(Introduction, published Oct. 23, 2017. Scroll down to find
section 1, published Dec. 18, 2017; section 2, published Feb. 12, 2018;
and section 3, published April 2, 2018.)
Something has to change. Everyday, our news is full of stories of
hatred, violence and a clearly divided nation. It's easy to look around
at everything that's wrong in the world and not know where to begin. Let
me suggest that we begin with the one thing most in our control: us.
Even in the midst of the obvious hurt, confusion and even despair
among our brothers and sisters, we can be a people of hope — a hope
that's rooted in our redeemer and the gift of life that He offers us.
The first and best way to maintain our hope, and to spread hope to others, is to encounter Jesus.
I echo the invitation of Pope Francis in the beginning of his apostolic
exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" ("Evangelii Gaudium"):
"I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a
renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to
letting Him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly
each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him
or her, since 'no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.'"
("Evangelii Gaudium" 3)
What a profound invitation! The Holy Father gives us an essential
reminder: whether we have been on this journey of discipleship for many
years or we are just beginning, we can only continue on our path if we
are willing to encounter Jesus anew each day. Even when we don't feel
ready for the encounter, we can create room in our hearts and let Jesus
do the rest.
An encounter with Jesus cannot help but change us, just as it did for
Matthew the tax collector, Mary Magdalene, Zaccheus and so many more.
Jesus didn't allow them to let their sinful pasts hold them back. Their
pasts simply became an occasion for Him to demonstrate His rich mercy.
He can do the same for each of us. And, building on us, He can do the
same for our city, our country and our world.
This first step of encountering Jesus, then, will transform our
world, for "if we have received the love which restores meaning to our
lives, how can we fail to share that love with others? ("Evangelii
Gaudium" 8) When we begin to share this love in meaningful ways with
everyone with whom we come in contact, the world is a better place and
we have done our part to help overcome the despair that is prevalent in
our society. Imagine the power of the more than 500,000 Catholics in the
Archdiocese of St. Louis living this way.
I invite each of us to consider this daily encounter in our own lives
and to reflect upon how we may foster this encounter in the lives of
those around us: our family, our neighbors, our parishes. If we hope to
truly live and share the joy of the Gospel in St. Louis, we must begin
with encountering the living Gospel, Jesus Christ. It's one small step
that will have a lasting impact on us and all with whom we share our
How to Encounter
While there are many ways we can encounter Jesus, two of the most
basic ways have a long standing tradition in the Church: Word and
St. Jerome is famously quoted as saying "Ignorance of Scripture is
ignorance of Christ." How many of us know the Scriptures as well as we
The first step in getting to know Christ through the Scriptures is
simply to read the Gospels. There are 89 chapters in the 4 Gospels. If
you read one chapter a day you'll finish in three months. If you begin
again, you can read them all through four times in a year. If you
continue to do this, the Word of Christ will penetrate your heart and
In addition, as an aid to understanding the Scriptures, a great
variety of dynamic Scripture study tools are readily available online.
Participating in the Eucharist at Mass and through Adoration of the
Blessed Sacrament is another central way to encounter Christ. This
encounter unites us with Christ and the Church around the world and
history through the communion of saints.
Many times, in order to encounter the Lord, it helps to step out of
our daily routine and create time and space for the Lord to speak to us.
This is why retreats are an important and transformative part of the
Christian life. Many parishes host ACTS retreats, or offer silent
retreats to help foster encounters with the Lord.
Do not wait! As Pope Francis reminds us, this encounter must be
daily; I implore you to accept the same invitation Jesus gave to the
disciples "Come and you will see." If we're willing to encounter the
Lord, He will transform our hearts, our parishes and our world.
"The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who
encounter Jesus. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this
Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a
new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new
paths for the Church's journey in years to come. " ("Evangelii
Called to 'be more' in expressing the joy of the Gospel
(Section 1, published Dec. 18, 2017)
An encounter with Jesus is at the heart of the Christian journey.
But that encounter is not the end. After we have encountered the
Lord, we must remember this encounter as the source of our life and
Salvation history teaches us the significance of remembering our
encounters with the Lord. The Book of Judges tells of a repeated cycle
in which Israel forgets its covenant with God and recounts the
disastrous consequences of this failure to remember. Psalm 105 provides a
beautiful recollection of God's faithfulness, and a call to remain
mindful of all that God has done: "Remember the wonderful works He has
done, His miracles, and the judgment He uttered, O offspring of His
servant Abraham, children of Jacob, His chosen ones." As Pope Francis
points out: "The joy of evangelizing always arises from grateful
remembrance" ("Evangelii Gaudium" 13).
From reading the Gospels and from the examples of holy men and women,
we know how important this grateful remembrance is. To put it starkly:
even Judas had a profound encounter with the Lord. He failed, as the
Pharisees failed, to foster a grateful remembrance of that encounter. If
we don't foster grateful remembrance, we court their fate.
In addition to encounter and grateful remembrance, we must give
witness to our experience of the saving love of God in Christ Jesus.
This is true even when we don't feel prepared or seem to have all the
answers. Pope Francis challenges us on this point:
"(A)nyone who has truly experienced God's saving love does not
need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love ...
If we are not convinced, let us look at those first disciples, who,
immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim
Him joyfully: "We have found the Messiah!" (John 1:41). The Samaritan
woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many
Samaritans come to believe in Him "because of the woman's testimony"
(John 4:39). So too, St. Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ,
"immediately proclaimed Jesus" (Acts 9:20; 22:6-21). So what are we
waiting for?" ("Evangelii Gaudium" 120)
Being more: Prayer and action
Encounter. Grateful remembrance. Joyful witness. It might seem
overwhelming. The question nobody probably wants to hear is: How can we
But let's step back for a moment. Our first call as missionary
disciples isn't necessarily to do more. Our first call is to be more.
What does that mean?
In part, it means avoiding the temptation to jump into mission
without cultivating fertile ground in which to plant seeds of
evangelization. When the soil is rich, the outward manifestations of our
faith come more easily and bear greater fruit.
How do we build a foundation in Christ? First and foremost, by becoming a people of prayer.
Too often our contemporary world is skeptical, distrustful and
hostile toward prayer. Many struggle to find the value and effectiveness
of prayer, especially when confronted by human brokenness, tragedy and
violence. Appeals to prayer can be interpreted as inauthentic: "But it
doesn't do anything."
We aren't asked to choose between prayer and action — Christians know
that's a false dichotomy. Rather, we're called to make prayer the root
of our action.
Mother Teresa was a great example of this. She spent an hour every
day praying before Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. She made it part of
the Rule of Life for all Missionaries of Charity. When asked why they
took this precious time for prayer, especially when there were so many
practical demands on their time and energy, she explained: "because we
find that through our daily holy hour our love for Jesus becomes more
intimate, our love for each other more understanding, and our love for
the poor more compassionate."
For Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity — and for us —
there's no choice between prayer and action. Instead, there is an
intimate connection between the two.
In the story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42), Jesus reminds Martha
that being with Him is what matters most, whatever tasks we may have to
face. The Martha in each of us needs to recognize that being in
communion with God in prayerful contemplation comes first. When we have
listened attentively to Jesus' words, our solidarity with others will be
To be missionary disciples we have to remain attentive to these two interrelated dimensions of our Christian journey.
"(W)ithout prayer all our activity risks being fruitless and our
message empty. Jesus wants evangelizers who proclaim the good news not
only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God's presence"
("Evangelii Gaudium" 259).
Models of being more
The Catholic tradition contains great examples of men and women who have lived this careful balance of prayer and action.
St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, one of the patrons of our archdiocese,
is an excellent example of what it means to "be more" through prayer and
action. St. Rose Philippine's witness has a timely significance for us
today in our local Church. As a woman, religious, immigrant and
missionary, her story might speak to us at different levels. In this
brief reflection on her life and work, I want to highlight her identity
as an immigrant-missionary (I encourage you to visit her shrine in St.
Charles for a more detailed appreciation of her story and
It's truly amazing to see God's work in her life as an
immigrant-missionary. We can only imagine how difficult it must have
been for her to undertake the journey from her homeland to the New
World. She had to leave behind the comforts of her close friends,
family, religious community, culture and language. Yet, she never
abandoned her childhood dream of the mission.
We know from her biographies that she remained committed to her
deeper longing of one day serving as a missionary to the Native
Americans in the New World. And, after a lifelong wait, at age 72, she
finally realized her own ambition of serving the Native Americans
through a mission to the Potawatomi in Kansas. As an
immigrant-missionary she struggled with learning at least two new
languages, English and Potawatomi. Rather than let this be an obstacle
to her witness, she became known as the "woman who prays always." Even
though she wasn't able to speak to the Native Americans in their own
tongue, they recognized her faithfulness and zeal. Many came to know
Jesus because of her witness.
Each of us is called to imitate St. Rose Philippine Duchesne in her
faithfulness to God's call no matter what the circumstances and the
worldly view of success. Her commitment to her dream of being a
missionary, her devotional life and prayer are good examples of a life
lived in contemplation and action.
Another example of "being more" in prayer and action is St. Therese
of Lisieux, the Little Flower. This great 20th-century saint is the
patroness of missions for the Universal Church, even though she lived
most of her short life in a cloistered convent. St. Therese dedicated
herself to "the little way," offering up her every moment and act of
every day to Christ for the salvation of souls. For St. Therese,
"Holiness consists simply in doing God's will, and being just what God
wants us to be."
St. Therese is an especially potent example for our young people. She
entered the convent while quite young. She didn't let her youth stand
as an obstacle for gaining holiness or having a profound impact upon the
Church. Her example of prayer and little acts of kindness shows all of
us how significant our ordinary lives can be. As she says, "Miss no
single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling
look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing
it all for love."
Finally, consider Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Father Jean Corbon once
wrote that "the most fruitful human activity is to receive the love of
God." Mary is the perfect example of this truth. Mary received the Word
of God, nurtured the Word in her womb, and brought Him forth for the
salvation of others. She is a great model for what it means to be more.
Each of us, in our own way, can receive the Word, nurture Him in our
hearts in prayer, and bring Him forth in our actions.
But is it really possible for us to follow Mary's example? Pope
Francis thinks so. He states: "The close connection between Mary, the
Church and each member of the faithful, based on the fact that each in
his or her own way brings forth Christ, has been beautifully expressed
by Blessed Isaac of Stella: 'In the inspired Scriptures, what is said in
a universal sense of the virgin mother, the Church, is understood in an
individual sense of the Virgin Mary... In a way, every Christian is
also believed to be a bride of God's word, a mother of Christ, His
daughter and sister, at once virginal and fruitful... Christ dwelt for
nine months in the tabernacle of Mary's womb. He dwells until the end of
the ages in the tabernacle of the Church's faith. He will dwell forever
in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul'" ("Evangelii Gaudium"
We have our own ways of receiving the love of God, nurturing it in
prayer, and bringing it forth in action for the sake of others. We don't
need to do big things. We need to do every little thing in God's love.
If we can begin, even in little ways, to live like these holy women
in our daily lives we, too, can make Jesus known in a profound and
powerful way that can transform the world.
A Challenge — Practical steps for being more
In our effort to live the Joy of the Gospel and to be missionary
disciples, we must be willing to be challenged and to grow, so allow me
to challenge you to be more in a few different areas of your life.
At home: Commit to daily prayer and personal
accountability. Invite a roommate, your spouse or a friend to walk with
you in your pursuit of Christian virtue and holiness. This shared
discipleship is a great aid in pursuing missionary discipleship.
As a parish: Commit to providing opportunities for
the members of your parish to grow as missionary disciples together.
Offer a monthly communal adoration night, faith formation opportunities
for youth and adults and set up extra opportunities for confession
beyond the normal Saturday hours.
In your community: Let your life and your words
witness the joy of the Gospel. Talk to a neighbor or co-worker about
your faith. Share your energy and your passion for growing closer to the
Lord as a missionary disciple and invite others to evaluate their
relationship with God. Commit to regular acts of service that require
your time, not just your money.
As pilgrims and missionary disciples, we are called to choose compassion over indifference
(Section 2, published Feb. 8, 2018)
"We, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another." — Romans 12:5
As missionary disciples who seek to be more, we know how important it
is to share our faith, hope and love with others. From our own
encounters with Jesus, we've seen how He leads us to embrace one another
just as He has embraced us. This kind of intentional
being-together-in-community is called "solidarity."
Our life in the Church testifies to the truth and the importance of
solidarity. We never really walk or stand alone. And our Gospel identity
as a pilgrim Church — a Church on the way — signals how much of our
faith journey involves a deliberate encounter with others. In Pope
Francis' words: "True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable
from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from
reconciliation with others." ("Evangelii Gaudium" 88).
This exhortation to encounter one another implies moving closer to
those who aren't readily in our circle, both physically and emotionally.
It means opening our minds and hearts and giving our time and energy to
the lives of others, especially the most poor and vulnerable. At the
core of our human encounters is the call to love others as God has loved
us — up close and personal.
The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 29-37) illustrates how Jesus summons each one of us to a greater solidarity.
In the story and person of the Good Samaritan, we discover that our
faith requires more than simply words or beliefs. It isn't the priest
with his faith, nor the Levite with his knowledge of the law, who shows
us the path of discipleship. Instead, the Samaritan, the supposed
"stranger" who acts with mercy and kindness, shows solidarity with the
one he encounters on the way.
In the Good Samaritan, we see that compassion and solidarity mean
being with and for others in concrete ways. Through the story, Jesus
invites us to imagine ourselves on the road. He asks us to stop and
reach out when we behold the brokenness of humanity. How we respond to
others in their need for mercy, healing and reconciliation becomes the
core of our discipleship. It's the perfect illustration of what St.
James says: "So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is
dead." (James 2:17)
Like the priest and the Levite, there are moments when we have turned
our gaze away from the hurt, or haven't stopped to tend to it. We can
be honest and repent for those times when our actions haven't mirrored
But sometimes we've received that love through others. And sometimes
we've given that love to others. We can be thankful for God's grace in
In the Good Samaritan, we recognize a challenge: a call to
solidarity. Our faith requires us to be open to others on the way, to be
willing to show care and compassion for them. The Good Samaritan also
illustrates the need to be courageous in transcending our own class and
cultural distinctions in order to show God's love more fully. As
pilgrims and missionary disciples, we are called to choose compassion
Pope Francis tells us that another essential part of missionary
discipleship is encountering those in need with contemplative love. He
wrote, "What the Holy Spirit mobilizes is... above all an attentiveness
which considers the other 'in a certain sense as one with ourselves.'
This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their
person which inspires me effectively to seek their good. This entails
appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in
their culture, and in their way of living faith. True love is always
contemplative" ("Evangelii Gaudium" 199).
What does this contemplative love mean for us in our daily lives? It
means, for example, being fascinated by others. It means wanting to know
what they think, how they feel and what they want. It means wanting to
know the joys and the hurts in their past, where are they now, and what
they hope and fear for the future. It means sharing their joys and
sorrows and hopes and fears. It means looking on them the way God looks
on us, and sharing their lives the way Jesus shares ours.
Learning to cultivate a contemplative encounter with others takes
time and courage. We do it naturally with those closest to us. We need
to do it more readily for the poor and vulnerable who are among us, but
often go unnoticed.
It isn't easy to leave our familiar surroundings. We may have grown
up in a relatively homogeneous social environment or neighborhood that
provided limited encounters with others of a different race, ethnicity,
political persuasion or socio-economic background. We may have had
negative encounters with others that discouraged us from going beyond
our personal comfort zones.
Yet we know in faith that we're part of a universal Church. We know
that our Catholic faith, life and values are present in every culture
and place in the world. In some instances we've been directly exposed to
other cultures, ethnicities and languages through the missionary work
of the Church. The Archdiocese of St. Louis, for example, has been a
missionary community for over fifty years! Through the work of our
archdiocesan Mission Office we have been able to share
resources with our sisters and brothers in Bolivia and other parts of
Latin America. And, in recent years, we have been able to join in the
missionary work of the Messengers of Peace in Colombia.
We have reached out to our brothers and sisters in faraway places, and
learned to behold them with contemplative love.
We've been missionaries at home, too. Each year, through your prayers and generosity, the Annual Catholic Appeal allows archdiocesan ministries and offices to respond to the needs of those in our own backyard. The Appeal supports Catholic Charities, the St. Charles Lwanga Center, the Respect Life Apostolate, Hispanic Ministry the Regina Cleri priest
retirement home, and others to reach out to our brothers and sisters in
need in our own place and time, and learned to behold them with
But the mission still calls to each of us. Growing in contemplative
love isn't only a task for someone else. We're called to see people in
need with new eyes. Be fascinated by those you encounter. Desire to know
their story. Ask about their lives. Be drawn to where the hurt is, not
away from it. A physician or nurse or physical therapist is especially
attentive to where the hurt is because that's where their help is most
needed. As missionary disciples we need to do that for each other.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis is blessed to have three patron saints
— St. Louis IX, St. Vincent de Paul, and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne —
who were outstanding examples of responding to the needs of the poor
and most vulnerable. Each, in their own way, went beyond the cultural
and socio-economic limits of their own upbringing. They crossed physical
divides; they crossed social and cultural barriers where many of their
contemporaries held back. Our own Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis
contains beautiful mosaics depicting their lives of service to those who
were poor, excluded and marginalized. I encourage us all to take time
to study these beautiful images. They can inspire us to grow in
Solidarity and contemplative love for troubled times
Our patron saints challenge and encourage us: live up to our example.
They call us to bring greater solidarity and contemplative love to our
own troubled times.
It isn't difficult to see a number of pressing issues and challenges
that confront the world today: abortion, euthanasia, secularism, a
culture of indifference, a growing social and political polarization,
poverty, racism, global migration, religious persecution, violence,
human trafficking, domestic violence and other social ills that corrode
the inherent dignity of humans.
Locally, we have been challenged by issues rooted in the sin of
racism. We have seen our neighborhoods divided by painful and tragic
events that have surfaced disappointments, resentments and mistrust
between communities and established institutions of leadership and
power. But we have also witnessed how our larger community has come
together to march, protest, pray and dialogue about practical solutions
that can have a positive impact.
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the number and magnitude of the
challenges. But, in facing the need for reconciliation that still
remains, we have to be vigilant and not give into the temptation to grow
cynical or isolate ourselves from one another. Rather than spending
most of our time and energy bemoaning the problems, might we spend more
of our time and energy addressing them? We have a history of troubles
that plagues us. We also have a history of leadership that can guide us.
For example, the courageous leadership of Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter
shows us the way. He said: "Yes, racism is a heresy, there is no doubt
about it. Segregation is a sin, a sin against both justice and
charity... We cannot delay longer in this matter no matter how difficult
but must face our responsibility as pastors to teach and guide, and
thus prepare our people for the full acceptance of the Christian
principles that are at the base of many aspects of this problem." His
prophetic words and actions still remind us of the work before us,
especially as we strive to become more aware of our personal and
systemic biases and prejudices.
We can also find direction in the testimony and actions of Sister
Antona Ebo, FSM. Her commitment to the civil rights movement, and her
work on behalf of racial justice and reconciliation, continues to be a
guiding light for us in the Church and society. Her courageous life and
witness continues to inspire our local communities. The annual Sr. Antona Ebo Social Justice Conference helps us learn to be better instruments of racial justice and reconciliation in our parishes and neighborhoods.
My brother bishops in the United States Catholic Conference of
Bishops (USCCB) have echoed this clarion call to be agents of
transformation and racial reconsolidation. In establishing a new Ad Hoc Committee
on Racism, they remind us that the responsibility to address the sin of
racism in our Church and society falls on each one of us. Cardinal
Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the USCCB, speaking on behalf of the
bishops — and of all Catholics — said: "Recent events have exposed the
extent to which the sin of racism continues to afflict our nation. The
establishment of this new ad hoc committee will be wholly dedicated to
engaging the Church and our society to work together in unity to
challenge the sin of racism, to listen to persons who are suffering
under this sin, and to come together in the love of Christ to know one
another as brothers and sisters." With equal measures of honesty and
hope in our hearts, we, in the archdiocese, will continue to remain
attentive to the suffering that is caused by the terrible sin of racism
and its consequences in our community.
For more than forty years, now, our Catholic community and allies
have come together to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr., and gathered to celebrate the Archdiocesan Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice.
Let's take this annual event and make it a daily reality — each one of
us deepening our commitment to work for racial justice and
May God bless our personal and collective efforts as we strive to be
missionary disciples — growing in solidarity and contemplative love to
meet the needs of our troubled times.
Taking steps to greater solidarity and contemplative love
Below are some practical suggestions that can assist you in giving
greater witness to the spirit and practice of solidarity in your life
and in your parish community.
• Personal prayer: Bring your concerns and desires
for reconciliation, justice and solidarity to your regular prayer life.
Don't just think about God in relation to them. Talk to God about them.
• Common prayer: Encourage your parish community to
organize prayer opportunities for the whole parish to come together in
prayer for a particular social justice issue. Make these a regular part
of your general intercessions (Prayers of the Faithful). Sponsor evening
prayer to pray for these intentions.
• Participate in archdiocesan initiatives that are
designed to increase our awareness and commitment to peace, justice and
reconciliation (events such as Annual Mass for the Preservation of Peace
and Justice, Annual March for Life, Annual Memorial Mass, Sr. Antona
Ebo Social Justice Conference, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,
National Migration Week Celebration, etc.)
• Learn more about the work and different services of Catholic Charities. www.ccstl.org
• Invite archdiocesan offices and agencies to assist you and your parish community in learning more about the diverse communities in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
• Learn more about our Catholic social doctrine. Read the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, or check out the U.S. Bishops' resources at: www.stlouisreview.com/jPP
Challenged to be missionary disciples
Each of us is called to grow in love and knowledge of Jesus and witness to Him constantly
So, what does it mean to be missionary disciples?
It means that we're called to encounter Jesus, to be committed to
growing in our love and knowledge of Him and to constantly give witness
to Him in our deeds and words.
All too often we look for easy solutions, for boxes to check that
will help us fulfill our obligations as Catholics and guarantee our
place in heaven. The reality is that living our faith can be messy.
While we're called to encounter, grow and witness as missionary
disciples, we have no exact formula to follow.
At no point are we ever finished encountering God, who is
inexhaustible and reveals Himself to us anew each day. As Scripture
states: "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never
come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness"
There is no conceivable moment in which we can assume we love Jesus
enough or know our faith deeply enough. Imagine a husband saying to his
wife: "I told you I loved you on our wedding day, what more do you
want?" He can always know her better. And the more he gets to know her,
the more opportunities he has to love her, and to demonstrate his love
for her by laying down his life for her as Christ did for the Church.
Finally, our journey doesn't stop with ourselves. Being a missionary
disciple is a fundamentally relational activity. St. John Paul II, a
master of the discipleship model of ministry, loved to remind us of this
concept from the second Vatican Council. "Man, the only creature God
willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere
gift of himself" ("Gaudium et Spes," 24). Because of this spiritual
reality, we're called to give witness to the saving love of God through
our everyday lives.
Engaging the world
In his address at World Youth Day shortly after his election, Pope
Francis famously encouraged young people to go into the world and "make a
He said: "I want people to go out! I want the Church to go out to the
street! I want us to defend ourselves against everything that is
worldliness, that is static, that is comfortableness, that is
clericalism, that is being shut-in on ourselves. The parishes, the
schools, the institutions, exist to go out!"
All too often, we sit in our churches with the doors open and wonder
where the people are. Or worse yet, the doors of our churches are
locked, except for Mass. Sometimes, the reluctance or resistance to go
out into the streets is more passive and internal. We cultivate
attitudes in our hearts that keep others at a distance.
It's easy to blame the modern world or the culture of today for our
decline and propensity to isolate ourselves. In our current media
environment, people are bombarded with messages contrary to the Gospel
and are given opportunities to choose comfort rather than the greatness
to which we're called in Christ.
But we've often failed to fully engage. While trying to be faithful
to what Christ is calling us to do, we sometimes close ourselves off
from the modern world, to protect ourselves. But this is wrong.
Blessed Pope Paul VI taught us that the Church "exists to evangelize"
and that "evangelizing is the grace and vocation proper to the Church"
("Evangelii Nuntiandi," 14). If our churches are unhealthy or shrinking,
it's partly because we've forgotten who we're called to be. We're
fundamentally a missionary Church. If we're anything else, we aren't who
God created us to be.
Pope Francis often preaches against clericalism. Some have
interpreted this as a wake-up call for priests and hierarchy. And it is!
But it's also an urgent cry to the laity. As missionary disciples, we
have not only the right but the duty to be agents of evangelization, to
be missionaries of joy to the peripheries of our communities.
All too often, we're tempted to make the work of sharing the faith
the job of only our priests. While we're right to look to our clergy for
leadership, each of us has been baptized as priest, prophet and king in
our own right. We have been given the commission to "go out and make
disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19).
Because of the unique role of the laity in the modern world, no one
is more equipped to go the peripheries than you. Each of you share life,
work and social activities with people who have yet to encounter Jesus
in a meaningful way. Each of you know people in your lives who are in
difficult situations or are leading lives of quiet desperation. They
need the gift of God. If you do not bring it to them, who will?
This will be messy, because real life is messy. We're called to meet
people where they are and accompany them into a life of grace. For most,
the path into the Church isn't a straight line.
St. Augustine famously wrestled with God for years before his
conversion, even praying, "Lord, give me chastity but not yet." Imagine
if St. Ambrose, who brought Augustine into the Church, wasn't willing to
enter into Augustine's clearly (and very publicly) broken life and walk
with him as he journeyed toward living a Christian life.
We're called to go the peripheries as missionary disciples and reach
out with the joy of the Gospel because the love we've received from
Christ compels us to do so.
It's a matter of both charity (love) and justice. Charity calls us to
imitate Christ in His authentic gift of self, and justice reminds us we
owe it to people to give them the chance to hear and respond to the
Gospel. We must share the gifts we have been given, as "one beggar
telling another where to find bread."
We see this in the Gospels when Andrew, after first encountering the
Lord, runs to invite his brother Peter. We see this in the woman at the
well, who after meeting and speaking with Jesus, goes out and tells her
whole town about Jesus. Neither Andrew nor the woman knew Jesus for very
long or had lengthy training by Him about evangelization (see
"Evangelii Gaudium," 120). They simply knew what a gift Jesus was and
that they couldn't keep it to themselves — the world needed this gift.
An excellent example of this charity and justice in action is one of
the patrons of our archdiocese, St. Vincent de Paul. Many of you know of
the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul through the wonderful work of our
many St. Vincent de Paul Societies in our local parishes, serving the
needs of the poor in our communities. Inspired by the life of St.
Vincent de Paul, Blessed Frederick Ozanam founded the Society in 1833 to
serve the poor and people on the peripheries of his society.
St. Vincent de Paul had countless opportunities to advance his career
as a diplomat or to serve as a priest for the wealthy families in
Paris, but as he listened to the call placed on his heart by the Lord,
he felt called to invest in the poor and people on the peripheries of
his own society.
A more modern example is Blessed Pier Giorgio Frasatti. Blessed Pier
Giorgio lived in the 20th century and was the son of a powerful Italian
journalist and politician. He had a deep and devoted spiritual life
which led him to join the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at a young age
and rather than seek the same wealth and power of his family, he used
his means and status to serve the poor.
His love for the poor was so great that he often gave his bus fare to
the poor and ran home, always late for dinner. "God gave us health so
that we could serve the sick," he would say. He spent much of his free
time while at a university serving others. At the age of 24, he
contracted polio, most likely from the poor and sick he served, and
On the day of his funeral, much to the surprise of his family, the
streets of Milan were lined with countless numbers of the poor he
The story of Blessed Pier Giorgio following in the footsteps of St.
Vincent de Paul and Blessed Frederick Ozanam teaches us an important
spiritual principle; we don't know the impact that our witness has.
Through prayer and discernment, St. Vincent de Paul said "Yes" to God
in simple every day actions. Inspired by that example, so too did
Blessed Frederick and Blessed Pier Giorgio. While their actions were
generous, they also were very simple.
St. Francis of Assisi is often quoted as saying, "Preach the Gospel
at all times, if necessary use words." It's a lovely sentiment. But the
reality is that for many years, Francis traveled the countryside
proclaiming the word of God to anyone who would listen, even to the
animals! This quote rings true with us because we know that our words
mean little without our lived witness. But we shouldn't forget that many
times, it does take words to preach the Gospel, to witness to the word
If we're willing to listen and to say "Yes" to what God is calling us
to do in our daily lives in this same way, imagine the impact we'll
have on our families, our parishes and our communities that live in both
material and spiritual poverty.
Let us follow the example of these great saints and all the holy
witnesses of the Church and be not afraid to live as missionary
disciples, to proclaim Christ constantly in both word and deed.
The world needs your "Yes" to missionary discipleship.
Practical steps: Being missionary disciples
1. Share with a friend, co-worker or parishioner why your faith is important to you. Ask them to share the same with you.
2. Ask someone how you can support them in their faith journey, no matter where they are on the path.
3. Help your parish or community organize a service day. Serve the needy, but also incorporate elements of sharing/speaking about the Gospel with each other and/or those you serve.
4. Use the tools of social media to share your faith. e.g. particular family devotions, stories of faith, images of your favorite saints, etc.
5. Invite a colleague, friend or family member to attend a church activity with you.