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A Road Map for Forming Missionary Disciples

To transmit the Faith, we need to approach the hearts of Jesus and Mary — and then learn from them

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German author Father Romano Guardini depicted the transmission of faith with the image of a candle being lit from the flame of another candle. Christ came to ignite a fire on the earth (cf. Lk 12:49), and it is the greatest desire of every priest, catechist, parent and missionary disciple to set ablaze the hearts of youths with the love of Christ — that is, to spark more missionary disciples.

“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez 36:26).

Our situation, however, is far from promising. Both in the family and the parish, we see that catechesis is taught, sacraments are celebrated, but hearts are not set aflame, or if they are they don’t endure. The secularized and individualistic environment pervades as a misty fog that suffocates the fire.

To transmit the Faith today is like trying to build a fire with wet wood and damp matches, or trying to light a candle when a strong wind is blowing and rain is pouring. We may finally manage to do it, but it will not endure. It has always been difficult to transmit the Faith. “Every age presents a new set of problems as well as fresh opportunities to witness to the redemptive love of Jesus Christ” (St. John Paul II, Address to Catholic Educators, Sept. 12, 1984).

In this time of despair, fear and apparent defeat, the words of the Lord become the keystone of our new evangelization efforts: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). To form missionary disciples, we need to approach the heart of Jesus and learn from it. The fire of his friendship can only be communicated if the apostle keeps a frequent conversation with him through daily adoration and prayer. Nobody can communicate what he does not have.

Our Relationships

In the heart of Jesus, we discover, first of all, a presence: the love of the Father, who sent him. Christ is the first apostle, who from the Father and filled with the Holy Spirit, builds a net of relationships with Mary, Joseph, his relatives and neighbors, the apostles, the crowds and even with his enemies. His heart is the place where all these relationships are connected: he is the Son of the Father and of Mary, he becomes a spouse of the Church and, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, he generates new life in the apostles.

Therefore, if we want to form missionary disciples according to the heart of Jesus, we need to consider the presence of the Father and the divine “architecture of human relationships” (Lumen Fidei, No. 51). The heart is the place where bonds are connected and built. We are not islands, but children, grandchildren, siblings, friends, called to become spouses and parents of others.

To penetrate our whole life, the New Evangelization needs to touch our relationships. The interior presence of God and of Christ is called to transform our family interactions. Otherwise, it will be irrelevant, and it will not endure. It will remain as just one weekly hour of catechesis against the rest of the week, living at home as if there is no God. Priests do not minister just to parishioners as isolated individuals, but to the faithful who are always children and grandchildren of others, and in many cases siblings, spouses, parents and grandparents of others.

Contemplating the heart of Jesus, a missionary disciple is called to appreciate and cultivate his relationships, considering that their “ultimate foundation and definitive destiny” are in God (cf. Lumen Fidei, No. 51). On the other hand, for many, family bonds are the channel through which faith arrives in their lives — from parents to children, but also many times from grandparents to grandchildren, from uncles to nephews or nieces and, especially today, from children to parents: from one family member to the whole body, like a holy infection. For that reason, instead of looking at the missionary disciple as an island, the heart of Jesus teaches us to consider the architecture of human relationships. We aim at generating “missionary disciple families.”

The Whole Person

In the Sacred Heart, we can discover a second dimension of the missionary disciple. Christ’s heart is not only the meeting point of his relationships but also the place of unity of the whole person. Because he has a human heart, he is moved to pity seeing the hungry forsaken crowd, he thanks the Father for his wisdom, he wants to obey his will, and he suffers agony in the garden. In his heart, affectivity, intellect, will, body and spirit are unified (cf. Lumen Fidei, No. 26).

What does this mean to our mission of forming missionary disciples? The encounter with Christ is called to transform the whole person. If we priests offer entertainment or purely emotional religious experiences, our proposal will remain on the surface of the person, bearing perhaps some apparent fruit, but losing strength soon. It will not build a flame that endures, but just fireworks or a fire of paper and dry leaves. Forming the heart of a missionary disciple requires the integration of all the dimensions of our life: intelligence and will, affections and relationships. Such harmony happens when we are clothed with the virtues of the heart of Jesus (cf. Collect prayer, Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus).

The school of virtues brings together the two dimensions of the heart: the architecture of our relationships and the integration of the whole person. As true strategies of love, the virtues have as their mother and head the virtue of charity, which is friendship with Christ. Christ, therefore, is not just a role model to imitate nor a teacher to follow. He wants to be in communion with us. Such communion happens through the work of the Holy Spirit, who introduces us to this friendship and molds in our hearts the virtues of Jesus. This is the new heart, the heart of flesh, promised by Ezekiel.

Our path toward the heart of Jesus in docility to the Spirit is Mary. Like the disciples after the Ascension, we receive the Holy Spirit when we pray with the mother of Jesus. She can give birth to missionary disciples because she is the first one. As a disciple, listening, learning and receiving is the permanent attitude of her heart, her DNA. In the Annunciation, she is the disciple that says: “Behold. … May it be done to me,” and she is the missionary that runs to visit Elizabeth. At Cana, she will be the disciple that learns patience from Jesus, whose hour has not yet come, and the missionary that brings Christ and the best wine into the life of marriage.

Contemplating Mary we understand that discipleship and mission are born and grow together. The true disciple does not need to wait to become a missionary. Since the fire of Christ is burning, he will evangelize even if still a catechumen or a child. At the same time, the true missionary always remains a disciple. Like Mary, no matter how experienced he becomes, he is a pilgrim of faith, permanently learning.

The School of Mary

Whoever becomes part of the “School of the Virgin Mary” learns how to build relationships and to love with a unified heart. On one hand, Mary reveals that our relationships are missionary, generative. Through them, Christ can enter into our lives and the lives of others. Communion and mission go together. Mary teaches us to never separate our actions from our contemplation, from our relationship with Christ and with others (cf. St. John Paul II, Address, May 3, 2003).

On the other hand, devotion to Mary is not just an emotional expression of piety; it touches the whole being. When we invite our parishioners to consecrate themselves to Mary and say: “Totus tuus” (“I am completely yours”), we encourage them to offer their bodies, possessions, affections, intelligence and will: their hearts. As an act of the whole person, the Marian consecration welcomes her in all their relationships, times and spaces, work and hobbies, and even in their schedule, songs, readings, food. It means that they want to live in Mary.

St. John, the beloved disciple, entered into the school of the virgin. He contemplated Christ crucified with the eyes of Mary and welcomed her “among his things.” By contemplating Jesus with Mary, his eyes were transformed, and he received a heart like hers. He received her and chose her as the environment where his friendship with Christ and all his other relationships would grow. As the “memory of Jesus,” Mary became the home where the candle of his faith was protected from the fog of confusion and the winds of vice.

“Go, therefore, and make disciples” (Mt 28:19). It is like a candle from the flame of another candle already burning. When the humid secularized world threatens to extinguish our light, our friendship with Jesus transforms all our relationships and brings unity to our life.

FATHER LUIS GRANADOS, a priest of the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, is a professor of moral theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado.

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