BLEVINS: Mary, the first missionary disciple

August 13, 2019

In the past five years, in the Church, certain words are heard more frequently: evangelization, the new evangelization, discipleship, missionary disciples.

Many of these words are spoken more often due to the “Francis Effect.” Pope Francis, when elected to his office as Pontiff, began talking about the art of accompaniment, smelling like the sheep, the joy of the Gospel and going out to the peripheries.

These are not new concepts in the Church, but we began to see them through the lens of Pope Francis’s apostolic letters, homilies and encyclicals.

How are we to go forward as Catholics in mission? It used to be that we only had to struggle with the question, “Are you saved?” mostly addressed to us by our Protestant friends. We finally found the answer to that question as, “Yes, over and over again.” So now we are asked to be disciples of Christ and, moreover, missionary disciples.

What does this mean?

First, what is a disciple? A disciple is a friend and follower of Jesus, who follows Jesus, worships Jesus and shares Jesus with others.

Being a disciple means we have to take time to get to know Jesus. We do this through prayer, studying Scripture, and the reception of the Sacraments. It begins with an encounter.

What about the word missionary? Put simply, a missionary is someone who is on a mission. As Christians, our mission is to bring Jesus to others.

Each of us, by our Baptism, is called to bring Christ to the world. So a missionary disciple is one who sees the importance of following and sharing Jesus with others and helps to form other disciples. How do we go about this mission?

On Aug. 15, we celebrate the Assumption of Mary into heaven. We only have to look at Mary to give us an example of the attributes of a missionary disciple. Mary was the first disciple.

Her fiat, or yes, to answering the call of God to be the mother of Christ was her surrender to the will of God, trusting Him fully to carry out His mission through her.

“Mary was the first missionary disciple. She is, indeed, our mother. Mary turned a humble stable into a temporary home for Jesus. She is a sign of hope for us; she opens our hearts; she shared our struggles, and in the end, she leads us to Christ.” (Joy of the Gospel #285-286)

When she went to visit and care for her cousin Elizabeth, Mary took Christ with her, so that “when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb” (Luke 1:41).
That infant was John the Baptist, who would spread the message of repentance to prepare for the coming of Christ.

Mary, as Theotokos, carried and “bore the Word who became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” She is the mother, the follower, the one who accompanies Jesus throughout his life and witnesses to so many after His death and resurrection.

When a small group was gathered in that upper room on that famous Pentecost day “we see a woman, Mary, now middle-aged, who, over 30 years before, was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and became the mother of Jesus. God used the faith of this Jewish woman, her cooperation with God’s way, to bring Jesus into the world.

So Mary, long devoutly loved by Christians as the Mother of Jesus and Mother of God, also is a model of true discipleship and evangelization. With Mary’s example and prayer, we grow as disciples, ever faithful to Jesus and ever wanting to reveal Him.” (Go and Make Disciples, #71)

So how do we go about becoming missionary disciples? Father Mark Toups from the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, gives us nine steps:

1. Have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Open yourself up to encounter Him each day, get to know Him, listen to Him.
2. Experience conversion as the response to the invitation from Christ to be in a relationship with Him. Learn His ways. Follow His teachings.
3. Stay grounded in the teaching of the Church and in your relationship with Jesus Christ.
4. Discern what Jesus is revealing to you each day. This means you have to actively listen with your mind and heart for the voice of God.
5. Grow in holiness by growing in virtue.
6. Worship our Lord through prayer, Mass and frequent reception of the Sacraments.
7. Be part of the Church community, particularly when they gather at the Sunday Eucharist, and serve within that community of believers.
8. Have concern and empathy for others, for the poor, the outcast – those on the peripheries.
9. Participate in the work of evangelization by sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. Share your conversion story. Share the mystery of how Jesus works in our lives. Spread the Gospel message that Jesus loves us, that He came to suffer and die for us, that He rose from the dead, and has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us.

With these nine steps and the example of Mary, Mother of God, we can become true missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, spread His message of love and forgiveness, and share the Gospel with those we encounter to bring about the Kingdom of God. Go forth, to love and serve the Lord!

Julie Blevins is the director of the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.