In his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” (“Evangelii Gaudium”), Pope Francis invites all the faithful to be “missionary disciples.”
His call, which has captured the hearts and minds of many, prompts us to ask: “What is a missionary disciple?”
If we take a closer look at Pope Francis’ words, we realize that they are meant not as a general summons, but as a deeply personal invitation to each one of us. We are each called to live out the gift and meaning of our baptism by our participation in the life of the church, and by our words and actions that witness to the transforming power of the Gospel.
Pope Francis offers his personal invitation when he said in that same exhortation:
“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the people of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). … The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized.
“Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.
“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'” (No. 120).
Missionary discipleship begins with, and grows in, friendship with the person of Jesus Christ.
Once we have truly experienced in a personal way the immense love and mercy of God revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, daily life is no longer the same. It is always God’s love and grace that first transforms us into missionary disciples.
With the grace of our baptism, we carry within us that same love of God that radiates to all around us, particularly to the poor and those who exist on the social and moral margins of society.
To become a missionary disciple, then, is to hear the voice of Jesus calling us to live the new life of faith in him.
We receive this new life of faith at baptism, and the whole Christian life is an unfolding of the initial baptismal gift of faith — faith that is believed, celebrated, lived and deepened through prayer. This first encounter with the love of God is that moment of evangelization, when the seed of the Gospel planted in our lives begins to grow and flourish.
Catechesis is the deepening of this baptismal gift of faith through an ongoing journey of coming to know and be formed in faith.
“Living as Missionary Disciples” is the theme of this year’s Catechetical Sunday, to be celebrated on Sept. 17, 2017. On that day, as catechists are commissioned for their ministry, all the faithful are reminded of our common vocation, by virtue of baptism, to know and live the faith and to witness to the Gospel in word and deed.
Jesus’ call to missionary discipleship radically changes our lives.
Like the first disciples of the Lord — who moved from being fearful and discouraged fishermen into fearless and zealous missionary disciples — we are transformed into messengers of grace and hope.
This transformation takes place here and now, in the context of the everyday. Jesus called his disciples as they went about their daily labors as fishermen and tax collectors. In the same way, he calls us to missionary discipleship in the concrete places and relationships of our daily life.
Having encountered the love of God, we radiate that divine love into the ordinary moments and relationships of our day, to family, co-workers, friends and community.
We are sustained in our mission by reflecting on the word of God, celebrating the sacraments of the church, striving to live the Christian moral life and praying.
For a missionary disciple, the love of God revealed in Jesus is not an abstract idea. God’s relentless love and forgiving mercy, experienced each day in our encounter with God’s word and in the sacraments, inspires and strengthens us to be his missionary disciples in the world.
Will we put out into the deep today?
Sullivan is secretary for Catholic education of the Archdiocese of Washington.