Being an authentic “missionary disciple”

Being an authentic “missionary disciple”

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis proposes a profound missionary renewal of the entire Church; certainly the clergy and religious are central to this renewal.  Francis asserts that we need an “evangelizing Church that comes out of herself,” not a Church that is “self-referential” and “lives within herself, of herself, for herself.”

“I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world….  All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion” (27).

A pivotal insight of Pope Francis is that “we are all missionary disciples” (119); through baptism, “all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples” (120).  All Christians are “agents of evangelization….  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’” (120).

Sensitivity to the fringes and margins.  From the beginning of his ministry as Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis has asserted that the authority of the clergy and consecrated persons is always linked to service, especially to the care and protection of the poorest, weakest, the least important, the most needy, those readily forgotten, the marginalized, and those on the fringes of society.  In Argentina, Francis was known as the “slum bishop” for his regular contact with the poor; he believes that such service is the most concrete way of serving Jesus.

Addressing bishops, priests, and religious in the Manila Cathedral on January 16, 2015, Francis emphasized the challenge to serve the poor and needy, “those living in the midst of a society burdened by poverty and corruption, tempted to give up.”  Those in Church leadership face the “challenge of proclaiming the radicalism of the Gospel in a society which has grown comfortable with social exclusion, polarization, and scandalous inequality”; they must remember that “the poor are at the center of the Gospel, are at the heart of the Gospel; if we take away the poor from the Gospel we cannot understand the whole message of Jesus Christ.”

Beware of clerical diseases.  Perhaps the most pointed address of Pope Francis to alert the clergy and religious to some possible “diseases” in their life and ministry is found in his 2014 Christmas message to the Roman Curia (December 22, 2014).  Francis listed fifteen items; some are noted here.  There is “the disease of thinking we are ‘immortal,’ ‘immune,’ or downright ‘indispensable’; … it is an effect of the pathology of power, from a superiority complex.”  “Another disease is the ‘Martha complex,’ excessive busy-ness….  Jesus called his disciples to ‘rest a while’.”

Pope Francis lists other possible diseases such as “spiritual Alzheimer’s disease [which] consists of losing the memory of our personal ‘salvation history,’ our past history with the Lord and our ‘first love’.” One sees “the disease of existential schizophrenia; this is the disease of those who live a double life.”  Beware of “the disease of gossiping, grumbling and back-biting….  Brothers, let us be on our guard against the terrorism of gossip!”

Quality preaching is essential.  In particular, Pope Francis has spoken to the clergy in Evangelii Gaudium about the homily and good preaching (135-159).  Francis noted: “Preparation for preaching is so important a task that a prolonged time of study, prayer, reflection and pastoral creativity should be devoted to it” (145).  “What is essential is that the preacher be certain that God loves him, that Jesus Christ has saved him and that his love always has the last word” (151).

Speaking to newly ordained priests, Francis said: “May your homilies not be boring; may your homilies touch the heart of the people because they come from your heart, because what you are telling them is what you carry in your heart.” (April 26, 2015).  “Let us ask the Virgin Mary … to make us love the Church as Christ, her Son and our Lord, loves her” (December 22, 2014).