The word ‘witness’ is used a lot, but what does it mean?
It can be somewhat intimidating, because in Catholic circles our first instinct is to hear it as ‘doing apologetics’. And that has to be something that takes a good bit of training and study, right? You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight and you don’t step into a debate about religion without knowing your stuff. But is that the essence of what it means to witness?
It is probably something a lot simpler than that. It is less like one person trying to get his point across (being unquestionably convincing in their arguments), and more like one beggar just trying to tell another beggar where the feast is. It really isn’t about arguments at all. Certain topics and issues of conversation might come up along the way of witnessing (and that is all good), but we must keep in mind that apologetics is not the same thing as evangelization.
Apologetics does require some study, intellectual formation and knowing of your stuff. Now, that’s all needed and helpful stuff – it’s good to know that your faith makes reasonable sense. But witnessing (i.e. evangelization) requires only one thing – encounter. If you have encountered Jesus, you are automatically His witness, no further qualification required.
If apologetics says, “This is why what I believe makes sense,” evangelization says, “I know this sounds ridiculous, but, I know Him and, I’m telling you, He is so real. Come meet the one who is too good to be true!” If apologetics is a defense of the faith, witnessing simply asks, “Have you met Jesus?” If apologetics takes a fair amount of skill and talent, witnessing takes a touched life and a pulse (and maybe not even the latter).
Apologetics is something you have to be an adult to do, but witnessing is something you must remain a child to truly do; because, by witnessing I say, “Honestly, I know I don’t know much; but, if it is possible to know anything at all, I know this: Jesus is real, I have met Him in the depth of my heart, I have a relationship with Him and it is so unbelievably worth it to give Him everything.”
Witnessing really never says much more than that. Witnessing doesn’t try to convince. It simply tells of a life-changing encounter, and let’s the Holy Spirit do the rest. If apologetics may be characterized as dealing with certain intellectual ‘problems’ (i.e. principally about clarity), witnessing/evangelization is characterized by an encounter with mystery. In witnessing we simply want to make ourselves the possible mysterious staging ground for someone’s encounter with the Holy One, with Jesus.
Witnessing is more about letting someone see a depth and mystery in you that you can’t quite see yourself. In simply giving witness to the Person you have met and the difference He makes in your life, you allow a certain stab of beauty – a certain sound of far-off music heard long ago but never quite forgotten, a remembrance of Eden that is buried deep in our human souls – to awaken in the one who hears you. You allow that person to not just see evidence, but to be bedazzled. And, honestly, it rarely feels like that happens. But, it does. And a soul can only stand so much of God’s wooing barrage before it surrenders.
Nothing separates, perhaps, he who believes from he who does not believe, except this: not reasons, of course, not some certainty (as if it were a matter of some sort of nervous or magical influx), but merely believing despite the belief that one does not believe. To believe in Love, and that Love loves me in spite of my belief that “I don’t have faith”; in other words, to put more confidence in the Love that is given than in our deficient will; to compensate the distrust in oneself with trust in God; to prefer the immensity of the gift proposed (at the risk of failure to receive it through lack of capacitas) to the certainty of assumed impotence (at the price of suicide by a self-satisfaction resigned to nothingness); to make up one’s mind in favor of the infinite that one cannot master or possess rather than the dandy’s impotence; to risk abandon to the overabundance of a gift, instead of immobilizing oneself in the idiocracy of scarcity. (Jean-Luc Marion)
Conversion comes by saying ‘yes’ in the face of your unbelief – despite how much you believe in your ability to believe. It is a monumental act, and yet, the smallest of abysses, like Adam needing to just lift his finger.
And what provides the impetuous for one to make that herculean act of the will?
And they have conquered [the accuser] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Rev 12:11, emphasis added)
We really overcomplicate things, huh? How simple witnessing (and, thus, the mission of the Church) really is.
According to the Lord, the present time is the time of the Spirit and of witness… (CCC #672)