Q: Archbishop J, who was the first missionary disciple?
First, we must determine what is a missionary disciple? To answer this, I will turn to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Joy of the Gospel, 120:
“Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries’, but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples’. 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!’.”
A missionary disciple is one who has encountered Christ, one for whom Christ is the centre and who shares Christ with others. Such a person receives Christ (encounter), is rooted in Christian principles (living) and is engaged in missionary activity (sharing) Christ. So, a missionary disciple is one who has encountered Christ, lives for Christ and shares Christ.
St Paul was one of the great early missionary disciples. He made frequent journeys to carry the Good News to the Gentile people, telling in 2 Corinthians 11:24–28, of the hardship he endured for the sake of the Church. The early Church spread from Israel to the known world because of his fearless preaching.
The evangelists and all the apostles encountered, lived and shared Christ. The several accounts of their call demonstrate an encounter with Jesus and its impact on their lives. Jesus commissioned them to be missionary disciples, sending them out in pairs (Mk 6:7), as he also did, a wider group of 72 with the same intent (Lk 10:1–13). So, we can see in the early Church, to be disciples was to be missionary disciples. They participated in the mission of Jesus.
The First Disciple
According to our definition of missionary disciple, however, Mary is the first missionary disciple. She was the first to encounter Jesus, the first to live for him and the first to share with others.
In Luke’s account of the Annunciation lies a vocational call. Mary, a young virgin is called by God through the message of an angel to be Mother of God (Lk 1:26–38). Through the encounter she is greatly troubled (v 29) and the angel tells her “do not be afraid” (v 30). These are the hallmarks of encounter.
Whenever we encounter God, we will hear, “do not be afraid”. There is good reason for this. The experience is terrifying!
Not only is Mary drawn into the presence of God, she encounters the Holy Spirit (v 35) who overshadows her, long before Pentecost. Ultimately, Mary encounters Jesus who is in her (v 35). Mary encounters the Trinity, as three separate Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and her life is transformed. This encounter is pivotal to salvation history. Jesus comes to us and to all people through this encounter—through Mary.
By her fiat, “let it be done”, Mary becomes the first disciple, the first to follow her Son who was in her womb; the first to say “yes” and reverse Eve’s “no”: the first to face martyrdom for the sake of Jesus.
If Joseph had chosen to divorce Mary formally (Matt 1:19), Mary would have been stoned to death. Her ‘yes’ was a death sentence if Joseph did not understand or did not agree and did not answer His call. Mary knew this! She understood the consequence of her ‘yes’. She answered her God and followed the call. Jesus describes her discipleship in these terms, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Lk 11:28). This is the mark of discipleship. This is Mary.
First Missionary Disciple
Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah (Lk 1:39). I am always fascinated by this line. ‘Why the hurry Mary? Why the rush?’ There is a sense of immediacy and urgency in the line. Mary has purpose, I dare say, mission. Having been told by the angel that Elizabeth was in her sixth month, she makes haste to visit her.
As the story unfolds, we get an understanding of missionary discipleship. The text says: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Lk 1:41).
Having encountered Jesus, Mary now in haste brings Jesus to Elizabeth and John. They are the next to encounter Jesus. It happens through Mary. The reaction is real and physical. John leaps! This is the point of missionary discipleship, to act in accordance to Jesus’ commandments and teaching and to share Him in all we do.
In this interaction, Mary utters the praises of God in her canticle the Magnificat. All true encounters bring gratitude. Mary is rejoicing with everything in her. In Mary’s story we see grace at work, how this grace calls everyone to a profound encounter, and ultimately to conversion and sharing the faith.
Even after the Assumption, Mary is still acting as a missionary disciple. Think of the several apparitions of Mary all over the world, the many shrines built in her honour and the vast numbers who travel to them from far and wide to encounter, live and share Christ. Millions have come to Christ through the many Marian shrines and apparitions.
In Mexico, because of Mary’s apparition to the peasant Juan Diego, 10 million Aztec Indians came to encounter Jesus Christ. The apparition and the devotion flowing from it unites the Americas.
So even in Heaven, Mary is actively bringing people to encounter her Son. This is amazing. Mary has always been seen as mother of the Apostles; she is also mother of missionary disciples.
We are called to be missionary disciples today, in this time. We, like Mary, need to run as quickly as we can to bring the Good News to the people of our age.
Key Message: A missionary disciple encounters, lives and shares Christ with all. Mary is our first missionary disciple.
Action Step: Reflect on your encounter with Christ and see who was instrumental. Who have you invited to encounter Jesus Christ? In this Extraordinary Month of Mission and as we celebrate the Fatima Devotions, let us consciously choose every day to share Christ with others.
Scripture Reading: Luke 1: 39–56