Years ago when Charles Barkley was at the height of his professional basketball career he did something publically that shocked and outraged the public. During a television interview the reporter questioned him about the incident and more specifically about the impact his behavior would have on his young fans. Charles replied by saying “I am not a role model, I am a basketball player.” That statement is true but it is also ignored his ability to influence others positively or negatively.
Barley wanted to be able to live his life without scrutiny and without any professional consequences due to his action off the court. It may have been an unfair judgment but it was inevitable because he put himself on display.
We who profess to be faithful believers and followers of Jesus Christ typically live in our own bubble unaware of the impact we have on others who are struggling with their belief. I know this from my own experience and it was a shocking lesson to learn. In 1972 I wrestled with God’s call to me and eventually responded in a public way without knowing exactly what God would require of me.
Later in life when I would train anyone for a liturgical ministry (lector, Eucharistic Minister, server and yes even the ushers) I tell them the ministry is a commitment that goes beyond the walls of the church. The ministry they performed each Sunday would make them recognizable on the streets, in the market, in school and on the golf course. If they were ever seen doing something that even looked morally, legally or ethically wrong people would judge them hypocrites. I would tell them this is a good thing because once we do offer our service to God we should be willing to “conduct ourselves in the light.”
It is one thing to be a faithful Catholic attending mass, putting our fair share in the offering and serving the poor. It is comfortable and in one sense it keeps us feeling good about our spiritual life. It is another thing to one day encounter God in a powerful way that moves us beyond an adherence to doing good to living the gospel. We hear deacon exhort us at the end of mass to “go in peace and live the gospel.” We automatically give a reply but do we go out and live the gospel?”
The truth is what we do in church should prepare us to go live the gospel out of church. Yes what we do, what we say, how we act and how we treat others speaks volumes as to what is in our hearts. The truth is we have not heard the call to go beyond attending mass, serving on various committees and meeting the demands of living a moral life. What do you think Jesus is saying to us when he says we are to be light and salt? He is telling us more is required of us than just being faithful on our “home court” – we have to be faithful on every “court.”
I discovered long ago in my own journey how my heart was somewhere else and my faith had become doing and not following. I never heard Jesus words calling us to die to self. I never heard the invitation of God calling all of us to allow him to forgive and heal us. I knew the words of Jesus which said “no one who looked back after putting his hand to the plow is fit for the kingdom of God.”
I thought those words were directed to those called to the priesthood or religious life, not to me or anyone like me. I cannot tell you how God broke through my protective walls that insulated me from hearing his voice but it did.
In retrospect, I know now that he was able to because I had seen a faith in others that I knew was missing in my life. The faith of others on display in the world allowed me to clearly see how my faith was deficient and superficial.
What I failed to understand is once we do open our hearts to allow the love of God to flood us we can and do influence others. Like Charles Barkley we may not see ourselves as role models but we are. God even told us ‘that to him who has been given much, much will be required.”
What I discovered was that once we publically acknowledge Jesus as Lord and embrace the forgiveness offered us by his death and resurrection we are to become living witnesses of his mercy. We are expected to allow our light to shine in order to give others hope that they too can change.
God calls us to a life that is lived in a way that inspires others to desire the peace, the love and the joy we find in Christ.
If we can be bold in witnessing to others we can influence them to desire a deeper belief in the promises of God. The people you influence may never say anything to you but your witness may have been the start of a journey into the heart of God. The man that started my journey was Jack Smith. He gave a talk at a St. Ann’s parish men’s breakfast in Charlotte, N. C. The year was in 1963 and I knew the minute he ended his talk that my faith was lacking. That day began my journey that nine years later opened me up to encounter the depth of God’s love.
If we not living our faith in a way that influences others to desire God then we are failing in our mission to be witnesses. God has reconciled us to himself by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The fact we have our sins forgiven must compel us to tell everyone how God forgives and forgets our sin. If we confine our witness to the inside of the church were we are giving thanks for this great gift the glory God gave us is hidden from others.