The Great Commission: "Go therefore and teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you and behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matthew 28:19-20).
(Twice published over the years as bulletin inserts in the St. Louis Church Sunday Bulletin)
When things would go well in my 14 years in Arequipa-Peru, I would tend to congratulate myself thinking, "How great I am". Then of course, sooner or later things would go wrong and I would be the missionary who couldn't shoot straight. Finally, I realized that it's not me making a contribution. It's somebody out there praying; it's somebody in a sick bed or suffering in some other way, offering his/her crosses as a dynamic prayer for the missions and a better world. That's how St. Theresa, the Little Flower, became one of the most effective missionaries in history without ever leaving her cloistered convent.
Eventually, I began to feel very strongly that we are all called to be missionaries right here, right now, wherever we are, whatever our state of life, whatever our circumstances at home, work, school, or play. It is the parents who are the primary educators in the faith and education in general which must be integrated with Christian principles to be complete. Every student, every person really, is preparing for and/or already is performing that special mission that God gave to each of us a mission that He gave to no other. In fact, our missionary role is one of the main themes of any Confirmation preparation course.
Any job in the world can be an apostolate if the attitude is there. It does not necessarily have to be one of the critical areas of influence such as education, government, the media, labor relations, or social work. Money may be important, but much more important is serving God, His Church,, and His people. In helping others, God's love so often works through each one of us as His instruments. Then when you die, the world will be just a little bit better because of you.
One person can do little to change the world, but with the help of God, s/he can do something....a little bit today, a little bit tomorrow, and over a career of 30 or 40 years, all those little bits can add to greatness; as great as many of the so called "greats" in history who have only one or two well known achievements and nothing more. What about all those unknown heroes out there, who have done their little bits every day for God, church, country, community, family, and neighbor?
There are so many little opportunities to reach people, without imposing. But we have a mentality that "I'll talk about anything except politics and religion. Religion is a private matter. I can't impose my beliefs upon others". That's a cop out! We're afraid! With that attitude, the Church wouldn't have made it through the first century. Right in our own parish, there are fallen away Catholics who might come to church on Christmas, if that…..not to mention all of the unchurched within our midst.
Each one of us can be a missionary right in our own family. Every extended family has members who have married outside the Church, have fallen away, or are drifting. You are needed to bring them back! Their eternal salvation may depend upon you. This is mission country too and we need missionaries here…..religious and lay people!
A person casually mentioned to me once that both she and her husband went to a Catholic school together through the eighth grade, but feel no need for the Church…..“I can pray to God at home.” In such a situation, one may have only 10 seconds to keep quiet for fear of "foot in mouth" disease or take the risk, quickly cry to the Holy Spirit for help on what to say, and then try to say the right thing at the right time…..thus providing a little spark that with a little grace just could bring that person back to our Church.
What can one say in 25 words or less in such a situation? It could be something like “We need a shepherd to guide us, the support of the parish community, the intimate union with Christ in the Eucharist to nourish the soul, the power of the sacraments, healing, & pastoral guidance. Minimal contact with the divine once a week in the liturgy goes through the essentials of the Bible in three years and brings to us the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary which transcends time. We receive the spiritual strength to continue on for the rest of the week". If the person continues the conversation, you're in luck! Continue! If s/he changes the subject, the rest is up to the Lord as we wait for another opportunity. At least, that little spark causes the person to think if not now, then later. That's a great start! The point is: we must be prepared for such golden opportunities.
What can one person do? We don't have to knock on doors as the Jehovah's Witnesses do, although their zeal might put us to shame. But we can be alert to opportunities. Of course, our example in everyday actions, our warmth with people, our caring, our listening, our concern, our giving a hand in help or support, all give witness to Christ's love which works through us, if we are open to it. A warm greeting or just being kind can make somebody's day. A little praise or encouragement can give a public servant, a teacher, a volunteer, etc. the strength to continue on despite criticism. As He loves us, we love others. Thus we can be reflections of God’s light, His love, and His life of sanctifying grace, making people say: "See how they love...."
For example, we can interject Christian principles in conversation and discussion, from the classroom to the bar or pub.....be it social justice, ethics, family values, life issues, or sexual morality. We can unashamedly relate how the Lord has enriched our lives, has been a source of strength during trials, and gives meaning as well as purpose to life. We can defend the Church when it is verbally attacked and slandered.
Do we have the courage to risk ridicule? Friends may kid a high school or college student for being a virgin. What an opportunity to briefly or profoundly explain according to the situation, the beauty of why wait until that wedding night, when for the first time and always.....he exclusively for her and she exclusively for him!
We might ask a non-Catholic friend, "Hey, would you like to come to Mass with me this Sunday. I'll explain it to you". It could also be a Catholic youth group or any parish activity for that matter. If there is interest, steer him/her to the RCIA class which begins every September. Upon running into someone in the supermarket who has disappeared from the parish community: "We miss you at the parish". You might even lovingly add: “You're losing a treasure”.
After listening with compassion to a friend, who is sick or having a problem (that alone is very helpful), we might say: "I'll pray for you". Or better yet, "Can I pray with you?" Explain the profound spiritual meaning and great merit in it all, if offered as a sacrifice to the Lord....as a dynamic prayer for the Church, the missions, and a better world as well as for loved ones. Thus a sick, suffering person could be more valuable than ever, even more effective than the president. St. Theresa, the Little Flower, certainly was.
A friend is contemplating marrying outside of the Church, a divorce, or abortion, for example. Is there anything you can do? The easiest way out is to "mind your own business". Sure, there's the risk of saying the wrong thing. But we can lovingly try to help with a sympathetic ear, and a bit of Christian guidance to a better alternative, while being very sensitive and careful, backing off if there's resistance or when it appears that our efforts are becoming counterproductive and recommending professional help when necessary. Then we can be alert for another opportunity. There is a fine line between charitable persuasion and self-righteous, condescending preaching or unchristian imposition. Even God does not force anybody.
There are many opportunities in the parish community and beyond: Teaching CCD, helping out in the RCIA program, sharing spiritual insights at Bible studies or prayer groups, the periodic get-togethers for the rosary, outreaches or community service through the Knights of Columbus or the Catholic Women’s Club, financial support, and helping out wherever there is a need…..i.e., tithing of time, talent, and treasure.
An urgent missionary need in some universities and community colleges is a Catholic presence in addition to the zealous Evangelicals. All that is needed is two or three good men and women (students) to get a Catholic Newman Club started. Most secular campuses have a chapter. Newman Clubs center around religious, educational, and social fun activities. So often the Catholic student’s secular knowledge grows while his/her knowledge of the faith remains at the level of 8th Grade CCD, which by comparison seems like “kids stuff”. Naturally they lose their faith and are incapable of standing up for the Church when attacked.
We lose our faith because we really don’t understand it and the Mass in depth. It is crucial that our knowledge of the faith continues to grow or we’ll lose it…..parish activities, the bulletin, the Bible, religious books, Catholic newspapers and magazines, publications in the back of the church, EWTN television and radio by cable, satellite or the internet. It’s difficult to defend and spread the faith unless we know it well.
At the same time we can write articles or letters to the editor of the local newspaper, participate on local radio talk shows, make phone calls or write letters to companies and elected government officials. It is said that each letter reflects the opinion of at least ten other people who do not have the time or energy to communicate their views. Similarly, teachers may integrate Christian principles without necessarily calling it that.......the dignity of the person, social awareness, the sanctity of life, family values, social responsibility, ethics, etc.
Crucial is the individual initiative and responsibility of each one of us to BUILD GOD'S KINGDOM in little ways. It can be by prayer, example, word, or deed. DON'T JUST KEEP THE FAITH; SPREAD IT. Christ's command, "Go therefore and teach ye all nations..." applies to each one of us, not only the clergy and religious. They can't do it all by themselves. He sent the original apostles out and us too. By definition, a missionary is one who is sent. Each one of us is sent by God to perform a special mission and that makes us all missionaries.
As Jesus told St. Francis in the 13th Century when the Church was so weakened by corruption: "Rebuild my Church". Virtually every parish is in need of at least some renewal. May God bless your efforts! Thank you so much for your patience in giving me the privilege of sharing these thoughts. Comments to the author at email@example.com are most welcome.