January 29, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Answering the call to be missionary disciples

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples”
(“The Joy of the Gospel,” #120).

The Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church that begins early in the morning and extends throughout the day at various appointed hours, concludes with Compline, just before bedtime.

Compline always includes the prayer of Simeon, the old man we encounter in St. Luke’s Gospel when the infant Jesus is presented to the Lord in the Temple. Following his encounter with Jesus, the old man prays: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Lk 2:29-32).

Two important themes are embedded in this prayer of Simeon. The first is his surrender to God, his willingness to be taken into the bosom of Abraham, confident that God’s promises to his chosen people are being fulfilled. The second theme is his recognition that what has been revealed in this child is for all people—Jews and gentiles alike. All who follow this child will be called to go out to the whole world.

Pope Francis has repeatedly urged all baptized Christians to accept our responsibility to be “missionary disciples” who spread Gospel joy to everyone we encounter. What’s more, he has challenged us to move beyond our “comfort zones” and go out to the peripheries, the margins of society, where people are different from us. The Church must not be insular or self-referential. We must be missionary disciples of Jesus Christ who proclaim his Gospel to the whole world.

Pope Francis has said, “The Church must step outside herself. To go where? To the outskirts of existence, whatever they may be, but she must step out. Jesus tells us, ‘Go into all the world! Go! Preach! Bear witness to the Gospel!’—But what happens if we step outside ourselves? The same can happen to anyone who comes out of the house and onto the street: an accident. But I tell you, I far prefer a Church that has had a few accidents to a Church that has fallen sick from being closed. Go out, go out!”

When we throw off our comforters and go out into the street, we take a risk. We may encounter danger. But in taking this risk, we are following in the footsteps of Jesus who sent his disciples out two by two to become missionaries.

On the road to Emmaus, for example, Jesus accompanied two very discouraged and fearful disciples. He opened their eyes so that they might become missionaries who would proclaim with burning hearts his Good News—fearlessly and with great confidence—to others.

As Pope Francis writes in “The Joy of the Gospel,” “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!’ (Jn 1:41).”

The Holy Father continues, “The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus, and many Samaritans came to believe in him ‘because of the woman’s testimony’ (Jn 4:39). So too, St. Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, ‘immediately proclaimed Jesus’ (Acts 9:20; cf. 22:6-21). So what are we waiting for?” (#120).

Pope Francis is impatient with our hesitation to accept the challenges of missionary discipleship. Why are we slow to see what Simeon saw—the salvation which God has prepared in the sight of all peoples? And why aren’t we eager to “go out” and proclaim Gospel joy to everyone we meet?

“Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Perhaps our hesitation stems from infrequent encounters with God’s love, a lack of closeness to the Lord. The remedies for that, of course, are prayer, more frequent reception of the sacraments and the practice of charity (love and service) toward our neighbors.

Let’s not hesitate. Emboldened by prayer, sacraments and love of neighbor, which reveal to us God’s mercy, let’s be true missionary disciples! †

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