Our joyful encounter with the lord pt.4 challenged to be missionary disciples

Each of us is called to grow in love and knowledge of Jesus and witness to Him constantly

So, what does it mean to be missionary disciples?

It means that we're called to encounter Jesus, to be committed to growing in our love and knowledge of Him and to constantly give witness to Him in our deeds and words.

All too often we look for easy solutions, for boxes to check that will help us fulfill our obligations as Catholics and guarantee our place in heaven. The reality is that living our faith can be messy. While we're called to encounter, grow and witness as missionary disciples, we have no exact formula to follow.

At no point are we ever finished encountering God, who is inexhaustible and reveals Himself to us anew each day. As Scripture states: "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:22-23).

There is no conceivable moment in which we can assume we love Jesus enough or know our faith deeply enough. Imagine a husband saying to his wife: "I told you I loved you on our wedding day, what more do you want?" He can always know her better. And the more he gets to know her, the more opportunities he has to love her, and to demonstrate his love for her by laying down his life for her as Christ did for the Church.

Finally, our journey doesn't stop with ourselves. Being a missionary disciple is a fundamentally relational activity. St. John Paul II, a master of the discipleship model of ministry, loved to remind us of this concept from the second Vatican Council. "Man, the only creature God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself" ("Gaudium et Spes," 24). Because of this spiritual reality, we're called to give witness to the saving love of God through our everyday lives.

Engaging the world

In his address at World Youth Day shortly after his election, Pope Francis famously encouraged young people to go into the world and "make a mess."

He said: "I want people to go out! I want the Church to go out to the street! I want us to defend ourselves against everything that is worldliness, that is static, that is comfortableness, that is clericalism, that is being shut-in on ourselves. The parishes, the schools, the institutions, exist to go out!"

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

All too often, we sit in our churches with the doors open and wonder where the people are. Or worse yet, the doors of our churches are locked, except for Mass. Sometimes, the reluctance or resistance to go out into the streets is more passive and internal. We cultivate attitudes in our hearts that keep others at a distance.

It's easy to blame the modern world or the culture of today for our decline and propensity to isolate ourselves. In our current media environment, people are bombarded with messages contrary to the Gospel and are given opportunities to choose comfort rather than the greatness to which we're called in Christ.

But we've often failed to fully engage. While trying to be faithful to what Christ is calling us to do, we sometimes close ourselves off from the modern world, to protect ourselves. But this is wrong.

Blessed Pope Paul VI taught us that the Church "exists to evangelize" and that "evangelizing is the grace and vocation proper to the Church" ("Evangelii Nuntiandi," 14). If our churches are unhealthy or shrinking, it's partly because we've forgotten who we're called to be. We're fundamentally a missionary Church. If we're anything else, we aren't who God created us to be.

Pope Francis often preaches against clericalism. Some have interpreted this as a wake-up call for priests and hierarchy. And it is! But it's also an urgent cry to the laity. As missionary disciples, we have not only the right but the duty to be agents of evangelization, to be missionaries of joy to the peripheries of our communities.

All too often, we're tempted to make the work of sharing the faith the job of only our priests. While we're right to look to our clergy for leadership, each of us has been baptized as priest, prophet and king in our own right. We have been given the commission to "go out and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19).

Because of the unique role of the laity in the modern world, no one is more equipped to go the peripheries than you. Each of you share life, work and social activities with people who have yet to encounter Jesus in a meaningful way. Each of you know people in your lives who are in difficult situations or are leading lives of quiet desperation. They need the gift of God. If you do not bring it to them, who will?

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

This will be messy, because real life is messy. We're called to meet people where they are and accompany them into a life of grace. For most, the path into the Church isn't a straight line.

St. Augustine famously wrestled with God for years before his conversion, even praying, "Lord, give me chastity but not yet." Imagine if St. Ambrose, who brought Augustine into the Church, wasn't willing to enter into Augustine's clearly (and very publicly) broken life and walk with him as he journeyed toward living a Christian life.

We're called to go the peripheries as missionary disciples and reach out with the joy of the Gospel because the love we've received from Christ compels us to do so.

It's a matter of both charity (love) and justice. Charity calls us to imitate Christ in His authentic gift of self, and justice reminds us we owe it to people to give them the chance to hear and respond to the Gospel. We must share the gifts we have been given, as "one beggar telling another where to find bread."

We see this in the Gospels when Andrew, after first encountering the Lord, runs to invite his brother Peter. We see this in the woman at the well, who after meeting and speaking with Jesus, goes out and tells her whole town about Jesus. Neither Andrew nor the woman knew Jesus for very long or had lengthy training by Him about evangelization (see "Evangelii Gaudium," 120). They simply knew what a gift Jesus was and that they couldn't keep it to themselves — the world needed this gift.

Sent out

An excellent example of this charity and justice in action is one of the patrons of our archdiocese, St. Vincent de Paul. Many of you know of the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul through the wonderful work of our many St. Vincent de Paul Societies in our local parishes, serving the needs of the poor in our communities. Inspired by the life of St. Vincent de Paul, Blessed Frederick Ozanam founded the Society in 1833 to serve the poor and people on the peripheries of his society.

St. Vincent de Paul

St. Vincent de Paul had countless opportunities to advance his career as a diplomat or to serve as a priest for the wealthy families in Paris, but as he listened to the call placed on his heart by the Lord, he felt called to invest in the poor and people on the peripheries of his own society.

A more modern example is Blessed Pier Giorgio Frasatti. Blessed Pier Giorgio lived in the 20th century and was the son of a powerful Italian journalist and politician. He had a deep and devoted spiritual life which led him to join the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at a young age and rather than seek the same wealth and power of his family, he used his means and status to serve the poor.

His love for the poor was so great that he often gave his bus fare to the poor and ran home, always late for dinner. "God gave us health so that we could serve the sick," he would say. He spent much of his free time while at a university serving others. At the age of 24, he contracted polio, most likely from the poor and sick he served, and died.

On the day of his funeral, much to the surprise of his family, the streets of Milan were lined with countless numbers of the poor he served.

Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati

The story of Blessed Pier Giorgio following in the footsteps of St. Vincent de Paul and Blessed Frederick Ozanam teaches us an important spiritual principle; we don't know the impact that our witness has.

Through prayer and discernment, St. Vincent de Paul said "Yes" to God in simple every day actions. Inspired by that example, so too did Blessed Frederick and Blessed Pier Giorgio. While their actions were generous, they also were very simple.

St. Francis of Assisi is often quoted as saying, "Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words." It's a lovely sentiment. But the reality is that for many years, Francis traveled the countryside proclaiming the word of God to anyone who would listen, even to the animals! This quote rings true with us because we know that our words mean little without our lived witness. But we shouldn't forget that many times, it does take words to preach the Gospel, to witness to the word made flesh.

If we're willing to listen and to say "Yes" to what God is calling us to do in our daily lives in this same way, imagine the impact we'll have on our families, our parishes and our communities that live in both material and spiritual poverty.

Let us follow the example of these great saints and all the holy witnesses of the Church and be not afraid to live as missionary disciples, to proclaim Christ constantly in both word and deed.

The world needs your "Yes" to missionary discipleship.

Practical steps: Being missionary disciples

1. Share with a friend, co-worker or parishioner why your faith is important to you. Ask them to share the same with you.

2. Ask someone how you can support them in their faith journey, no matter where they are on the path.

3. Help your parish or community organize a service day. Serve the needy, but also incorporate elements of sharing/speaking about the Gospel with each other and/or those you serve.

4. Use the tools of social media to share your faith. e.g. particular family devotions, stories of faith, images of your favorite saints, etc.

5. Invite a colleague, friend or family member to attend a church activity with you.

In the summer of 2017, the U.S. Bishops and diocesan leaders from across the country gathered in for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gosepl. Listening to each other, we sensed the Holy Spirit calling us to a time of urgent renewal. As I thought about how to bring that urgency and renewal to the Archdiocese of St. Louis, my mind went back to Pope Francis' exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel." The reflection on these pages is the introduction to a series on living the joy of the Gospel in St. Louis. Subsequent sections will be published in December, February and April.

Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson

Archbishop of St. Louis

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