Now, as in the past, among those involved in the missionary apostolate a place of fundamental importance is held by the persons and institutions to whom the Decree Ad Gentes devotes the special chapter entitled “Missionaries.”(Cf. Ad Gentes, Chapter IV, 23-27) This requires careful reflection, especially on the part of missionaries themselves, who may be led, as a result of changes occurring within the missionary field, no longer to understand the meaning of their vocation and no longer to know exactly what the Church expects of them today.
The post-conciliar shifts weren’t only in liturgy. Now, thirty years later, the matter may be more clear. But if clarity is sought, we have this statement of purpose:
The following words of the Council are a point of reference: “Although the task of spreading the faith, to the best of one’s ability, falls to each disciple of Christ, the Lord always calls from the number of his disciples those whom he wishes, so that they may be with him and that he may send them to preach to the nations. Accordingly, through the Holy Spirit, who distributes his gifts as he wishes for the good of all, Christ stirs up a missionary vocation in the hearts of individuals, and at the same time raises up in the Church those institutes which undertake the duty of evangelization, which is the responsibility of the whole Church, as their special task.”(Ibid., 23)
Such a call must always be discerned in the context of community. That group may include one’s bishop. When we are discussing missionary orders, some kind of discernment process for people coming into a religious community. In the years since the council, lay people have experienced the missionary apostolate on a temporary basis, a year or two. That is a potential testing ground, a time and place where that vocation can be, in the words of the council bishops, “stirred up.”
What is involved, therefore, is a “special vocation,” patterned on that of the apostles. It is manifested in a total commitment to evangelization, a commitment which involves the missionary’s whole person and life, and demands a self giving without limits of energy or time.
Looking back on a missionary’s life, this is certainly true. The question for 1990, as with today is this: how does one cultivate opportunities in which people, especially young women and men, can test that wholehearted self-giving?
Those who have received this vocation, “sent by legitimate authority, go out, in faith and obedience, to those who are far from Christ, set aside for the work to which they have been called as ministers of the Gospel.”(Ibid.)
Pope John Paul II adds his input:
Missionaries must always meditate on the response demanded by the gift they have received, and continually keep their doctrinal and apostolic formation up to date.
This isn’t wrong, but two things strike me as at least equally important: the interior life of prayer and attention to the ability to communicate the Lord Jesus with more clarity and vitality.
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