VENCES: All in the Holy Spirit’s timing

February 27, 2024

With the Lenten season comes talk of penance, almsgiving and mastery of the self, as taught and modeled by Jesus Christ according to the Gospels. All these practices are perfectly aligned with the teachings of the Holy Mother Church as well as with the teachings, witness and testimony of saints across history and across the wide spectrum of spiritualities that we can safely adopt in our efforts to follow Christ.

All too often, however, the language we use to describe the purpose and effects of these practices points to the individual who practices them as their purpose and their end.

The language we use focuses on the virtues they reveal and the moral character they form. Only tangentially do the practices imply that the end of our call to master ourselves is to be able to then empty ourselves onto others, as Jesus did. Missionary discipleship is the end of all penance, almsgiving, mastery of self and all acts of piety we are called to do. Missionary discipleship is the purpose and the end of all evangelizations and of a well-rounded catechesis. Missionary discipleship is the purpose and the end of the season of Lent.

Let’s not confuse our call to be missionary disciples with the more common stereotype of proselytizing. Admirable as it is that men and women of all ages take on their Bible under their arm and go out into the world, knocking on doors to share the good news of Jesus to willing and unwilling alike, we are called to be missionary disciples in a far less extreme but perhaps a more transcendental form.

We are called to mission to our family members, neighbors, coworkers and classmates by modeling the teachings of Jesus and sharing what Jesus, His Church and our faith have done and are doing for each one of us. You do not need to memorize John 3:16 and recite it to everyone you know. All you need to do is to make sure that everyone who knows you know that you are a Catholic Christian, that your community of faith is a place where your feel safe, a place where you are appreciated for the mere fact that you are human being and a child of God, and that in your community of faith everyone is welcomed.

To be a missionary disciple, all you need to be able to do is to share your “faith story” with someone else and extend an invitation to join you in your CCE class, your adult formation class, your parish mission, your confirmation or communion preparation to meet the great people that you have met there.

This, of course, assumes that your parish is a place where visitors are welcomed with open arms, where nobody, absolutely nobody is turned away or looked at funny because of beliefs, life choices, or appearance. Suppose we do a good job at accepting everyone unconditionally as a part of our communities. In that case, the Holy Spirit will find the right time and the right means to catechize them into the teachings of the Church and call them to conversion.

Our world is clamoring for safe places where all are welcomed, valued and recognized as children of God. This Lenten season let’s focus our talk, our evangelization efforts, and our catechesis about penance, almsgiving, and mastery of the self with a focus on its rightful purpose resulting in missionary discipleship. †

Miguel Vences is an associate director with the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.

(Photo by James Ramos/Herald)