Editor’s note: Fr. Mike Seis, a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay serving as pastor of Santa Teresa Parish in Elias Pina and San Isidro Labrador in El Ilanoin in the Dominican Republic, has written the following reflection on missionary discipleship. Oct. 22 was World Mission Sunday and Fr. Seis reminds us that “missionary work of the church is the job of all the baptized.”
Recently I had the opportunity to visit with Bishop David Ricken and he excitedly explained to me the new focus that the Diocese of Green Bay has undertaken with the theme of missionary disciples. I was intrigued by Bishop Ricken’s explanation and his enthusiasm, for the whole Church of Green Bay, with this renewal of our commitment as both missionaries and disciples of Christ.
As the bishop and I spoke, I shared with him some of the things that we are doing in the Dominican Republic which basically echoes the same themes that the bishop has established for the diocese.
Here in our local diocese and parish, we use those same terms. First, what is a disciple? When we think of or use the term disciple we must start with our baptism. It is at baptism where we first of all receive the great gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through the waters of baptism, we also become part of God’s family. Through the waters of baptism, we become disciples of the Lord.
A disciple is first and foremost a follower of Jesus Christ. Whether we were baptized as infants or later on in life, we are always in a process of formation; that is, trying to understand deeper and deeper what it means to follow Christ.
The church helps us in the process of understanding discipleship through many ways. If one was baptized as an infant, the church reminds the parents of the child that they are the first and most important catechists of their child. The church provides assistance to families either through our schools or religious education programs to help all become better disciples. The programs that the church offers to our families should be more than imparting “knowledge,” but should also touch hearts which inspire a desire to follow Jesus more passionately.
So, when we talk about missionary disciples here in the Dominican Republic, we always begin with the sacrament of baptism – all begins with baptism. Through the opening of the door of this first sacrament, we begin our journeys as disciples of Jesus. Then, through the other sacraments of initiation (confirmation and Eucharist), we receive more grace from God to continue this journey.
All of this leads to the second aspect, which is also very important: missionaries. So often when we think of missionaries we think of the foreign missions, but in reality, being missionaries is so much more. All of the baptized are called to be missionaries.
Remember the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples after his resurrection in the Gospel of Matthew, 28:19-20:“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
In these beautiful words of Jesus that he first spoke to his disciples, he gives to his church for all ages the mission to be precisely: MISSIONARY DISCIPLES. Since apostolic times, the church fathers (and the pastors of the church today) have been reminding us of our call to be missionary disciples. The missionary work of the church is the job of all the baptized.
Here in our local diocese and parish, we dedicate the month of October as the month of the mission, understanding that the work of a missionary disciple can’t be reduced only to one month, but we use this month to remember our yearlong and lifelong commitment to being missionary disciples.
Generally, in the month of October we have missionary teams in the parishes that go door-to-door both in the campo and the city with a very simple message written on a small flyer:
God loves you.
All are sinners and all of us need God.
Jesus is the way to salvation.
God wants you to be part of his church.
As you can see, the message is very simple and basic. So often we tend to complicate things too much. Here we try to put the message of Jesus in its most basic terms so that the message can reach the people. Sometimes we can get lost in our sophistication and forget the most essential: sharing the message of Jesus as a missionary disciple.
We often remind people here that Jesus calls all of us to be missionary disciples in our families, our workplaces, our communities, in all that we do. We need to share the message of Jesus in word and deed. Being a missionary disciple isn’t a call to be “preachy,” but a call to live and share the message of Jesus.