by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, July 2, 2017
One of the deep desires of the human heart is to live a life that matters, that makes a difference. The prophet John the Baptist came into this world with all the signs and portents pointing to a life of that kind of significance. He was called from birth from his mother’s womb. He was a messenger. An announcer. A shining light.
And then in Luke’s gospel (Luke 1:57-66, 80), there’s the mysterious choice of a name for this baby. Not named after any of his ancestors, or after his father, Zechariah, as was the custom. Without talking to each other, both of his parents were mysteriously inspired to choose the name, John.
There’s also the question which parents everywhere must wonder at the birth of a baby: “What will this child turn out to be?”
It occurs to me that, although the circumstances of birth are different, the call of John the Baptist is not so far from our own. John spent his life announcing and pointing the way to Jesus. Isn’t that exactly what our lives are meant to do? To bear witness to the Holy One?
John the Baptist was a witness. We also are witnesses. We might reflect on our own lives in light of Webster’s definition of the word, “witness”:
As a noun, witness: A person who has seen or was present at an event and so has direct knowledge of it. A person who gives evidence.
As a verb, to witness: To see and be present at. To sign one’s name to attest that something is genuine.
Perhaps you, like me, have had the experience of entering a search word or phrase in Google and discovering much more than just the original search. Perhaps, like me, you sometimes take a detour and end up following a trail apart from your original quest. So when I Googled “witness” I also discovered the term, “Witness Mark,” and I wondered what that could be.
It turns out a Witness Mark is a line or small notch left during machine or hand work. Think of the signs of attention or work done on an antique clock when it’s serviced or cleaned. The person doing that work leaves a mark on the surface of the clock to indicate that he/she has been there, that he or she’s done work and left a body of evidence. The witness mark makes it possible for one craftsperson to follow after another, to see the path they’ve taken, and to continue and carry on their work.
So on the birthday of John the Baptist, we might ask: what about us? What is our witness mark? What is the mark we wish to leave on our beautiful, yet wounded world? The mark we wish to make as evidence of a life pointing to Jesus and given over in love and tenderness?
Pope Francis wasn’t writing specifically about a witness mark but he might have been when he observed, “One cannot proclaim the Gospel of Jesus without the tangible witness of one’s life.” A life that has left a mark for all that come after. A life that gives evidence, that shows the way forward by revealing the graced story of the past.
To bear witness is to point by one’s very existence to the presence of the Holy among us. Today, John the Baptist asks us: How do we put on the mind of Christ? How do we acquire his consciousness? How do we see through his eyes? Feel through his heart? How do we respond to the world with his wholeness and healing love?
Bearing witness is underscored in every reference to John the Baptist. Bearing witness is also our call. Like John, may our hearts grow in graciousness and openness. May all that we’re about today and in the days ahead bear witness to the tender Presence that transforms us and changes our beautiful, yet wounded world.
How do you make a difference in your family, neighborhood, community, world?
Where and in what ways do you desire to leave a witness mark?
Ask our loving God to bring that desire to fulfillment in you for the life of the world.
Thank you for your prayerful support of the directed retreat at St. Mary by-the-Sea in Cape May Point, NJ, where this reflection was offered on the feast of the nativity of John the Baptist. Deep gratitude to Joan Dollinger and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia for welcoming all of us into this sacred space.
Please now hold in your prayer all who will be part of a guided retreat, “Our Work Is Loving the World,” which I’ll be offering for Women Religious at the Franciscan Renewal Center, Bethlehem, PA, July 2-7. Many thanks!
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