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Bearing Witness to Christ
St. James the Greater, one of the apostles, was called greater to distinguish him from the other apostle of the same name who was called Less, perhaps because he was smaller in size or younger in age. Saint James the Greater stands out because he was the first apostle to suffer martyrdom. Eleven years after Jesus spoke the words of our text, "You also will bear witness," Saint James so by giving his life.
An acquaintance of James went out of his way to accuse our saint of being a Christian. At the trial his courage, fearlessness, and constancy impressed his accuser so deeply that the latter repented. Publicly he too declared himself a Christian and was condemned to death together with the apostle.
As Saint James and his repentant accuser were led forth to execution, the latter begged pardon of Saint James, who turned to him, embraced him and exclaimed:
“Peace be with you.”
He then kissed him, and both were beheaded. The Bible describes this death very briefly: “Agrippa killed James, the brother of John, with the sword.” (Acts 12: 2).
By his death Saint James bore glorious witness to Christ. He not only gave part of his life; he gave all his life.
What do we mean by bearing witness? A witness is one who testifies in a court or at a trial. He proves, or attempts to prove, certain facts, statements, or circumstances. To bear witness or testimony means to make a solemn statement or an affirmation that some thing took place or some word actually was spoken. Bearing witness means to offer evidence, valid, worthy evidence.
In the case of the followers of Christ, from the apostles on down, bearing witness means that by our words and by our actions we:
1. prove and testify that what Christ claims to be, He really is.
2. prove that the Gospel is His word, and
3. prove that the Church and the sacraments are the work of Christ.
The apostles gave glorious testimony to Christ:
1. By their preaching. On the first Pentecost we see Saint Peter fearlessly preaching the faith. All the other apostles in different lands gave of their energies and talents to spread the word of God.
2. By their miracles. In those early days miracles were necessary to establish the infant Church. God gave His messengers the gift of tongues. God gave them the power of healing sickness and disease.
3. By dying for Christ. With the single exception of Saint John, who died a natural death, all the apostles bore witness to Christ by their blood. They suffered martyrdom for their Master. And martyr means literally a witness, one who by his death bears witness to the truth of what Christ said.
But those words of Jesus, “You also will bear witness,” were spoken not only to the apostles, they were spoken to us. We also must bear witness to Christ in our own day and way. How do we back up Christ's life and teaching?
1. By our words. When we openly profess that we believe in Christ and His teachings, we are bearing witness.
2. When we praise the goodness and virtues of Christ, His miracles and wonderful works, we bear witness.
3. We also testify to Christ when we tell and teach others about Him and what He taught.
4. Almost every day someone asks you about a certain belief or practice of the Church Christ founded. Giving an understandable answer or explanation is to show Christ to them who know Him not.
5. We bear witness by following Christ's example, by practicing the virtues He recommended. For example, a few years ago a local Presbyterian minister went out of his way to praise in a sermon a certain Catholic woman who had been very friendly to a Presbyterian neighbor, an elderly lady, who appreciated the kindness so much she told her minister about it. He told his congregation. That Catholic woman was bearing witness to Christ, putting our Lord's words into practice.
6. True witnesses to Christ will make sacrifices for their faith. They will, for example, take time to attend special services and devotions, especially the Rosary.
Ordinarily God does not ask martyrdom of all of us, but He does ask some sacrifice. Let us suppose it is Friday and you are invited to a meal of meat. Tactfully, courteously, but firmly you tell your host that you don't eat meat on Friday, in order to share in the sufferings of our Savior. You are bearing witness.
Incidentally, those outside the Church respect you when you keep the rules and regulations. They despise you when you weakly violate them.
In particular Christ asks us to sacrifice our evil inclinations. He asks us to forget human respect and our own self-will. He asks us to sacrifice some of our means and our time. Every one of you can see that the chances for bearing witness to Christ are without number.
You and I represent the Church Christ founded. By our words, by our actions, by our explanations of our faith we tell the world:
“I represent the Catholic Church. I represent the teachings and life of Christ. I represent Christ Himself.”
St. James the Greater, the other apostles, the martyrs, and the good people down the centuries have born witness to Christ. So must you and I.
© 2003 – Victor R. Claveau
Part or all of this article may be reproduced without obtaining permission as long as the author is cited.
"There is no soil so barren but that
diligent tenderness brings forth some fruit."
-St. Francis de Sales