Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
April 19, 2015
Third Sunday of Easter
“God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.” Acts 3:15
When a case goes to trial, witnesses are important. Every defense or prosecuting attorney knows that the argument can rise or fall on the credibility of the witnesses. The attorneys must choose their witnesses carefully, because everything depends on whether or not the judge and jury believe the witnesses.
The Church at its beginning was equally concerned about the importance of witnesses. The Church knew that the Jews always required at least two witnesses. To cite only one example from the Old Testament, the Book of Numbers reads: “One witness alone shall not take the stand against a man in regard to any crime or any offense of which he may be guilty; a judicial fact shall be established only on the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Numbers 19:15). To maintain anything important, there had to be more than one witness, and what was more important than the preaching of the Gospel!
Because the good news was so important, the Sacred Scriptures always stressed the presence of witnesses. Take for example our first reading that records an early proclamation by St. Peter. St. Peter says, “The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15). The apostles themselves have seen the resurrected Lord. They give witness to the listeners of the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection.
Even in our Gospel we hear of this importance of witness. The Gospel begins with the witness of two disciples. “The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). Jesus appears in their midst, shows them His hands and His feet, proves that He is no ghost by eating a fish in front of them, and then challenges them by saying, “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48). Jesus suffered, died, and rose for the forgiveness of sins and this must be preached to all nations. “You are witnesses.”
God Himself begins with witness. It is God who chooses to reveal Himself. Man does not invent God. It is God who initiates the communication. This simple fact is what makes the Jewish-Christian religion different from every other religion of the world. As God will say in the Book of Deuteronomy, “Assemble all your tribal elders and your officials before me, that I may speak these words for them to hear” (Deuteronomy 31:28). God makes Himself the witness to His own words. And then God sends His own Son to witness to Him. Jesus will tell Pilate in that ultimate trial, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (John 18:37). Like His Father, Jesus gives testimony to Himself. And when Jesus has ascended and is no longer physically visible, the Holy Spirit will take over this witness. Jesus will say, “When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27). It is that Advocate that fills the apostles and their disciples to continue the work of witness. The truth cannot die, cannot be lost, cannot be compromised, because the Spirit insures that the witness is legitimate.
We believe today what is the truth today because of witness. That witness has been transported over the centuries by the work of the Holy Spirit within the Church. The truth of what we believe does not rest on the preaching of someone who was not there. The truth of what we profess is not the invention of yesterday or passing fashion.
For this reason I find the world can be a puzzling place today. So many are, in the words of St. Paul, “tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interest of deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). There is no focus, no center, and certainly no witness. Truth is made relative. Definition means nothing. Nothing is certain except that nothing is certain. It is world where fashion, style, and fads are more important than facts, principles, and truth. It is a world that desperately needs a witness, committed Christian witness to values that last and guide and do not vanish with the next reality show or popular novel.
To this committed Christian witness Christ called His apostles. He knew that the truth had to be preached. And it is to that same committed Christian witness, within a living Tradition, that Christ calls us.
Bishop Glen John Provost