. For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.’” (Acts 4:19-20).
Following their arrest, Peter and the apostles told the High Priest, before the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) Later the apostles and their companions prayed a communal prayer, appropriate for our day, which said, in part: “And now Lord, take note of their threats, and grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness.” (Acts 5:29)
Saint Dismas, the Good Thief, died on Calvary, Our Lord’s companion in crucifixion. Scripture tells us he spoke out from his cross, a protoevangelist of the gospel, boldly saying that Jesus was Lord and King. For this Jesus told him he would be with Him that day in paradise.
Jesus honors each person who speaks out for Him: “Therefore, everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge them before my father.” (Matthew 10:32)
Jesus’s commission of each Catholic to speak out is echoed in the documents of Vatican II and in Canon Law:
“Each individual layman must stand before the world as a witness to the resurrection and life of the Lord Jesus and a symbol of the living God.”(Dogmatic Constitution on the Church)
“Lay people have a right to make their opinion known…In accord with the knowledge, competence, and preeminence which they possess, lay people have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful.” (Code of Canon Law, 907)
Perhaps where you are right now you cannot evangelize all the nations, not even one nation. But even so, you can proclaim, you can speak out about your faith and your hope every day, no matter who you are, no matter what you do.
Until recently I kept my mouth shut about my faith, even around other Catholics. I was certainly silent out in public. Not any more. With the changes happening in our country and our world, if we shut up, it’s over. “The world rulers of this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12) will triumph.
Here are some short words that you can say to anyone – at the grocery store, while pumping gas, in line at the post office, over the phone with a stranger, or talking to the people at the fast food drive through window. They are short words, but words with “speaking out” impact:
God bless you.
See you in heaven.
No matter what service or courtesy they have done for you, you can preface “God bless you” or “See you in Heaven” with “Thank you.”
Don’t be shy, don’t hesitate, just say it. Almost always I get a reply or a reaction. “I am blessed” or “God bless you too” are very common. In response to “see you in heaven” many folks say something like, “Yes sir, we will be there together.” Often I have replied that if they don’t see me after looking around up there, to remember the recipe for ice water and send some down to me. Usually I am assured (since they don’t know me and know my firm belief in purgatory) that I won’t need that cold drink.
More often than not folks begin to talk about their faith, or God, or the blessings in their lives, or how they are loved. And then they thank you for speaking to them. Do it once or twice and what happens will blow you away spiritually.
This prayer of St. Paul will spur you on: “Pray that when I open my mouth utterance may be granted to me fearlessly to make known the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador.” (Ephesians 6:19-20)
You can do this. You can speak out.