Let’s pick up on yesterday’s discussion on the universality of the Church’s mission:
Responsibility for this task (of establishing Christian communities everywhere) belongs to the universal Church and to the particular churches, to the whole people of God and to all its missionary forces. Every church, even one made up of recent converts, is missionary by its very nature, and is both evangelized and evangelizing.
I think Pope John Paul II is speaking of the theological definition of a church, an entity led by a bishop. In reality, every parish likely needs to ask this question. Are our people being evangelized? Do we have an outward focus too? Some churches would have to answer no to both. The pope would suggest those that do say no lack maturity:
Faith must always be presented as a gift of God to be lived out in community (families, parishes, associations), and to be extended to others through witness in word and deed. The evangelizing activity of the Christian community, first in its own locality, and then elsewhere as part of the Church’s universal mission, is the clearest sign of a mature faith.
And if a community does not evangelize? A prescription:
A radical conversion in thinking is required in order to become missionary, and this holds true both for individuals and entire communities. The Lord is always calling us to come out of ourselves and to share with others the goods we possess, starting with the most precious gift of all – our faith. The effectiveness of the Church’s organizations, movements, parishes and apostolic works must be measured in the light of this missionary imperative. Only by becoming missionary will the Christian community be able to overcome its internal divisions and tensions, and rediscover its unity and its strength of faith.
This is certainly true. We will always have disagreements, certainly. But parishes with a well-defined mission well-understood by most of its people will find a deeper fruitfulness than balanced budgets, filled pews, and the regard of neighbors.
Sometimes churches will share the people of their missionary apostolate with others.
Missionary personnel coming from other churches and countries must work in communion with their local counterparts for the development of the Christian community. In particular, it falls to missionary personnel – in accordance with the directives of the bishops and in cooperation with those responsible at the local level – to foster the spread of the faith and the expansion of the Church in non-Christian environments and among non-Christian groups, and to encourage a missionary sense within the particular churches, so that pastoral concern will always be combined with concern for the mission ad gentes. In this way, every church will make its own the solicitude of Christ the Good Shepherd, who fully devotes himself to his flock, but at the same time is mindful of the “other sheep, that are not of this fold.” (Jn 10:16)
Something missing from this is the call to form missionary disciples among the local people. The failure of many post-Patristic saints was the lack of understanding on this. Missionaries are not a specialized ministry in the Church. They lead others so that all may serve in some way. Just as the pre-conciliar Church was satisfied with a “professional” disciple class, our missionary efforts will never bear more than meager fruit by a satisfaction that outsiders must lead the way.
In fact, I would suggest that First Worlders must discern if their missionary calling is truly far away from home if their parish and diocese have yet to fully embrace discipleship as a way of life. Certainly some are called to travel far. And even stay in place. But that initial discernment is vital. There is much work to be done in many places I know: American schools religious and not, workplaces, parish committees, and many other overlooked areas.
Another problem is the importation of “experts” to serve in places with the assumption the people of those places cannot serve amongst themselves. How do foreign missionaries conduct themselves? That is another discernment point. Are they prepared to see their local friends and contacts take over their ministries as time goes by?
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