When St Peter addressed the crowd and spoke vehemently about the wonders of Jesus Christ. The first converts asked St Peter, “What shall we do?” and St Peter replied with conviction, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In his pastoral letter Most Rev Dr Filipe Neri Ferrao, the Archbishop of Goa and Daman, told us how important it is to be a witness of the gospel, and what we must all do to be a fitting and authentic witness.
The letter begins with two accounts of the experience of God-Encounter. Beginning with the experience of the Samaritan Woman, she encounters Jesus unexpectedly but in that encounter, she realizes her faults and vouches to change herself for the Lord. The second account is of St. Paul on the way to Damascus. His experience of the risen Lord fills him with vigour and energy that triggers him to proclaim Christ and become a witness to the Gentiles.
The encounter that one has with the Lord goes through the following three stages i.e. the lasting experience of the supposedly divine experience of the Lord, the transformation that this experience leads to, and the strong witness that one bears of the experience to the world.
Interestingly, the encounter with Jesus has threefold manifestation i.e. one becomes an energetic and charismatic personality, the person’s manifestation itself transcends to the next level, and one keenly observes those who have turned away from the Lord.
Although the witnessing is happening at the present in various ways among the Christian faithful, it doesn’t mean that it has to stop there. It must continue to take place. We must purposefully make efforts to grow and rekindle our faith. The pastoral letter emphasizes the following ten ways, answering the question, “What then must we do?”
Although it is one of a kind experience, we must experience Jesus and His love again and again, and that can happen in our everyday encounter in our personal and community prayers. The personal and community experience than must radiate within the family and community I live with. I must be honest and sincere in what I do. I must be considerate of everyone around me. When at work I must carry on my duties with love. And such families and communities are sure to propagate people of great faith and charity.
Whatsoever we do doesn’t hide under the bushel. Our life is vibrant and therefore people around us observe us, we become examples of joy and hope to everyone around, most especially to those who have left the Church. Who knows our life may someday inspire them to come back to Christ and become an enriching witness? The letter brings to our attention, that, we ought to support efforts by various teams in our diocese. Teams like, Friends of St. Joseph Vaz, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Legion of Mary, and Union of Catholic Apostolate (UAC) who tirelessly work towards promoting the devotions, strengthening the Church and uniting the faithful.
Our society is marred by injustice and inequality. The poor are trampled upon everyday and more so during the times of coronavirus. We see the poor least cared for or least thought about. Thus as witnesses of the just Jesus, we ought to be forerunners of social action and bring out justice to our brethren. The letter strongly reminds us that we are stewards of the creation and not its exploiters, although in the years we have become one. We must safeguard the creation bestowed onto us. Our state is definitely in dilemma for the last few months the reason being the projects announced, which are due to happen at ‘Mollem’. In the name of development, we have failed to think or ruminate on sustainability. Destruction is taking place everywhere across Goa. We may have bridges, awesomely furnished roads, uninterrupted power supply, etc. at one point, but would have lost touch with the creation that surrounds us.
Sadly, our culture and our religion have not yet married and inculturation does exactly that. Our religion must marry the culture we live in. Then our religion will find its space to breathe freely. This would also help have a healthy dialogue with the people around us. Especially, dialogue with the people of different faiths and backgrounds as each of these faiths can lead us to our final destiny. Then some would like to go far away to distant lands as missionaries. So, as a witness, we must train our minds and hearts to work in the missions. Or think about those who are working in the missions and contribute to their welfare.
Finally, what we must do is positively look at the modern media of communication and utilize it to proclaim the good news. Following these steps we are sure to become active members of Christ, bearing Him true witness of ourselves. John Wooden said, “Make a decision! Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all.” It is time we decide to act and be a witness by expressing in various ways after having experienced our divine Lord so as to avoid passivity and laxity. And may our activity please the Lord.