When and where do you hear personal testimony from Catholics? People recounting their experiences of meeting or encountering Jesus Christ, their witness to the power of joining in heavenly worship in the Eucharistic liturgy, a story of a life transformed through Christ and in His Church, and more…
Today, one can find personal testimony from Catholics in a wide variety of places—our blog here at New Evangelizers, Catholic radio, podcasts, diocesan conferences, lay apostolates and movements, retreats, and books–just to name a few. But these all require a “next step” beyond just showing up for Sunday Mass (and maybe dropping kids off at faith formation)—in short, it’s not the typical Catholic experience in the United States.
And that’s a problem.
Think about your parish. Where and how often can personal testimony be heard? How many are hearing it? Is it reaching the average parishioner? Or is it just being echoed among the especially devout, those who have had similar faith experiences and are heavily involved in parish life?
I think the answer, sadly, is that one usually has to go “above and beyond” to hear Catholics giving personal testimony. There’s not something regularly on the calendar, that someone new might stumble into, and hear Catholics sharing personal testimony.
Why is this the case? In Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012), Sherry Weddell supposes that:
“Catholics have come to regard it as normal and deeply Catholic to not talk about the first journey – their relationship with God – except in confession or spiritual direction. This attitude is so pervasive in Catholic communities that we have started to call it the culture of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”
I agree that part of it is a learned culture, a way of being. Many years ago, when I regularly attended Sunday evening services at a Baptist church, the minister would usually ask if anyone had a “testimony” to share–usually an answered prayer, victory or transformation in one’s life, or example of how God was impacting them in a new way–these weren’t long or drawn out, just a few sentences. Similarly, in such congregations, it was expected that an adult should be able to quickly recount what their “first journey” (to use Weddell’s term) to encountering Christ was like.
Part of changing this culture of silence in so many of our Catholic parishes is about providing opportunity. There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit is powerfully working in so many lives! The question is when and where to share, within the context of ordinary parish life?
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Use the weekly bulletin to regularly share the personal testimony of a member of the parish (this provides a pathway for a gentle cultural transition in a parish…)
- Feature stories of conversion, journeying to God, and encountering Jesus on the parish website and social media outlets
- Incorporate personal testimony into parish faith formation
- Maybe on Christmas and Easter (when there is a chance to reach those who rarely attend Mass), have a member of the parish share their personal testimony in a 3-5 minute format during the “announcement” period at the end of Mass
This is by no means an exhaustive list. But, the slow process of cultural change has to begin somewhere.
What have you seen work to help personal testimony become a more ordinary part of the typical parish experience? How can it change a parish culture?
Please share, as we encourage each other in filling in the silence that envelops so many of our parishes.
Copyright © 2013, Colleen Vermeulen