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What is a Missionary Disciple?

Recently, I have been using Fr. James Mallon’s new book, Divine Renovation Beyond the Parish (Frederick, MD: The Word Among Us Press. 2020) for reflection both on change and leadership. Today, I offer my final article using this book.

In this book, Fr. Mallon focuses on what the church needs to be doing both on a diocesan level as well as the parish level to better fulfill its mission. What about individual parishioners? What are parishioners to do? As a parish what it is we are trying to lead parishioners to (and how can the diocese help)?

The answer is missionary discipleship. We are all called to be disciples of Christ. We are all called to be missionaries in the sense that we are all called to share our Christian faith. Fr. Mallon presents twelve points on what it means to be a missionary disciple (256-258).

Today I would like to reflect on this twelve points. As we reflect on the twelve points, I suspect we may find ourselves not living up to all of them. That is okay. As Fr. Mallon writes at the end of the twelve points, “These qualities do not constitute membership requirements.” Rather, “They are what we aim for” (258). They give us something to set as our goal.

With this is mind, I would like to offer each point in italics followed by a short reflection from me.

Someone who has a personal relationship with Jesus
Many Catholics are not comfortable or familiar with the language of having a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Some say that is something Protestants talk about but not Catholics. The reality is that we should all have a personal relationship with Jesus. This is what our faith leads us to. Our interaction with God is not just a matter of showing up for Mass and saying the right words with the right gestures (see my video series Uncovering the Treasures of the Mass). Nor is it simple recitation of prayers and listing our needs. Our faith calls us to dialogue with God, whether it be in our prayers or at Mass. We are called to conversation with God. This leads us to a personal relationship with Jesus.

Someone who can share their faith and share what God has done in their life with others
We are called to share our faith. What keeps us from doing it? Perhaps we lack the courage. Why might we lack the courage? It is often as simple as we simply don’t know how to talk about our faith. It’s time to learn. The best way to learn is to begin doing it (with some guidance). Here, small prayer groups (aka Small Christian Communities) can be a place to start. A small group of people gather together, often using some resource material for reflection that includes questions to help us talk about our faith in our everyday lives. In learning how to talk about our faith with this small group, we learn how to express what we believe in our hearts.

Someone who is open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit
This might seem like a no-brainer. Of course, we are open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Who won’t want the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and courage? Someone who does not want to change. If we like things the way they are and don’t want to change, we close ourselves off to these gifts. Otherwise, we might realize we need to change.

Someone who has a knowledge of the Scriptures
Someone who knows basic theology
Do you know much about the Bible or basic theology? Many don’t. When we don’t know much, it can keep us from sharing our faith. We can’t share knowledge that we don’t have. However, as Fr. Mallon writes, “When people fall in love with Jesus, the demonstrate a hunger to get to know him and the richness of our Catholic faith” (257). We hunger for more. That hunger leads us to seek more knowledge of the Scriptures and our Catholic theology. God will provide for Jesus says in the fourth Beatitude, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

Someone who is working toward a daily prayer life
We need to pray. Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, cf. Luke 18:1-14). It might seem impossible to have the type of prayer life that God calls us to. God doesn’t expect to develop a perfect prayer life overnight. However, God does expect us to be “working toward” it. Start with a short prayer each day. Then, add a little more from time to time.

Someone who experiences real Christian Community
Why do we need “real Christian Community”? Didn’t I say before that we need a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Why do we need community? Because we need to be there for one another. Jesus did not call one disciple. He called a community of disciples so that we can work together, uniting our gifts as the Body of Christ. We don’t have to do proclaim the gospel on our own. We aren’t supposed to. We are supposed to work together.

Someone who demonstrates a commitment to weekly Sunday Eucharist:
I emphasis weekly because coming to Mass is not something just for when we are having a hard time dealing with suffering. We are to come every week to be strengthened in receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus. With this strength, we are better able to keep Jesus’ commandments, to love our neighbors, and to proclaim the gospel.

Someone who celebrates the Sacrament of Reconciliation with some regularity”
If we are to receive the Eucharist, we need to be worthy. When we commit mortal sin we are not worthy but Jesus gives us the means for him to make us worthy. Jesus gives us the Sacrament of Reconciliation so we can confess our sins and receive his forgiveness. With the Eucharist, we go weekly. With reconciliation, Fr. Mallon says, “with some regularity.” When was the last time you went to Confession? If you have to think before you answer, maybe it has been too long. How often do we need to go? As often as one commits mortal sin.

Someone who can pray spontaneously out loud when asked without having a heart attack
Are you scared by the thought of someone asking you to offer a spontaneous prayer? Practice makes perfect. Perhaps this too is a good thing to learn in a small Christian community.

Someone who sees their life as a mission field
If we are going to be missionary disciples, then we have to have a plan to live out the mission. Who can you share the faith with? Family? friends? Co-workers? One might say, “Oh, I am not allowed to talk about my faith at work” or “my family doesn’t want to hear it.” That may be true. While you may not be able to talk about our faith in explicit words, you can always act according to our faith. Treat others well. Be patient. Don’t get angry. In doing so, you show love, love that comes from God.

Someone who serves in some capacity within or outside the parish according to their gifts”
God has given you gifts. What are you good at? How can you use them to help other people? Do you have the gift of music? Then offer to help with the music at Mass. Do you like to cook? How about helping at a soup kitchen? How about helping with serving food at the soup kitchen? How about helping to clean the church? Are you homebound? Then, how about a ministry of praying for your parish?

Which of these twelve points is your strongest? Which is your weakest? Which one is God calling you to work on now?

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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