Written by Keith Strohm
"Truth? What is truth? These words of Pontius Pilate, spoken to Christ in the gospels, echo down through the centuries to accuse us today. The question is asked, not by a a single governmental authority, but by our entire culture: What is truth? This interrogation occurs at the most basic levels of our interactions within the culture, so much so that we often don't see the fundamental challenge, or worse, we have allowed this cultural pressure to co-opt our way of thinking and acting--denuding our effective witness to Christ.
What do I mean?
We live in a postmodern and, some would say, post-Christian, era where the concept of absolute truth has been rejected. Postmodern cultural and literary criticism have deconstructed the notion of the Platonic Ideal, "liberating" the multiplicity of meanings in every human thought and act. We are no longer beings with a central and undivided Self, given to us by our Creator. Rather, our 'self' is really a constantly shifting, culturally constructed 'negotiation' between multiple and multi-level meanings. Thus, what's true for you can differ radically (even diametrically) from what I believe, and yet we can both be assured of the 'rightness' of our positions. Both hold equal weight in the Cultural Sanhedrin.
In such a postmodern environment, claims to Truth are not only seen as boorish and arrogant, they take on a connotation of violence. They are acts of destruction and invasion against the 'self' of another. This is the challenge that we face as apostles of the Risen Christ, of the very Truth Himself, living in our culture today. In order for many of the men and women that we meet in our daily lives to accept the claims of Jesus Christ, they must undergo a paradigmatic shift, a conversion not just of the emotions and will, but of the worldview as well. The Person of Christ demands that the postmodern world "see with new eyes." So, how can we be effective witnesses of Christ to a world that has rejected this notion of absolute Realities?
I think that if we are to take the Great Commission seriously, to honor Christ's call of evangelization, we must first begin in humility. The fundamental reality that we need to confront is that the Church, and we as members of it, does not possess the Truth. We are, in fact, possessed by He who is Truth.
As Paul writes, "For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body" (1Cor 6:20). Throughout his letters, Paul uses this metaphor of slavery to underscore the relationship between Christ and His People. We have been called out of darkness, bought and paid for by the blood of Christ, and intimately brought into communion with each other and with God. A slave is no longer his own, but his master's. So, too, we are no longer our own, but Christ's. In Christ, however, the Master has raised us in status, has adopted us, making us a member of his own family. We are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" because of the love of Christ (1Peter 2:9).
Fundamentally, then, our attitude should be like those who have received an inestimable treasure, not through their own action or worth, but as a free gift. We should approach our apostolate with gratitude and graciousness, with a desire to share this great gift. I think that we as Christians often come across as if we are being magnanimous, sharing with the poor from the riches of our own bounty, when we witness to others about Christ. We must never forget that we, too, are poor in ourselves, but rich only in Christ.
Secondly, we need to remember that we are not, ultimately, responsible for the results of our witnessing for Christ. That responsibility rests with God alone. As Fr. Michael Sweeney, former Co-Director of the Catherine of Siena Institute says, "we are called to propose the faith, not impose the faith." There is a fundamental difference between the two approaches. God is a respecter of human freedom; He desires that we come to Him freely of our own will. He calls us to desire the same for others. Our goal, then, shouldn't be to convert a non-Christian friend or acquaintance. Rather, our goal should be to listen to the way Christ is calling us to share His love with that other person. God will take care of the rest. It is not our ability that God wants, but our availability to be used by Him for the work of the Kingdom.
In such a way, through humility and openness to how God calls us to share our faith, others will be brought into an experience of the Truth--one of the places where authentic conversion can begin.