What does “bearing witness” to our culture look like?

Rev. Paul Scalia calls us to imitate ancient prophets in final lecture of Archbishop’s Series

Therese Bussen

Bearing witness to our culture hangs on this deeply personal question: “Are we convinced that what has been given to us will satisfy the human heart?”

It’s a question that Reverend Paul Scalia, son of late Justice Antonin Scalia, asked the crowd in his talk March 21, the final lecture of the season in the Archbishop’s Lecture Series.

Titled “The Word of the Lord Came to Me…,” his talk explained how ancient prophets show us how to be examples of our faith in our modern culture. The most important lesson from their stories is that we first have deep conviction in that which we bear witness to.

“Authenticity requires that these words come from within us — only our personal investment in the Gospel can make us authentic prophets,” Reverend Scalia said.

We especially need to be connected to that firm conviction inside ourselves in the areas where the culture needs it most; namely, marriage and family life, Reverend Scalia said.

He outlined other various areas where we can imitate the ancient prophets, who were seen as “odd” in their respective countries at the time. He referred to Flannery O’Connor, who is attributed to the quote, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”

“Bearing witness to the truth might make you odd,” Reverend Scalia said. The ancient prophets were often seen as outsiders in their own homes, and we must be ready to not fit in as well. We are “strangers in a strange land,” especially as people in our culture are increasingly indifferent toward religion.

“This religious indifference is a challenge for the Church as well. [We’ve] had to scale back. Denver is fairly unique in its growth,” Reverend Scalia said.

March 21, 2017, Denver, Colorado Archbishop Lecture Series featuring Fr. Paul Scalia, a priest from the Diocese of Arlington speaking on the topic of the importance of prophetic Catholic witness in the culture today. Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic

March 21, 2017, Denver, Colorado Archbishop Lecture Series featuring Fr. Paul Scalia, a priest from the Diocese of Arlington speaking on the topic of the importance of prophetic Catholic witness in the culture today. Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic

He said that we also need to be witnesses to both the past and the future. This doesn’t mean we are harbingers of doom; rather, we “proclaim not what will happen, but what God has already done,” Reverend Scalia said.

“The failure to remember what God has done creates a mistrust of what God will do in the future,” Reverend Scalia continued. “Our role should be one of giving hope, especially to those who are suffering.”

Our testimony message needs to be this hope, “that the Lord is trustworthy,” he said.

He also noted that acts of charity and the suffering we experience for love of God and neighbor are the biggest opportunities to bear bold witness to our culture.

“If we aren’t suffering, we are compromising on our love of the Lord, or of our love for people,” Reverend Scalia said. “The Lord allows suffering as a way of understanding the sadness and pain in his own heart.”

“Suffering, in the end, is the most convincing witness to the truth,” he added.

COMING UP: Healing hatred and anger after Charlottesville

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The confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the nationwide reaction to it are clear signs of the tensions simmering just below the surface of our society. But we know as people of faith that these wounds can be healed if we follow Christ’s example, rather than the path of revenge.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned about the Aug. 12 clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville that resulted in the injury of around 34 people and the death of Heather Heyer. It was an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” melee.

These events remind me of Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message, in which he pointed out that “Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (Mk. 7:21).”

What we witnessed in Charlottesville was an outward expression of hundreds of hearts, and as a shepherd of souls, I cannot stand by silently while people allow hatred toward others rule their hearts. Particularly reprehensible were the derogatory words the neo-Nazis and their white supremacist allies shouted toward African Americans, Jews and Latinos. This is not how God sees his children!

Every human being is bestowed from the moment of conception with the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, and we are all loved by him, even amid our sin and brokenness. Satan seeks every opportunity to twist these fundamental truths in the hearts of human beings and we can see the devastation it brings throughout history.

It can be tempting to respond to these attacks on our fellow man with violence, just as the members of the Anti-fascist movement (known as “Antifa”) did in Charlottesville. But this is not what Christ taught, since it allows hatred to gain a foothold through a different avenue. It is worth repeating: the human heart is the true battlefield.

Jesus’ response to violence and persecution stands in contrast with the way of hatred and anger. Instead, he taught his disciples to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39). Christ’s radical answer is only possible because God unconditionally loves every person and is ready to forgive us when we repent. God’s love is the only thing that can cut through the hatred that is bringing people to blows, heal the human heart and form it after his own. As people of faith, we are called to bring the truth of love to these festering wounds so that hearts may be healed by Christ.

Joseph Pearce, the Catholic convert and former white supremacist, is a perfect example of this. In a recent article for the National Catholic Register, he recalls how it was his encounter with the objective truths of the faith that demolished his race-centered identity and seeing his enemies love him when he confronted them with hatred that changed his heart. We must pray for the grace to love as Jesus loves, to love as the Father loves.

“The way out of this deadly spiral,” Pearce says, “is to go beyond the love of neighbor, as necessary as that is, and to begin to love our enemies. This is not simply good for us, freeing us from the bondage of hatred; it is good for our enemies also.”

May all of us follow the great example of Mark Heyer, the father of the woman who was killed after the white supremacist rally. His daughter’s death, Heyer told USA Today, made him think “about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’”

Jesus desires that every person have a heart that is whole and free from hatred, anger and pride. He desires to form our hearts, and that only comes about when we are receptive to his unconditional love, for only in receiving his unconditional love will we be able to give it to others. I pray that all the faithful will be instruments of healing for our country by bringing Christ’s forgiveness to their neighbors and their enemies.