Ad Gentes 24

Yet (a person) must respond to God Who calls, and that in such a way, that without taking counsel with flesh and blood (Gal. 1:16), he (or she) devotes (her or) himself wholly to the work of the Gospel. This response, however can only be given when the Holy Spirit gives His inspiration and His power. For (the one) who is sent enters upon the life and mission of Him Who “emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave” (Phil. 2:7). Therefore, (a person) must be ready to stay at (a) vocation for an entire lifetime, and to renounce …self and all those whom … thus far considered as (her or) his own, and instead to “make (one)self all things to all (people)” (1 Cor. 9:22).

I think the principle of a lifelong vocation to missionary work can be called into question. This is not to deny that some people indeed possess the charism to be a lifelong missioner, just as they might be called to music, catechesis, administration, or any other field of ministry. The attempt to put all missionary labors on a par with a lifelong commitment as a priest–this seems narrow-minded to me. And indeed, the post-conciliar time has seen many temporary mission involvement opportunities for young people. The council bishops might well have conceded that Saint Paul may be the more radical example of that ministry, and recognize that perhaps, the missionary calling is not necessarily on a par with the forever-priesthood of Melchizedek.

Announcing the Gospel to all nations, (she or) he confidently makes known the mystery of Christ, whose ambassador (she or) he is, so that in him (she or) he dares to speak as (she or) he ought (cf. Eph. 6:19; Acts 4:31), not being ashamed of the scandal of the Cross. Following in his Master’s footsteps, meek and humble of heart, (the missioner) proves that His yoke is easy and His burden light (Matt. 11:29ff.) By a truly evangelical life, in much patience, in long – suffering, in kindness, in unaffected love (cf. 2 Cor. 6:4ff.), (the missioner) bears witness to his Lord, if need be to the shedding of (her or) his blood. (The missioner) will ask of God the power and strength, that (she or) he may know that there is an overflowing of joy amid much testing of tribulation and deep poverty (2 Cor. 8:2). Let (missioners) be convinced that obedience is the hallmark of the servant of Christ, who redeemed the human race by His obedience.

The heralds of the Gospel lest they neglect the grace which is in them, should be renewed day by day in the spirit of their mind (cf. 1 Tim. 4:14; Eph. 4:23; 2 Cor. 4:16). Their Ordinaries and superiors should gather the missionaries together from time to time, that they be strengthened in the hope of their calling and may be renewed in the apostolic ministry, even in houses expressly set up for this purpose.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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3 Responses to Ad Gentes 24

  1. Brendan Kelleher SVD says:

    Would I be a priest if I was not an SVD? Being an SVD and a priest are now integrated into a whole for me, but there is a voice inside me that says I wouldn’t be the priest that I am if I was not an SVD. Everytime I have returned to the UK for home leave, for family bereavements, and once on a temporary assignment, following meetings with diocesan priests and priests from other communities and societies, I have grown in a conviction that I could probably never ‘work’ as a priest back there without breaking the mold or raising a few eyebrows; retirement or returning for health reasons are still not part of my immediate plans either. In more recent years the emergence of ‘neo-conservative’, ‘neo-orthodox’ priests, those whom Andrew Greeley calls ‘Young Fogeys’, has left me bemused and puzzled at the direction in which some wish to lead the Church. I’d probably make a bad “Roman Catholic”, as some of them define and live out those terms. My own commitment is to giving witness to Jesus Christ and his Gospel in ways that speak to people where they are, and to helping them on their journey in life. It is a ministry of Word and Sacrament, and a remembering, in the words of M.A.C. Warren, “that God has not left himself without a witness in any nation at any time.” My task is to help the Word find expression in Japan, in the Japanese language and culture, and in the heart of the Japanese people. This will only be possible in dialog with the Word and those I am called to be with. Any other agenda that reflects a European, Western limiting of the freedom of the Word to find its home in peoples’ hearts or their culture would be a questioning, even a denial of the meaning of the mystery of the Incarnation. To proclaim that “the Word was made Flesh’, is to proclaim a mystery with boundless possibilities, a Gospel without borders.
    A few reflections on mission assignments as temporary or lifelong, based on one missionary finding that home is where the Gospel needs to be preached, and where there are people who want you to preach and share that same Word.
    Following my first home leave in 1981, on returning to Japan from the UK, I met up with some of the youth group from my previous parish. It was a Sunday evening so we talked about going out for a meal together. More than a few of them smiled when I suggested we go to a partucular noodle restaurant, but after a few months of ‘home’ cooking, lots of potatoes and meat, noodles was what I wanted to eat more than anything else. And as I sat with them around the table in the restaurant slurping my noodles, I knew that I was ‘at home’, though I was many thousand miles from my ‘home country’
    As an SVD I have a right, and my superiors have the same right, expressed in our constitutions, for me to request, and they to ask that I leave my home, my language and my culture, and go where the needs of the Gospel demand. Every year somewhere between 100 and 120 young SVD’s from all over the world, request and receive cross cultural mission assignments. Within the past couple of weeks an SVD from Russia, and another from Democratic Republic of Congo have arrived to take up mission assignments here in Japan. The Gospel urges us, and the Church here in Japan, and to a certain extent the wider community, accepts us and welcomes us.
    Lifetime commitment to mission, while some may doubt its necessity, possibility or validity, is still part of the life of the Christian community. I am wary of the word ‘Charism’, though we often talk of the SVD charism, for example, since it can make missionary work sound almost too special, and people like myself members of a rare breed, an endagered species. If asked what has made my work possible over the years, I shall have to admit that I find it hard to put into words. The presence of the Holy Spirit in many and various ways, mostly not easily discernable at the time, is one thing I’d like to affirm vigorously. And learning to love Japan and the Japanese as we have opened our hearts to each other. Being away from Japan and the Japanese, being away from the people you work with and for becomes more difficult. It just seems right to be here, whether you look back on the day past with thanks or regret, with memories of joy and laughter or of sorrow and sometime tears.
    These thoughts are written during a short break between academic years at the school where I teach. The past year had its share of difficult days and weeks that I am still trying to process. As I look forward to the classes I will be teaching in the coming year, one or two of which will be new endeavours fraught with more than their share of apprehension and anxiety, the faces of some of the children I know I will be teaching rise up from my memory, they call me forward on the journey we will make together in the months to come. My hope and wish is that I can be there for them for as long as they want me to be there, through graduation and beyond. As long as I remember I am here for them and in the name of the Gospel, talk of anything less than lifelong commitment doesn’t seem right or appropriate. Being faithful to the Word, and to witnessing to the Word will bring its rewards and graces of that I have no doubts, as each of my thirty one years has taught me.
    To all who feel a call to mission in a ‘cross-cultural’ context, to all who would be interested in accepting the challenge to ‘pass-over’, come, come with an open mind and heart. If this is where the Lord wishes and need you to be he will let you know; if he wishes and needs you to be elsewhere, you will know when the time comes. More often than not, though, my suspicion is that there will slowly grow in a corner of your heart a special place for where the Lord has placed you, and thoughts of going home will grow fainter.
    Hope a few might find these thoughts helpful.

  2. Todd says:

    Thank you, Fr Brendan for your very helpful thoughts. I hope you know that I didn’t mean to offend those who have a very definite and undeniable call to a permanent missionary life.

    I did find it interesting this is defined in AG24 as something apart from one’s vocation as a priest, and it applies to lay people, theoretically outside of religious life. But perhaps that is what the council bishops had in mind in writing this section.

  3. Brendan Kelleher SVD says:

    Todd
    Be assured this missionary didn’t find your remarks offensive. An SVD colleague was responsible for founding a lay missionary movement here in Japan that is still going strong some 25 years on. Mission is the life of the Church and should never be considered a preserve of priests or religious. Some of our most valuable collaborators in our educational apostolate here in Japan are actually former seminarians who came here initially as part of their formation. Though they returned to their home countries to finish out their professional training, something – the Holy Spirit – brought them back here. I, for one, give thanks every day for their presence among us.
    At the same time cross-cultural mission has its specific demands that almost invites lifetime commitment, and it is this specific type of mission that is the background and the context out of which I speak. Other forms of involvement in the mission of the Church have their own demands and rewards. The support of a community, particularly a multi-cultural community, has however, in our SVD experience, proved to be valuable, almost essential for our mission work. On the other hand, sadly here in Japan, and I suspect my confreres elsewhere could offer parallel examples, there have been setbacks as a a result of failure by some who have come to work in Japan but failed to cross-over, to be both listeners as well as witnesses. Such a failure to cross-over can occur among both those who come both on a lifetime commitment, and among those who come for a limited stay, but the likelihood does seem less among the former. One of the motives behind setting up OTP programs was to give our young men in formation a taste of the demands of crossing over. As we watch them struggle with the language, adapting to the Japanese culture and so much more, we get a good idea whether they have a future here. It is an invitation to sharing in the Paschal Mystery as they learn to let go and rediscover a way to be present to Japan and its people in the name of the Gospel.
    For those of us who have been here more years than we have been in our ‘home countries’, commitment to crossing over, to learning the lesson of the Paschal Mystery as it applies to us, will always be an invitation and a challenge we take up each day. Thankfully the Spirit is there to guide us, and we are lead, shown the way as often by the Japanese as we show they his Way.

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