Be a Witness, for Christ’s Sake

by | Jan 22, 2017 | Formation, Reflections

From America Magazine comes this insightful piece on why and how to be a witness.

In a recently aired episode of the radio show “This American Life,” writer Jack Hitt tells a story about explaining Christmas to his 4-year-old daughter. One day, when she asked him what the holiday was about, he told her about the birth of Jesus, which piqued her curiosity. They bought a children’s Bible, and she learned about Jesus’s birth and his teachings, including that old-fashioned-sounding phrase, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

One day, they drove past a big church with an enormous crucifix out front. “Who is that?” she asked. Hitt realized he had never told her that part of the story.

“So I had this sort of, ‘Yeah, oh, well, that’s Jesus. And I forgot to tell you the ending. Yeah, well, he ran afoul of the Roman government,’ ” Hitt recalls. “This message that he had was so radical and unnerving to the prevailing authorities of the time that they had to kill him. They came to the conclusion that he would have to die. That message was too troublesome.”

A few weeks after that Christmas, her preschool was closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so Hitt skipped work and took her out to lunch. At their restaurant table was the arts section of the local newspaper, which featured a huge drawing of Martin Luther King by a local kid.

“Who’s that?” she asked.

He tells her King was a preacher who said, “You should treat everybody the same no matter what they look like.”

She thought about that for a moment. “Well, that’s what Jesus said,” she replied.

Hitt says he had never thought of it this way, but yeah, that’s pretty much what “Do unto others” is all about.

She thought for another moment, then looked up at her father and said, “Did they kill him, too?”

This story played in my mind all day on Monday, Dec. 26 — the day after Christmas and the Feast of St. Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr. Our daughter’s new toys were still strewn all over the living room, her bedroom, the hall. Baby Jesus figurines rested peacefully in the half-dozen nativity sets on display around the house. And the church was busy celebrating a young, first-century man who was killed by stoning because of what he believed and did. It’s a jarring juxtaposition. Follow the message of love and peace revealed in the manger all the way to the end, and you might end up on a cross or shot dead on a motel balcony.

I’ve never seen a more powerful image depicting this truth than a photo that was floating around the internet this week: Christmas worshippers crammed in to the front section of the Maronite Catholic cathedral in Aleppo, the large nave of the church totally bombed out behind them.

The word “martyr” means witness, and these Syrian witnesses blow me away. Their everyday lives make them more personally intimate with the story of St. Stephen than most of us ever will be. Yet, confronted by unimaginable violence, they showed up to worship the Prince of Peace together. They showed up. They showed up.

Read the rest of this fine article, first published as My New Year’s resolution: Be a little more like the Aleppo Christians, in America Magazine.

Mike Jordan Laskey is the director of Life & Justice Ministries for the Diocese of Camden, NJ. Before moving to the diocese, Mike was a program coordinator for the Center for FaithJustice (its key programs developed at the Vincentian Youth and Young Adult Center in New Jersey), a Catholic nonprofit that runs service immersion trips near Trenton, NJ. Mike completed an MA in theology from the University of Notre Dame through the university’s Echo: Faith Formation Leadership Program, and he has a BA in English, also from Notre Dame. Mike lives with his wife Genevieve, executive director of Camden’s Romero Center Ministries, in Haddon Township, NJ. He blogs for the Camden diocese at

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