Enhancing Missionary Identity
Our urgent call to proclaim the Gospel at home and throughout the world
Every October, we as a Church celebrate World Mission Sunday. It is an opportunity to reflect on, and do what we can to support, the missions. I remember as a child being taught about the missions. In our Catholic school we saw photos of the missions and engaged in many projects to help the missions grow. I came to see that every prayer and cent mattered. I also listened attentively to those times when a missionary would visit the parish and preach about their ministry. Suffice to say, when I heard the word “missions” back then, my thoughts often took me to far-away, remote places of the world.
Since becoming a bishop, I have come to see that the missions are right in my backyard. I learned that the diocese in which I serve is actually considered a mission diocese and draws support from the Catholic Extension Society. What is more, not too long ago I met with a young woman from my diocese who identified herself as a “missionary.” She works with an organization that asks for a two-year commitment of service. They are assigned as a team to a college campus with the idea of working with the campus-ministry staff to proclaim the Good News. This young woman reverted to the Catholic Faith thanks to the help of some missionaries on her college campus.
What struck me about this woman was her zeal. She was so passionate about this effort and could not wait to tell me about it. It was clearly evident that she was alive in Christ. The other striking feature was that it was as if all she had was a walking stick. She had no baggage or clutter. The only thing she was holding onto was her faith in Jesus Christ. That is all that mattered.
When we step back to look at our current milieu, I think the argument could be made that we all live in mission lands. People are starving for the Faith. There is an urgency to proclaim the Gospel and introduce people to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis has awakened the Church to our responsibility to be missionary disciples. In “The Joy of the Gospel,” he writes, “I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (No. 27). Pope Francis even references St. John Paul who said to the bishops in Oceania, “All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion” (ibid).
The annual observance of World Mission Sunday is an opportunity for a healthy examination. How “missionary” are we as priests? What can we do to be more authentic “missionaries”? Perhaps we can reset our pastoral focus and become more intentional about the commandment of Jesus to go and make disciples (cf. Mt 28:19-20).
A key part of this effort is, of course, passion and joy. The Holy Father reminds us that, like the disciples, we need to exude joy. He writes, “Consequently, an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!” (No. 10). What do our faces say as we engage in ministry? Do they reveal the joy of the Gospel?
Another tactic to improve our missionary sense is to look at our preaching. Pope Francis states, “A renewal of preaching can offer believers, as well as the lukewarm and the nonpracticing, new joy in the faith and fruitfulness in the work of evangelization” (No. 11). Mission and preaching are inextricably linked. Some of the best missionaries are the most compelling preachers. Perhaps we can resolve to pray more and prepare more diligently in our preaching, envisioning ourselves more as missionaries than ever before.
A final way we can enhance our missionary identity is to simply de-clutter our lives. Perhaps we can divest ourselves of some of the stuff that fills our lives and trust more in God. True missionaries typically have so little, but they are usually so joyful. The mission lands, which are right in our backyard, await each one of us. Let us go forth to proclaim the Gospel of Joy!
BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.