In 2008, I was part of the 23rd World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia. Many of our youth and young adults who participated encountered the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in their lives in a profound way — so profound that it changed their lives forever. They met the person of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit in a way they had never known!
The theme for that WYD was taken from Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.”
At the heart of stewardship is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In the U.S. Bishops’ pastoral letter on stewardship, “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response,” they note stewardship is “fundamentally the work of the Spirit in our lives. When we accept our lives as sheer gifts, the Spirit can use us as instruments for spreading the Gospel. Wherever the Spirit works, there is joy. Good stewards are always the joyful bearers of the Good News of salvation.”
I will never forget that 13-hour bus ride from Melbourne to Sydney. Time flew as I heard witness talk after witness talk from our youth, young adults and adult leaders. Their amazing stories of what Jesus was doing in their lives gave me much hope. Their desire to know Jesus and to live Jesus in their lives was a powerful testimony that changed my life.
Last summer, I had a similar experience on another bus trip, this time coming back from the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference in Denver. Hearing our youth and adults testify and give witness to one another of how they encounter the presence of Jesus in their lives was electrifying.
It’s true. When you open your heart to Christ and surrender to his will, you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit will touch your heart — so much so that you will want to testify, give witness and to share this encounter with others.
I am not sure why we as Catholics are so hesitant to testify and give witness to what Jesus is doing in our lives. It seems that our relationship with Christ becomes a private matter — a matter between Jesus and me rather than an encounter to be shared. That sharing has the potential to ignite the hearts of others through our own personal story of Jesus.
When Paul was in prison, he wrote a letter to Philemon encouraging him to be faithful to the Gospel so that its power might be effective and bear fruit in the lives of God’s people. In a sense Paul is saying, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith.”
The stewardship initiative in our diocese — through a life of generous hospitality, a lively faith and dedicated discipleship — is nothing more than sharing our faith in Christ with others. It is all about being willing to be a witness and to testify to what the Lord is doing in our lives. It is putting our faith into practice.
Pope Francis, in a daily homily at the Saint Martha House where he lives, said that “living the Christian life is simple: listen to God’s word and put it into practice. These are the two conditions in order to follow Jesus, hear the word of God and put it into practice. This is the Christian life, nothing more … simple, easy.”
This past year the Office of Stewardship has been developing a new ministry in our diocese — the training and sending out of lay witnesses to every parish. This past month some of you experienced having lay witness speakers in your parish. Our plan is that every parish in our diocese will experience a lay witness speaker three times year, with the hope of building up to four times a year.
The purpose of the lay witness testimony is to inspire people to accept the invitation to live a life as a Christian steward through a life of generous hospitality, a lively faith, and a dedicated discipleship. Lay witnesses have a simple message — to share their own personal stories of living the life of being a faithful steward. Lay witnesses convey powerful stories of transformation. Hearing personal stories can lead to changes of heart and bring about authentic conversion.
During the next several months, I will go into more detail about this exciting new ministry in our diocese. Remember: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.”