Our World Needs Witnesses

Denise UtterBlog, NCCL Board of Directors

On Pentecost, we remembered how Jesus breathed on the disciples who were afraid and hiding in the Upper Room. He empowered them with all they needed to go out and be witnesses. We too receive that breath, that Spirit, at baptism. If you heard the Vigil readings, you heard that affirmation (Romans 8:22-27). The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness.

We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
we also groan within ourselves…

…In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God’s will.

Our world needs witnesses today.

Last month, NCCL held a virtual conference, Witness. We heard presentations on our sacramental theology during a time where we have not been able to gather. They acknowledged, “sacramental life is tough without the element of touch: the reception of the Eucharist, the baptism with water, the laying on of hands, the anointing with oil.” Even so, they acknowledged the positive things that are happening within the Church during this time. You can view the panel discussion (free) HERE in English, and HERE in Spanish. Other workshops explored the decisions faith formation directors are facing today, or how to respond pastorally at this time, or how to navigate digital catechesis. We were emboldened to go forth, to be witnesses in the world.

As Jackie Hopper (NCCL’s Vice President) and I prepared to write our June communication to our membership and to our Representative Council, we knew we could not capture the essence of all that this conference was in writing. Instead, we decided to try our hand at a vlog. You can view that conversation HERE. We are chatty, but I hope you take the time to listen. The conversation shares the many gifts we experienced during the two weeks of Witness – accompaniment, new understanding, openness to new questions, mission, and more.

Our conversation is light-hearted and feels full of the promise we felt at the experience of Witness. But I have to acknowledge, the conversation took place before the recent unrest in our country, and to speak of witnessing, without any reference to this pain, seems antithetical to who we are, to the message we heard at Witness, to the hope we describe in our vlog.

So, as we focus on witnessing to the love of Jesus Christ, I share the words of my own pastor this Pentecost Sunday, “We have the cure. It’s the breath of the Spirit. It’s love. It’s understanding.” (You can the letter regarding our vision statement that he references HERE.  Vision 2020 is who we are as a parish, the mission we articulate as a community, who we hope to live into being and becoming. It states that we are: “Leading a movement of change within the Catholic church marked by radical inclusivity, exquisite worship, and transformative kinship.”)

This summer the board will reflect on our vision, our mission, our core values as a Catholic organization of leaders, serving the Church. Who are we called to be today? Please pray for us as we enter into this discernment.

And so I close, sharing the words from the Bishop Chairmen’s “Statement of U.S. Bishop Chairmen in Wake of Death of George Floyd and National Protests”:

While it is expected that we will plead for peaceful non-violent protests, and we certainly do, we also stand in passionate support of communities that are understandably outraged. Too many communities around this country feel their voices are not being heard, their complaints about racist treatment are unheeded, and we are not doing enough to point out that this deadly treatment is antithetical to the Gospel of Life.

As we said eighteen months ago in our most recent pastoral letter against racism, Open Wide Our Hearts, for people of color some interactions with police can be fraught with fear and even danger. People of good conscience must never turn a blind eye when citizens are being deprived of their human dignity and even their lives. Indifference is not an option. “As bishops, we unequivocally state that racism is a life issue.”

As I reflect on this time, I commit to being a witness and to lifting up others as witnesses. I commit to listening, to accompanying, to speaking up and speaking out, to giving voice to the Gospel’s good news in all places. I know I cannot do it alone but am emboldened because I am not alone. We have one another. We walk with one another.

I commit, and I hope you will as well, (as the bishops request in their statement referenced above) to praying and working together toward a “new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.” Come Holy Spirit! Amen.


Denise Utter

President of NCCL

June 2, 2020