Becoming Missionary Disciples

in Whanganui 2018

 

The following is a starting reflection for a new parish pastoral strategy for Whanganui Catholic Parish based on the New Evangelisation. This started with Pope St Paul VI with Evangelii nuntiandi (1975), carried on by Pope St John Paul II in Redemptoris mission (1990) and given new impulse by Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium (2013). Pope Francis wrote:

 

“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (Mt 28: 19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptised.

 

“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.” If we are not convinced, let us look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim Him joyfully: “We have found the Messiah!” (John 1:41). The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans come to believe in Him “because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). So too, Saint Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, “immediately proclaimed Jesus” (Acts 9:20). (EG #120)”

 

Aspects of the Process

There are five fundamental aspects in the process of forming missionary disciples. They appear differently at each step of the journey but are closely intertwined and draw nourishment from one another:

a) The Encounter with Jesus Christ: Those who will be his disciples are already seeking him (cf. Jn 1:38), but it is the Lord who calls them: “Follow me” (Mk 1:14; Mt 9:9). The deeper meaning of the search must be discovered, and the encounter with Christ that leads to Christian initiation must be fostered. This encounter must be constantly renewed by personal testimony, proclamation of the kerygma, and the missionary action of the community. The kerygma is not simply a stage, but the leitmotiv of a process that culminates in the maturity of the disciple of Jesus Christ. Without the kerygma, the other aspects of this process are condemned to sterility, with hearts not truly converted to the Lord. Only out of the kerygma does the possibility of a true Christian initiation occur.

Hence, the Church should have it present in all its actions.

b) Conversion: It is the initial response of those who have listened to the Lord in wonder, who believe in Him through the action of the Spirit, and who decide to be His friend and go with him, changing how they think and live, accepting the cross of Christ, conscious that dying to sin is attaining life. In Baptism and the sacrament of Reconciliation Christ’s Redemption is actualized for us.

c) Discipleship: The person constantly matures in knowledge, love, and following of Jesus the master, and delves deeper into the mystery of His person, his example, and his teaching. Ongoing catechesis and sacramental life are of fundamental importance for this stage; they strengthen initial conversion, and enable missionary disciples to persevere in Christian life and mission in the midst of the world that challenges them. 

d) Communion: There can be no Christian life except in community: in families, parishes, communities of consecrated life, base communities, other small communities, and movements. Like the early Christians who met in community, the disciples take part in the life of the Church, and in the encounter with brothers and sisters, living the love of Christ in solidarity, in fraternal life. They are also accompanied and encouraged by the community and its shepherds as they mature in the life of the Spirit.

e) Mission: As they get to know and love their Lord, disciples experience the need to share with others their joy at being sent, at going to the world to proclaim Jesus Christ, dead and risen, to make real the love and service in the person of the neediest, in short, to build the Kingdom of God. Mission is inseparable from discipleship, and hence it must not be understood as a stage subsequent to formation, although it is carried out in different ways, depending on one’s own vocation and on the moment in human and Christian maturation at which the person stands.