From the Rooftops!
Have I shared with you my pet peeve before? It occurs all-to-often at sporting events during the playing of the National Anthem. The singer reaches the powerful high note at the words “O’er the Land of the Free” and the crowd erupts in applause and cheering. It is so loud that you can hardly hear the last line of the song. That early applause bothers me for two reasons. First, it is rude to the performer, who is still singing his/her heart out. And second, it obscures those important last words of the Anthem: “…and the Home of the Brave?” The thing is, there is no Land of the Free without a Home of the Brave. Liberty demands courage. Freedom requires fortitude.
One particular type of courage that is required of Christians is the courage to proclaim the Good News of our salvation in Jesus Christ the Lord. This could be, as we have seen too much in the last century and in our own time, a courage unto martyrdom. But even then, with Jeremiah we know that “the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.” Following a man who died on a cross isn’t easy; it takes courage that only the Spirit of God can give. But it also promises a share in the resurrection, the ultimate vindication and triumph.
More likely than martyrdom, we may face the persecution that the Psalmist faced: “For your sake I bear insult, and shame covers my face. I have become an outcast to my brothers, a stranger to my children, because zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.” It might seem like the world has turned against us, but Jesus told us this would happen and said, “…take courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
And so, whether facing martyrdom as some of our brothers and sisters in faith do, or facing the more ordinary types of persecution familiar in the secularized Western world, we must follow the command of Jesus: “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” Our faith, though it has a personal dimension, can never be truly private. We must proclaim it… from the rooftops!! Are you doing that? Am I? It isn’t really an option for a Christian. Jesus said further, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”
There is a distinction to be made between public witness and private witness. Private witness is what a lot of us are comfortable doing, and sometimes it is all we can do. We lead by example. We quietly do good works. We arrange our whole life around following Jesus. And, sometimes, this is good and proper. Jesus said after all, “…take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them… when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matt. 6:1-4).
However, we also have this command to proclaim the Gospel from the rooftops. Pope Paul VI made this very clear in his Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiando (1975), when he wrote, “There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed” (EN #22).
And so we are left with an important work of discernment. When is it better to do things in secret, and when is public witness required? Both are essential aspects of evangelization, and the Church “exists in order to evangelize” for it is “Her deepest identity” (EN #14). It is easy to shy away from public witness, though, isn’t it? Especially when we know that some people will look at us or treat us differently if we start talking about Jesus. It may even feel like we lack humility. It is a delicate balance between the two Gospel imperatives.
Here’s the thing, though. The Church is doing a lot of good works, including the good deeds of individual Christians, that should be “the light of the world” and a “city set on a hill” (Matt. 5:14). Jesus wanted people to know that we are
doing these things precisely for His name. He said, “...your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matt. 5:16).
So what things do you do for “the sake of the name” (Acts 5:41) that others have no idea about why you do it? Is your light “under a bushel basket” (Matt 5:15)? Is mine? Is it time to start giving public witness to the Christian motivation behind who we are and what we do? Is it time to proclaim it from the rooftops? Our courage in doing so could bring the liberation of the Gospel to others. When the Church is the Home of the Brave, it invites others into the ultimate Land of the Free.
You and I have been keeping the faith, as best we can I’m sure, but remember the clever advice that I first heard from my pastor in New York:
Don’t keep the faith… share it!