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Missionary Disciples

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Missionary Disciples

Missionary Disciples!

In November 2019, our dearest Pope Francis addressed the new Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life during its first plenary assembly which had the topic, “The Lay Faithful, Identity andMission in the World”. He urged them to use their talents as “missionary disciples” to address the various challenges of the whole Church and world, to be “visible signs” of the presence ofChrist in every environment. In his first Apostolic Exhortation (EVANGELII GAUDIUM) as Pope he had entitled a section “Weare all missionary disciples” and he returned to the term seven times in that exhortation. He emphasizes that the “hour of the laity” has arrived, since the laity is an apostle and missionary by leading an exemplary Christian life. Every Christian is amissionary 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 “missionarydisciples”.

Christ did not bestow the mission on His Church in any haphazard or clumsy manner. He chose the apostles and entrusted to them the commission of teaching and baptizing. To enable them andtheir successors to carry out the mission he conferred on them the powers of jurisdiction and order. To them and them alone he did give these powers. In addition to this sending of the Apostles there was the promise of the Holy Spirit to quicken and animate the Church and He was sent not to the Apostles alone but to all the faithful as well. However, the Acts of the Apostles, which abounds with collective giving of the Spirit, makes it abundantly clear that it was not the Twelve alone who were anointed with theSpirit.

This giving of the Holy Spirit to the entire Church is the basis for the mission of the faithful. But the mission of the faithful is necessary for the apostolate of the Twelve to be carried out in itsintegrity. St. Paul frequently refers to those who have helped him in the ministry. The mission of the faithful makes them co-operators with and complementary to the Apostles; like the charisms, like all their Christian life, it has to be exercised in such a way as to assimilate it to the work and activity of the Twelve, which is the norm. On the side of its object and rules for action, an apostolic mission is given to the faithful only as a sharing in,an association with, and complementary to that of the apostles.

Today, the Church is at once a community and an institution, a structured society and a life. But too much emphasis on either part produces only a caricature of the Church. These two aspects of the Church are united in the concept of the Mystical Body. Christ the Head passes on His power and life to His body, the Church. Like a body the Church has life and structure, each part fulfilling its function for the good of the whole. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were hearing, where would be the smelling? But as it is, God has set the members, each of them, in the body as he willed. Now if they were all one member, where would the body be? But as it is, there are indeed many members yet but one body. St. Paul hardly tiresof repeating this theme. It is clear, therefore, that the missionarydisciples have an

active function in the building up of the body of Christ. The missionary disciples are members of the people of God, are baptized and confirmed, are the recipient of charisms, are Christ visible in the world and differ in function, in state of life from thecleric and from the religious.

On the other hand we do speak of the priesthood and of the laity as a single subject of the exercise of Christian life and of the activities it includes. This theological analysis of the layapostolate is in full harmony with the famed definition of Catholic Action as the participation of the laity in the apostolate of the hierarchy. Participation in the Liturgy and in apostolic action isboth functions of the common priesthood. The Liturgy provides the animation for the apostolate since it is the chief channel of grace. Moreover, psychologically, the Liturgy ought to makeChristians conscious of the fact that in being united to Christ theyare united to one another. They ought, therefore, to be concerned with building up the body of Christ and feel a holy unrest inseeing so many who do not worship in Christ Jesus. This is not to be understood, of course, in the sense that the whole Churchshares in the powers of the hierarchy.

Speaking to Vatican Radio’s Mario Galgano, a Venezuelan theologian Rafael Luciani talked about his idea of Synodality and of the crucial novelties of this Synod, as well as of the importantcontributions of Latin American ecclesiology. He notices that the core idea behind the Synod is the “centrality of the ecclesiology of the People of God” which was first introduced by VaticanCouncil II and has been emphasized many times by our dear Pope Francis. This idea, he says, implies that the relationship between the People of God and Church is “not hierarchical anymore, that it is differentiated, but complementary”. It implies that bishops need religious and laypeople to accomplish their mission in the Church: “This is what co-responsibility is all about”, Luciani points out.

As we celebrate World Mission Day 2021 and as the Synodalprocess has officially begun leading up to the Synod on Synodality in the year 2023, let us be reminded of Jesus’ words, “Go therefore to the highways and byways, and invite everyone you find” (Mt 22:9) and ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me.” (Mt 25:40). Therefore, being a missionary disciple, let us not be like many of those missionary disciples who deserted Jesus, turned back and no longer followed him for they found his teaching hard to accept it. (John 6:60-66)

+ In Christ,

Father Henry Peter MSFS,

Sacred Heart Church, Bhusawal, Maharashtra, India.


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