Some time ago, a young man approached me on the street to show me a picture of Christ rendered by Rembrandt. He asked me, who is this? Such was a perfect time for witness. What would you have done in this situation? We must always be ready to witness to others so that they can come into a lifesaving relationship with Christ. I testified to the young man with no apparent result. But, who knows, this may have been the beginning of his relationship with Christ. We are to be a witness for Christ at every opportunity. The most effective witness takes place over some time as a relationship with another deepens. This relationship need not become a friendship, but usually is more than a brief encounter that begins with “Are you saved?” and ends with little else. Interpersonal witness requires the building of relationships. We are to know something of the story of a person in the process of witnessing. Many years ago, the Word and Witness program of the Lutheran Church in America emphasized this sort of witness.
On Kensington Avenue at the Blessed Sarnelli House we see those individuals who come for breakfast, lunch, and dinner often. In this context we have an opportunity for witness over a significant period of time. Some of our guests have had little or no contact with Christ and His Church; others had been raised in the Church. Whatever the case, in the darkness of the Avenue, Christ is a brilliant light.
As part of our spiritual program at Sarnelli we regularly distribute religious leaflets, devotionals, hand crosses, and rosaries. These items are very popular among our guests. We are always available for brief conversations with people though we don’t offer long term spiritual counsel.
Kensington Avenue is a place of spiritual darkness in a world of spiritual darkness. The world is a battlefield between the forces of good and evil. Christians have the advantage in that no reality is stronger than God. He will win in the end in the final eschatological conflict. “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”(Mark 13: 26 ESV) The Avenue is an intense public example of the apocalyptic struggle. The Church can not and will not abandon this territory to hopelessness and darkness. Wickedness will be fought on every front.
Yesterday, a drug dealer was outside and next to the gate that gives entrance to the area where, when the weather is good, people eat outside. Two of those people told me of the drug dealing that was going on right next to the premises. She was posing as a seller of various products whose nature was not clear. But, her purpose was to pose as someone who was not selling drugs but things legal and harmless. I told her that the next time she was present, I would call the police. She informed me that I was rude–an attempt at changing the subject.
We are to witness with gentleness and respect. How does one do this in such a situation? Christians are to be respectful in their witness and apologetics. This advice does not prevent a believer to fend off evil with firmness and resolve. What is never acceptable in any situation is rage and misbehavior to promote and defend Christian faith. Good examples are the lives of the saints, that is, those who are the best models of Christian conduct for all the other saints. We can look at the lives of Saint Paul and many others so that we may more prudently decide on the best words and course of action in a particular situation. Paul was frim with the Corinthians, but never engaged in inappropriate behavior or words.
Even if you can’t serve in the front trenches of the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged, pray for those who do and commit yourself to fighting the battle wherever necessary in the places you habituate. Christ will be there with you,; for, he is everywhere, certainly in the darkest places in the world.
Saint Michael and All Angels
September 29, 2023