Being missionary disciples is about a relationship with Christ, with His people
November 14, 2017
Each year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announces a new catechetical theme for all dioceses across the nation. Our Archdiocese incorporates this theme in our annual kickoff for faith formation leaders as they gather and plan for religious education in their home parishes.
This year, Houston experienced Harvey shortly after our gathering. Needless to say, this year’s theme, “Living as Missionary Disciples,” was not the main concern as many experienced the flood waters. The survival of those who were devastated by this hurricane took precedence and the catechetical theme this year was buried by stories of the flood. Now months have passed and while the recovery mode is ongoing, there is some sense of normalcy beginning. With that said, perhaps it is time to revisit the catechetical theme again. What does a missionary disciple look like and what does it mean to live as a missionary disciple?
First, a missionary disciple looks like everyone else with one exception; they are filled with the joy of the love of God and they want to share that joy and love with others. When I think of missionaries, often I think of those who travel to the ends of the earth, spreading the good news of the Gospel, digging wells, feeding the poor, bringing medical aid, etc. If that is what a missionary is, then how is the USCCB’s theme relevant to the majority of Catholics who do not go on missionary trips? To answer that question, it helps to know what the U.S. Catholic bishops say about missionary discipleship: “Missionary discipleship takes place within the context of evangelization and begins with an encounter with Christ” (“Living as Missionary Disciples,” USCCB).
Whenever Jesus reached out to people in the Gospels, whether it was to the lepers, to the possessed, or to the woman at the well, he always met them where they were. He was relational then and He is relational now. Our encounters with Christ are relational. When in relationship with Christ, we cannot help but grow in love for Him and His bride, the Church. Thus, being a missionary disciple isn’t just about traveling to the ends of the earth performing acts of charity.
It’s about relationship with Christ and relationship with His people. To be a missionary disciple you must meet people face-to-face. Whether you are ministering to the poor in a village in the middle of another continent or being a catechist at your local parish, you are a missionary disciple when you share your encounter with Christ through words and actions. The relationship that grows from your personal encounter with Christ must be at the center of everything you do.
What does it mean to have a personal encounter with Christ? Its meaning is as vast as the variety of people on this planet and can come in any way that the Holy Spirit leads. Not all of us have an experience like St. Paul on his way to Damascus. While some may have their “ah ha” mountain-top moment, there are also those whose encounter envelopes them gradually.
Whether we experience Christ through the Sacraments, retreats, prayer, adoration, Scripture, or the mercy of forgiveness, such encounters transform us. In order to have that kind of personal encounter with Christ, you must be open to Him. Jesus said, “It was not you who chose Me but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain...” (John 15:16) Never think that you are the originator of that encounter. No, it is always Christ who is the initiator. We are simply the recipients and responders of His loving invitation.
Therefore, in order to be a missionary disciple, we must first be open to Christ, allowing Him to transform us through our encounters with Him. Then as we are transformed, we must choose to be His disciple intentionally sharing His Good News through words and actions.
During this next catechetical year, as we go about the task of Living as Missionary Disciples, let us continually seek encounters with Christ through prayer and participation in the Sacraments. Then, as we enter into that relationship with Christ, let us be missionary disciples reaching out to others through the sharing of our faith by words and by charitable actions.
Deborah Jones is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.