Recently I have been asked to give some talks around what it means to be a missionary disciple. Usually when we think about missionaries, we think about those who travel to foreign lands in order to share the Good News of the Gospel with people there. This will always remain part of the Church’s mission to the world. However, I also know of at least a few parishes in St. Louis that have signs on their parking lots as people pull out that read “you are entering mission territory.” So what does being “on mission” at home look like?
Lucky for us, the Second Vatican Council has an entire document, “Ad Gentes,” dedicated to the missionary work of the Church. One particular paragraph (no. 25) speaks about the special spiritual and moral qualities that missionaries ought to exhibit. I think reviewing a few of them can help us examine whether or not we are really acting out of a maintenance or mission mode.
The missionary must have a spirit of initiative.
• Jesus tells St. Peter that he is to become a “fisher of men.” I once heard a quote that said, “When did we become keepers of the aquarium instead of fishers of men?” We need to be willing to try new things, put ourselves out there a bit and make mistakes along the way.
The missionary must have a spirit of constancy.
• Jesus doesn’t say that if at first you don’t succeed, give up. He says to begin again, shake the dust off, always moving forward in confidence that it is His work, not ours.
The missionary must be persevering in difficulties, patient and strong of heart in bearing with solitude, fatigue and fruitless labor.
• Pope Benedict XVI was once asked by the priests of Rome about how to avoid spiritual burnout. His response? Focus on sowing the seed, not reaping the harvest. If we are content to plant the seeds of faith and allow time and grace to do their work, we eliminate the idol of self-importance, seeing conversion as a work of our own instead of that of the Holy Spirit, and burnout.
The missionary must encounter others with an open mind and a wide heart.
• The art of accompaniment begins by building trust. Let people tell you their story before you presume to tell them what’s wrong with it.
The missionary will adapt herself to foreign ways of doing things and changing circumstances.
• People growing up today in many ways live in a different world than previous generations. We need to be able to adapt our methods (not what is true) to engage the world of today.
The missionary must cooperate with others who are dedicated to the same task.
• Evangelization isn’t a competition. We can’t do it alone, and we’re not meant to. Jesus told His disciples, if they are not against us, they are for us. The Holy Spirit manifests in a variety of charisms and gifts, so there is no “one size fits all” mode of evangelization. What is necessary is to humbly acknowledge the gifts and talents that God has given to you and to others, and to collaborate in mission.