Wednesday, July 23, 2008

And You Shall Be My Witnesses

The theme for this year's World Youth Day came from the Acts of the Apostles (1:8): "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses."

I was thinking this morning about the many witnesses the Lord has put in my life who don't even realize how they are witnessing to me. For example, there is a little Vietnamese lady who attends daily Mass at my church and has a simple devotional practice that I have observed for years: she stops at every statue and stained-glass window and says a little prayer. During these summer months, I have enjoyed seeing her out among the flower beds almost kneeling in front of the statues which are not much smaller than she is! She appears to be having an intimate conversation with each statue she pauses at to pray. But her witness doesn't end with what she does outside of the church. Inside of the church she is a friend to all. She doesn't speak such good English but she has a hug and smile for every person. I know that when I say "good morning" to her in Vietnamese, my pronunciation is so poor that I may be saying something altogether different! But she appreciates the effort and I get an extra smile. I realize that, after all of these years, I don't even know her name. And with the language barrier, there is no way to tell her how witnessing the simplicity of her love for God has helped me on many days to be more determined to grow in mine. Watching her makes me wonder what others see when they watch me.

My favorite book about Pier Giorgio has not yet been translated into English. It is a compilation of observations, testimonies, stories submitted during the early stages of the beatification process by people who had some encounter with Pier Giorgio. I especially love the examples given by people who never knew him personally but just saw him in action and were moved deeply by the experience of seeing this young, handsome man imitating Christ. After all, that is often the most powerful witness we give -- what people see when we don't realize they are looking. It is something to be mindful of as we go through each day.

Saint Francis of Assisi is noted for saying, "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words." In this sense, Pier Giorgio was one of the greatest preachers of his time and is still preaching today. Verso l'alto!

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