“I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything so that the Church's customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today's world rather than for her self-preservation.” (Evangelii Gaudium 27)
The Pentecost event in the Acts of the Apostles has long been one of my favorites. In addition to the drama of a room filled with wind, fire, and some pretty terrified disciples, I love the response it evokes as the disciples burst from their safety zones to move out into the world. The wind and the fire escaped the room along with them, spreading Good News across time and distance.
I don’t know many Catholics who are very comfortable with the idea of being an evangelizer. The word conjures up street-corner proselytizing or door-to-door pamphleteering. Along with some of our mainline Protestant sisters and brothers, we often feel as if our faith is something private and not to be “imposed” on others. For some, the term missionary carries similar baggage as we recall some of the more shameful actions of those who, in their zeal to “baptize all nations”, regarded non-Christians as pagans and savages.
What, then, to make of the call of Pope Francis for all of us to be “missionary disciples?” And, as the theme for this year’s celebration of Catechetical Sunday, how does it apply to ministry of catechesis? On the one hand it’s a great fit, since the role and responsibility of the catechist is to share the Good News with others. On the other hand, not many catechists consider their classrooms or parish halls missionary territory.
The dream of Pope Francis around transformation provides a wonderful key to understanding what the call to missionary discipleship is all about. It’s a day-to-day, moment-to-moment commitment to being Christ-bearers to all those we meet. Catechists do this as they draw others into prayer, provide instruction around Catholic beliefs and practice, encourage reflection and application to life experiences, and build community among their learners.
One of the great privileges in my life is being able to travel across the country, offering presentations to catechists, Catholic school teachers, catechetical leaders, principals, parish ministers, parents and others. Each time I am moved by their commitment, their sincerity, and their goodness.
They serve as missionary disciples by carrying their faith outward, transforming the world around them in small yet powerful increments through generosity, compassion, kindness, and understanding. In doing so, they are not unlike those early disciples, propelled outward by a passionate love for the Gospel and a deep faith in God’s merciful and unending love. That generates wind and fire that will, in good time, transform the world.
For catechetical leaders and principals: Find resources for celebrating Catechetical Sunday 2017 in your parish and for affirming the work of your catechists and teachers.