For almost a decade, I’ve followed the trend of choosing a focus word for the year. In 2013, when I retired from my sales career, I choose the word JOY for obvious reasons. The year proved challenging, and the word bolstered me.
I received my word of the year in 2021 during a Catholic Mass: Testify.
I will not argue a word I receive at Mass. At least not after five minutes.
I knew it was God’s word for me for two reasons. One, I’d asked God for a word to focus me in His will this year, and two, it engaged me immediately. Rebel that I am, I protested against this word. God listened patiently as I resisted. In the Bible, Jesus tells a parable to the elders near the end of the gospel of Matthew. A father asks his two sons to work in the vineyard. One refuses but later repents and works as his father asked. The second son says “sure” but never does the work. I reacted to the word TESTIFY and its built-in request, like the first son (MT 21:28-32).
Similarly, in I Corinthians 1:26-31, Paul attests Christ will build His church through the weak and base, not the ones you think should be first. I took minor comforts from these scriptural references as I released the brakes from the back seat of the tandem bike I now rode with Jesus and began a relaxed pedaling into the year 2021.
The word TESTIFY scared me. The word brought images to mind of activists and people the media currently scourges. People run away from those who TESTIFY. So it seemed to me.
In my fear.
Our fears must never hold us back from pursuing our hopes.
John F. Kennedy
TESTIFY had a ring to it that resonated in an utterly foreign vibration to the melody and rhythms within me. Yet the word thumped like a low drum beat in the jungle of my heart as I pedaled with the Lord through the year. I could not ignore it. It called to me like God called little Samuel in his dreams.
Repeat after me, “Yes, Lord” when you hear the call.
Every Christmas, we hear homilies and preachers encourage us to say our own “Yes” to God the way Jesus’ mother, Mary, said her fiat to the angel Gabriel. We don’t need to know how we will accomplish something. It is enough to say yes to what God calls you. That is all.
That is everything.
He will direct our paths. He will make them straight.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)
At Mass, I melted into a weak “yes” as the word TESTIFY lay like butter on warm toast before me. Perhaps it was my guardian angel who brought this gift to me during Mass. Perhaps it was the Lord Himself. I don’t know. What I know is God expected my yes but as always, left it fully up to me to accept or not.
It was a holy request, one that humbled me, and asked me to look at this word more closely. To embrace it as we try to embrace our brothers and sisters who are unlike us. Make peace this word by embracing it. Incorporate it into my life. To love it as we are to “love one another.”
I cannot say I love this word yet. It still scares me. Yet I hear Fr. Luke Farabaugh (parochial vicar at St. Rita Church in Santa Rosa Beach, FL) in my head as he speaks lovingly about evangelizing, about being ambassadors for those who need something their hearts long for. Something we people of faith have. I know it is what I am called to do.
Beware of Rationalizations. Mine: Evangelization is for someone else.
We can rationalize anything, not because we have rejected the greatness of God as Satan did, but because we listen too often to his seductive voice as Eve did.
“Go and preach” is not something I thought applied to me. I’m outside the narrow realm of those called to preach. To TESTIFY. My thoughts affirmed my exclusion regularly. I ignored the fact that God sees and knows all our thoughts.
Like a child ignores her mother’s voice.
I ignored the fact that Jesus warned us about persecution for standing with him in a moral and holy life of divine love.
Those who speak of being the greatest are the ones Jesus asks to move down the table, away from the seat of honor. We are to serve, like slaves. Like Him. To embrace the antithesis of supremacist attitudes. To wash stinky attitudes that people walk on—including our own—the way Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. Quietly. Without comment. Humbly.
I am not outside or above those called to serve. To TESTIFY. To “baptize all nations.” Isn’t that for priests, deacons, and missionaries? I can see the communion of saints in heaven collectively shaking their heads or rolling their eyes. The wiser ones crack a smile.
Unable to do anything by myself, although I love to think the opposite, I remind myself “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). I try to believe this.
The Gift of Obedience
As I climb the mountain called TESTIFY, I sense my smallness.
I take consolation as my protest against this word dies—as all protests against Jesus’ hard sayings must die—in John 5:19 “The Son can do nothing by himself.” Even Jesus did nothing on His own. He reminded us of this many times.
I can do nothing without Him. None of us can.
Once again I step into the three words from an old hymn that most challenge me: trust and obey. (See the intro to my memoir for more.)
Facing Fear: Reprisals, Disapproval, Rejection
We protest God’s call because we desire affection. We want to be loved by others and to avoid conflict. I want easy.
The thought of speaking out these days and getting pushback makes me uncomfortable.
I am loved, I remind myself. By the One who loves us all.
They will love me, I remind myself, those who keep God’s word, obey His law of love, and choose to serve as Jesus showed us. I ignore the taunts of evil snickers in the background.
The pushback will come as it did for Jesus, from those who cannot see Love standing right in front of them. They cannot—choose not—to see or hear the Truth Jesus spoke and modeled lovingly.
That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t love anyway, despite the pushback or ridicule.
I resolve to love softly. The way one speaks to a baby.
To Testify is To Love
I see now that to TESTIFY is to love.
The One who loves us came to show us a radical love, a sacrificial way to love. Knowing I will get pushback and ridicule when I testify is my cross to bear. My sacrifice to God this year is to love and embrace my word. His word.
To testify is my invitation to love. My gift of obedience. Ugh. No wonder St. Paul ran away and hid for three years after the Lord spoke to him on the road to Damascus.
So where do I start? If I just peddle on the tandem bike behind Jesus, watching his back, I do okay. But when I turn my head, I see people making human sacrifices like pagans of old. I see myself an ivory-skinned elder behind a Middle Eastern Jew who keeps stopping our bike to talk to the indigent and the puffed-up Pharisees and Scribes like upstart Paul.
I hear the crazy “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25) in the middle of a gusting storm about to capsize our boat taking on water.
God is Greater.
In my gardens, I sow seeds. I hope they’ll turn into cheerful flowers and vegetables in the future. Golden wildflowers adorn my front yard. Browns and lavenders coat the desert near Phoenix where my parents died. Green blankets the land of Ireland, home of many of my ancestors. All colors contain an energy unique unto themselves just as all people contain energies.
I shall testify to that energy, to the beauty of colors. To flowers that bloom in the night. To the power of light in darkness.
I shall testify to the joy of love. To being one in Christ’s Body. To the dying and rising and embracing of Truth. Even though it scares me to do so.
- Advocate for the right of all children to be safe and loved.
- Speak out against the human sacrifice we call abortion.
- Protest actions against the sanctity and dignity of life including those of clergy and the Church.
- Treat my body as the temple of God that it is and seek to treat others the same.
- Search for Christ in all I meet and affirm God’s goodness within them.
- Fail often but not allow that to discourage me or stop me from dusting off my knees and getting back on the bike behind Jesus to pedal away again.
- Testify to the power of love spoken softly by the way I treat others and the natural world.
I Shall Testify Through Him, with Him, and in Him.
I shall testify to love.
When we pray the Confiteor we confess what we’ve done and what we’ve failed to do. Whatever I can say about love, about God, will at least not fall in the “failed to do” column in the review of my life, from this day forward. I take encouragement from the little held by the apostles when Jesus asked them to feed the five thousand. Even though they didn’t understand what he was asking or how they could fulfill it, He worked with them to perform a miracle they only later understood to the full. It still unfolds for us today. I’m willing to obey to “testify” and have it unfold for me even though I don’t understand. Even though I am afraid.
I shall give what little I have, digging into the purse of my heart and pulling out my deepest truths to deposit as my offerings, just as the widow did with her two coins. For Jesus, that will be enough.
I will tremble and be afraid and do it anyway. For where there is Love, there is God. And God is where I find my peace. “There is no peace without justice, but neither can there be justice without love.”
When we testify, our voice carries power. I bow deeply to all, especially my creative friends, who use your voice in the genre and media it best comes out of you because sharing your voice makes us all better. The world needs our voices. God gave them to us to share. So when we do—through Him and with Him and in Him—I imagine His glorious smile.
Here’s to making God happy.
For more reading on social justice, click here and here.
Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments below.