A recent prayer during the general intercessions at Mass beautifully asked “that through the graces of the Easter Season, those who have fallen away from the Church may be drawn back.” Indeed, the Easter Season always is full of grace, and those graces are not to be underestimated. And how we long for those who have left the community to come back. We see and feel the loss of their presence every time we look around our churches at Mass.

Yet, as I reflected on that particularly beautiful intention, I wanted to add four more words to it: “and through our witness.” Otherwise, the intention runs the risk of being too passive and relieving us of our responsibility as baptized Catholics to share in the mission of Christ. We have a responsibility, same as in the early Church, to play our part in sharing the Good News.

As we moved through the Easter season, a season full of grace, we regularly heard of the witness of the early Christians. The women at the empty tomb, the disciples after their encounter with Jesus on the Road to Emmaus, Thomas after encountering the Risen Christ, Peter at Pentecost.  They all gave witness to what they had seen and experienced and the grace received through those experiences: talking with the Lord, recognizing Him in the breaking of the bread, the power of the Holy Spirit.

And they shared those experiences both in what they said and in how they lived.

And those words and witness caught people’s attention. Others were drawn (aided by grace) to Christ and their communities.  “…[A]nd day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:47). “…[G]reat numbers of men and women were added to them” (Acts 5:14). “…[W]ith the consolation of the holy Spirit it grew in numbers” (Acts 9:31).

Ultimately, it’s all grace. However, this is not a passive event. Grace is a life-giving experience that we participate in, respond to, and cooperate with. Or as the Catechism defines it: Grace is “the free and undeserved gift that God gives us to respond to our vocation to become His adopted children.”

Consider another example: when Jesus fed the 5,000, a grace-filled event to be sure (Mt 14:13-21). Note how in this event, Jesus asks the disciples to give the crowd something to eat, “give them some food yourselves.”  When they admit they only have five loaves and two fish, Jesus takes their offering, blesses and breaks them, “gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.” Note how He had the disciples play a role, how they cooperate with that grace; share that grace! You and I are called, invited, and privileged to do the same thing.

Think about what an amazing experience it must have been for the disciples to share those graces in the form of the multiplication of the fishes and loaves. Think about how amazing it can be for us to share the graces we receive at Mass — especially the fruits of the Eucharist — with all those we come in contact with. Like them, having been fed, spiritually and physically, filled with grace.

When folks see the effect of the grace experienced by the priest, deacon, choir, ushers, servers, lectors, and most especially the folks in the pews, living a life in Christ in their homes, their workplaces, their gatherings — that is attractive. When people see us leave Mass, having just experienced and participated in the graces present, do they see the effects of that grace present through our expressions, our conduct, our dispositions?

The Church year is full of graces. We experience those graces, and we give witness to those graces. And we pray that here in Vermont, as in Israel some 2,000 years ago, others, especially those who have drifted away, may see our witness and may have the grace to return to the practice of faith in Jesus Christ in His Catholic Church.

—Deacon Phil Lawson is the executive director of pastoral ministries for the Diocese of Burlington. He can be reached at plawson@vermontcatholic.org.

—Originally published in the Summer 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.