Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Can I Get A Witness?

I've been pondering what we think of as missed chances to witness, versus the moments when we witness without thinking about it.

This past week I was speaking to someone about what I was doing on Sunday, and I mentioned that I had to go to Mass early because the rest of my day was packed. The other person nodded.

"Catholic guilt," he said. "I know all about that. I used to go to Catholic school."

And then the conversation moved on, but I was left feeling like I hadn't acquitted myself or my faith well. Should I have made some riposte? Should I have said, "In him we live and move and have our being," and talked about how worship is necessary for us, not an added burden, or how we eat more than once a week so feeding ourselves spiritually once a week isn't all that onerous? Should I have said that guilt is a useful indicator for assessing whether our conscience is trying to tell us something?

The reason I didn't say any of these things was that they didn't come into my mind until afterwards -- l'esprit d'escalier, "the spirit of the stairs" that haunts you as you're leaving the party with all the witty things you could have said. And the fact that I was given them afterwards means that I wasn't given them in the moment. Which possibly means that I was not intended to say them.

As I pondered the interaction later, it occurred to me that maybe my witness was not the wise things I might come back with, but the part of the conversation that I didn't even think about -- the fact that I had it at all. It was so obvious to me that I would be going to church on Sunday that it didn't strike me as being anything exceptional to mention. It was simply a fact of my existence, along with breathing and planning to eat that day. It came up in conversation not because I was trying to make a point or teach, but simply because it was the next thing to say. It was given to me, so easily and naturally that I didn't feel it being given.

I often think of "the witness" as being something we have to go out of our way to do, and I forget that our very lives are witnesses. Everyone knows someone who talks a good game but whose life contradicts what they say. Our being, our mode of existence, is our first and often our only witness. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, being from the Holy Spirit linger with people long after the points we've made are forgotten.

3 comments:

Karie, the Regular Guy's Extraordinary Wife said...

I do not have much natural wit. I’ve learned over the years to simply say what I mean and let the chips fall where they may. If he had mentioned “Catholic guilt”, I would respond, “No, I receive great joy from going to Mass. I don’t mind making time for it.”

Agnes said...

"And the fact that I was given them afterwards means that I wasn't given them in the moment. Which possibly means that I was not intended to say them."
This is a great and reassuring thought - I, too, sometimes am sorry for things I might have said as witness, especially when I encounter people for whom Christianity and religious behavior and attitudes are quite foreign.
In my childhood, in Communist times, we learned early that we were not supposed to mention in non-church associated company the Sunday mass we attended as it did not concern them (the school teachers were supposed to ask about weekend activities just with the purpose that devoted Christian families could be marked), and in the '90s as a young adult I had to consciously train myself to not avoid telling about aspects of my life that involved Christianity and not to avoid saying that it was my faith that determined this or that decision/attitude, not just a peculiarity of my character (not eating meat on Fridays, going to Mass, avoiding drunkenness at parties etc).

Alicia VH said...

It's a fair consideration because people are often more by authenticity than witty remarks or powerful arguments. And I do tend to think we underestimate the power of that kind of witness.