REFLECTIONS: Word and Witness – Becoming people who light up the world in which we live
by John Zokovitch
Before coming to work at Pax Christi USA, I worked with college and high school students at our local parish and Catholic student center. In talking about the gospel to them, one thing became readily apparent: they don’t want to hear about it; they want to see it. All the talk was just talk – empty and meaningless, if not outright hypocritical. If you didn’t in some way embody what it was you were talking about, you were easily dismissed.
Early on in my ministry I came to realize that students, and, indeed, real seekers of any age, aren’t interested in some dumbed-down, lowest common denominator form of Christianity made palatable to the largest number of people. As Dorothy Day once said, they had “a hunger for the heroic.” The great German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, worried that what passed for discipleship in our churches was really “cheap discipleship,” a pale imitation of the real thing. But my students were telling me that they wanted the “real thing” – the “deep-down” thing – and they weren’t going to be moved by anything “plastic.” I remember this feeling from my own childhood when, as a teenager, I was ready to chuck it all aside and go follow a mythical baseball player who had studied with the lamas in Tibet, slept on a straw mat, didn’t want the New York Mets to pay him any salary, and could throw a baseball 160 miles per-hour. (Sidd Finch, look it up on the web, I swear, the perfect Christ-figure for a lonely, religiously-minded, 16 year-old baseball junkie.)
The point is that the gospel is – should be – transformative to people’s lives. It’s not simply a nice accessory that makes life a little better-looking. Rather, it turns everything upside down, provokes, even disrupts business as usual. It is, ultimately, a story fundamentally in conflict with so many of the major narratives of our time around which we build our lives. But our ears have become so numb to the words that they have lost all their power – because Word without Witness is dead, just as James tells us that faith without works is dead…