Q: Archbishop J, who is a missionary disciple?
Missionary disciples are not a special type of disciple. They are disciples living out the missionary mandate of Jesus Christ. They are disciples who are willing to live the call of Jesus, fully.
The Great Commission
Before parting from His disciples at the time of the Ascension, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:18ff). This is not a wish or a desire. It is a command given to the Twelve, with the expectation they would be missionaries.
For a long time we have settled for ‘Catholicism light’—a watered-down version of the real thing as though it were a passing fad. Catholicism of this kind looks like the real thing, but it does not taste like the real thing because it is not the real thing. Cultural Catholicism or ‘Catholicism light’ has put us in the trouble we are in as Church. Every challenge we face today is related to the soft option we have taken—a light, cosy, easy form of Catholicism.
Over time, we became complacent. We began seeing discipleship without the missionary component, leading us to become more culture than religion; more of a club to belong to, than a religion to live and follow, and give oneself to.
We have been the largest religion for so long that we forgot that mission is integral to Jesus’ mandate. To move from where we are now to the Church we are called to be will require nothing short of a process of conversion, in which we all become engaged.
Many people buy exercise machines after great research and then make the equipment a place for hanging clothes, and so they cheat themselves. The analogy holds for our faith.
Many people have been received into the faith: some never practise, others practise every Sunday. But, there is a difference between practising the faith and living the faith.
‘Little Johnny went to Mass; he went every Sunday. Little Johnny went to hell for what he did on Monday.’ There is a difference between a cultural Catholic who goes to Mass every Sunday and a missionary disciple who lives the faith in its fullness.
You have to receive the faith before you can live the faith. You have to live the faith, before you can share it. A missionary disciple is one who shares the faith as an integral part of how he or she lives.
In May 2007, the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean gathered in Aparecida, Brazil, for their fifth General Assembly. During this assembly “missionary discipleship” came to be seen as key to the renewal of the faith in the region.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his address to the bishops, laid out the thinking. I will draw extensively from the Concluding Document (CD) in which the Holy Father Emeritus, says:
The disciple, founded in this way upon the rock of God’s word, feels driven to bring the Good News of salvation to his brothers and sisters. Discipleship and mission are like the two sides of a single coin: when the disciple is in love with Christ, he cannot stop proclaiming to the world that only in him do we find salvation (cf. Acts 4:12). In effect, the disciple knows that without Christ there is no light, no hope, no love, no future.
This is the essential task of evangelisation, which includes the preferential option for the poor, integral human promotion, and authentic Christian liberation (146, CD).
The document ties mission with discipleship. It sees the encounter with Christ and the experience of love received as the motivation for and driving force of mission. This is not the outline of a new programme. The document offers all Catholics a new encounter with Christ in Word and Sacrament, inviting people into a living relationship with Christ.
The ultimate end of missionary discipleship is a renewed civilisation. “Preferential option for the poor”, “integral human promotion” and “authentic Christian liberation” lead to that renewed civilisation. But it begins with an encounter with God’s mercy that we are compelled to share. The text goes on to state:
Jesus went out to meet people in very different situations—men and women, poor and rich, Jews and foreigners, the just and sinners—and invited all to follow Him. Today He is still issuing the invitation to find in Him the Father’s love. Accordingly, the missionary disciple must be a man or a woman who makes the Father’s merciful love visible, especially to the poor and sinners (147, CD)
This is at the heart of missionary discipleship. It is also the core and centre of the Christian mystery. The ultimate end of the process of discipleship is holiness. “In sharing this mission, the disciples journey toward holiness. Living it in mission leads them into the heart of the world” (148, CD).
Hence, holiness is not a flight toward self-absorption or toward religious individualism, nor does it mean abandoning the urgent reality of the enormous economic, social, and political problems of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Key Message: Missionary discipleship is not a different form of discipleship. It is the call of Jesus to every baptised person.
Action Step: Reflect on your discipleship. Are you motivated to live your faith and also to share your faith? Whether yes or no, it is a great time to commit to ongoing formation. Commit to attend the AEC Missionary Congress closing, Sunday, September 22. Come with your whole family. Invite others who may have drifted away from the Church.
Scripture Reading: Mt 28:16–20; Mk 16:15–20.