Pope Francis has often used the phrase “missionary disciples.” In his first apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), he says: “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.’”
The pope is continuing to call us back to Christ in the form of ongoing discipleship, and then impelling us to mission, to take what we have been given out to a world that badly needs this witness and message of love. The Holy Father recently picked up this theme again when he said: “The people of God is a people of disciples because we receive the faith and a missionary people because we pass on the faith.”
We are all called to be missionaries, by virtue of our baptism— proclaiming the faith boldly wherever we are “each in the place that the Lord has assigned to us.” This is precisely what new evangelization calls for. “Each of the baptized, whatever their role in the Church or the educational level of their faith, is an active agent of evangelization….The new evangelization should involve a new central role for each of the baptized.” Note that the only “qualification” the pope cites is “baptism.” One does not need a higher level degree in theology or formal training to be a missionary, just an encounter with Christ, which naturally inspires one to share this same encounter with others.
Mother Teresa once counseled someone who thought they had to go off to a foreign land to evangelize, to, “grow where you’re planted.” The Lord has put us wherever we are for a reason. Indeed, He has entrusted the various individuals who come into our lives and cross our paths, to us. A fruitful prayer is every day to pray for “those who have been entrusted to my care.” Now that can be physical or spiritual children, family, children in a religious education program, students in a classroom, teenagers in a youth group, participants in an RCIA process, couples preparing for marriage, a whole roster of parishioners, your coworkers, all the way to the senior citizens or residents in an assisted living home. Each of these individuals, depending on one’s position, are entrusted to someone’s’ care (see Gn 3:9). And we are called to be a missionary to them, bringing Christ to them, helping them encounter the fullness of love and leading others to discipleship.
We are called to be disciples. “All of us in the Church are disciples, always and for our entire lives….” We never stop being disciples. The term “disciple” necessitates a relationship with the master or teacher. In the same way that none of us ever ceases to be a son or daughter to our parents, once we enter into relationship with Christ via that encounter, we never cease to be a disciple. And like that family relationship, while the circumstances and levels change, the relationship between the disciple and Christ remains forever.
Evangelii Gaudium, according to Father John Hurley, CSP, “invites Catholics today to think of themselves as disciples of Jesus. This fundamentally is what I think the call to a new evangelization is all about. It requires a paradigm shift from thinking of ourselves as members of the Church to disciples in the Church.” Members can be passive, disciples are inherently active. Members can check the “Catholic box” on the surveys and show up on Christmas and Easter; disciples participate every Sunday.
The Foundation and Impetus Pope Francis cites Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandieleven times in The Joy of the Gospel. Pope Paul VI wrote: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Missionary disciples are precisely what witnesses are and must be if we are to successfully be agents of a new evangelization.
by Phil Lawson