By Jem Sullivan | Catholic News Service
Pope Francis' invitation in the apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" ("Evangelii Gaudium") to all the faithful to be "missionary disciples" has captured the hearts and minds of many. So, it is only fitting that we reflect on what it means to live daily as a missionary disciple.
We take a closer look at Pope Francis' words realizing that they are meant not as a general call, but 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 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, life is no longer the same. For 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 peripheries 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 as that faith 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 at baptism, 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 so as to become missionary disciples.
"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 and our response in faith is truly transformative.
Like the first disciples of the Lord who moved from being fearful and discouraged fishermen into fearless and zealous missionary disciples, we too are transformed by the Lord's call and presence in our lives.
Just as Jesus called his disciples as they went about their daily labors as fishermen and tax collectors, 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 grow each day as missionary disciples by reflecting on the word of God, celebrating the sacraments of the church, striving to live the Christian moral life and by prayer.
God's grace becomes a living and active presence in us, moving us to bring the light of the Gospel to anyone who stands in need of God's mercy and love, especially the poor, the marginalized and those on the margins of life.
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 in the daily and concrete ways that Jesus calls 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.
Starting ministries takes creativity, finding untapped niches and creating community
By Kurt Jensen | Catholic News Service
Methods of evangelization often call for creativity and thinking outside of the box. It doesn't get more simply efficient and memorable than the Catholic Beer Club (www.catholicbeerclub.com).
That wasn't what Derek Hough and three of his friends quite had in mind when they came up with the idea as students at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, in 2013.
But the name holds a particular appeal. The first rule of Catholic Beer Club is similar to one reaction Hough received in Kansas City: "Hey guys, you don't need to talk about it -- I'm already there."
Their first chapter was established in Denver. After four years, there are now 16 in what Hough describes as a low-key, hospitable evangelistic effort aimed at young adults.
The slogan is "No agenda -- just community." That means forming what Hough calls "a connecting point" for young adults at a restaurant, bar or microbrewery that lets participants "just run with it -- wherever you want to go," usually with monthly gatherings.
"It kind of ties into that discipleship compact and efforts to build community and discipleship," he says.
Hough gives the Phoenix chapter as an example. It began with around five people, now attracts nearly 60, and "there's new people every single time."
The group recently "decided to dive deeper" and add Bible study. "They decided that on their own. We don't want to get in the way."
There's no intent of replacing the community of parish membership, but rather to find young adults where they are, and as they are. "Sometimes you have to run outside the parish," Hough observes. "Well over half of young adults don't attend the same parish week after week."
The key to growth of Catholic Beer Club is finding the right people to coordinate the effort. "Not everyone has that focus." It's also important to find those who "understand the young adult's struggle to find friends."
Jo Holt, director of marriage and family life at St. Thomas More Parish (stthomasmore.org) in Centennial, Colorado, understood that in 2012 when she developed her curriculum for a single-parent ministry, Raised in Faith (www.raisedinfaith.com).
It addresses not only single father and mothers, but also includes business travelers with a spouse at home. Those divorced, widowed and in the military are all welcomed.
In her part of Colorado, she says, "We're a very transient area. There are many with no relatives close by to depend on. So you really need a community of others to support you."
The key: "We all can be disciples exactly at this point in time, with what we know. We don't have to be farther along in our faith."
Her advice to others beginning a single-parent ministry is to simply announce the plans right away and begin a survey. Always, Holt says, the same picture emerges: "There's loneliness. They have a difficult time being connected to other people in the parish. They feel they have no control over their lives. And they're trying to find some balance to their lives."
Holt likes to give examples of people she's known:
"There was one woman, a single parent of divorce, who'd been drifting away from the church for some time. She's been kind of searching for answers and support from some friends, but they weren't being very helpful.
"She was shocked at their anger and ridicule. These friends basically told her that you can endorse the church or you can choose us."
Exposure to Raised in Faith, the woman "found herself connected to the faith she'd lost long ago."
Another woman, who became pregnant her freshman year of college, chose to have her child after considering abortion, then found herself "isolated from her friends, raising an infant." She couldn't connect to other single mothers and was "very insecure."
"It's a reoccurring theme among single parents. They don't feel they belong. Single mothers, particularly, experience shame. How does the church look at that?"
Whether creating a local or parish-based ministry, the first step is identifying and responding to a need.
Jensen is a freelance writer.
On a mission from God
By Daniel S. Mulhall | Catholic News Service
Pope Francis, in his 2013 apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" ("Evangelii Gaudium"), says that the church, the people of God, is called to go forth and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all the world. In order to do this, all of the baptized must see themselves as "missionary disciples" (No. 120), re-creating the missionary zeal of Jesus' first disciples.
To understand what it means to be a missionary disciple, a good place to start is with the stories that come to us from the early church. Both the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles tell us much about the missionary dynamism experienced in the early years after Jesus' death and resurrection.
The first missionary disciple was Mary Magdalene, who after seeing the risen Jesus in the garden ran to find the other disciples to proclaim the good news that Jesus had indeed risen (Mt 28:1-10; Jn 20:11-18). Jesus tells Mary, "Do not be afraid" (Mt 28:10), good advice for all disciples.
After the disciples received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) they took the good news of Jesus out into the world. Peter, as presented in Acts 2:14-41, so enthralled the crowd with his preaching that about 3,000 people were baptized that day. Acts 3-4 tells of Peter's willingness to proclaim the message of Jesus to powerful groups even after they tell him to be quiet.
The first disciple to be put to death for proclaiming the Gospel was the deacon, Stephen. He was stoned for proclaiming a message about Jesus that challenged people's attitudes and beliefs. Most of the apostles and many of the early disciples were put to death for proclaiming Jesus.
Perhaps the most effective missionary disciple -- and certainly the most famous -- was St. Paul. Acts describes the three missionary journeys of Paul and his companions Barnabas, Silas and Timothy. See Acts 13-21 for specific details of these journeys.
So, what can we learn about being missionary disciples from these early disciples?
First, the message Jesus gave to Mary Magdalene, "Do not be afraid." One has to be brave to proclaim the Gospel in the face of possible rejection, violence and even death.
Second, to understand that as disciples we are sent by the larger Christian community. We go because we are compelled by our faith, not because we seek fame or fortune. While we probably won't have Philip's experience of being sent by an angel (Acts 8), we will still be moved to action by the Holy Spirit.
Third, in our proclamation we offer to others what the church believes and teaches, not our own personal ideas. St. Paul had to learn what it meant to follow Jesus before beginning his missionary journeys. Likewise, we have to prepare ourselves for the task at hand. If we are to proclaim the good news of Jesus, we must first understand it and love it deeply.
That's what it means to be a missionary disciple.
Mulhall is a catechist who lives in Louisville, Kentucky.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The root of the word "catechesis" is "instruction by word of mouth" or "to resound." St. John Paul II wrote in the apostolic exhortation "Catechesi Tradendae" ("Catechesis in Our Time") that "at the heart of catechesis, we find, in essence, a person, the person of Jesus of Nazareth" (No. 5).
Catechesis aims to communicate the message of Christ, leading others toward Christ, the Father and Holy Spirit. "Every catechist should be able to apply to himself the mysterious words of Jesus: 'My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me,'" reads the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 427).
The catechist's goal is foster others' relationship with Christ. "From this loving knowledge of Christ springs the desire to proclaim him, to 'evangelize,'" the catechism continues.
Speaking to the International Congress on Catechesis in 2013, Pope Francis said, "Catechesis is a vocation: 'Being a catechist,' this is the vocation, not working as a catechist ... because this is something that embraces our whole life."
Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis reminded the audience of catechists that "the church does not grow by proselytizing; she grows by attracting others."
Pope Francis instructed the catechists to "start anew" with Christ in three ways. "The first thing for a disciple is to be with the Master, to listen to him and to learn from him," he said.
The second way is the imitate Christ by going out and encountering others. And the third way, to "start anew" with Christ, "means not being afraid to go with him to the outskirts" and go beyond our comfort zone, Pope Francis said. [[In-content Ad]]